The still-sluggish economy will challenge copper producers in 2012, but they continue to race to raise output as demand is seen to outstrip supply.
By Shihoko Goto – Exclusive to Copper Investing News
Copper prices lurched forward on increased demand and worries about dwindling stockpiles during the first half of 2011. However, prices have since faltered amid concerns about the spillover effect of the Eurozone’s debt crisis in addition to a slowdown in demand for copper from China. While prices are expected to be less tumultuous moving forward, demand is expected to continue outstripping supply, albeit slightly.
The International Copper Study Group reported that global use of the red metal rose by 1 percent during the first nine months of 2011 compared to the same period the previous year, with Chinese demand rising 9 percent on year. The Lisbon-based group added that mine production continued to underperform relative to capacity, and was 1.8 percent lower in the first three quarters of 2011 compared to the same period a year ago.
Still, copper prices have fallen by nearly 25 percent since the beginning of this year, peaking at just over $10,000 a ton and falling below $7,000. Earlier this month, Deutsche Bank reported that as global growth is less robust than projected six months ago, 2012 will be “a year of declining earnings” for mining companies, and cut earnings estimates by an average of 40 percent for major groups.
Goldman Sachs lowered its 2012 copper price forecast to $9,200 a metric ton from $10,790, while Bank of America Merrill Lynch too cut back its projection to $8,375 a metric ton from $11,250. Still, many analysts expect the global economy to skirt a recession next year anticipating copper to average $4.06 a pound in 2012. Garrett Nelson, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, however, expects the price to average $3.25 a pound next year.
Top Copper Mining Companies
The world’s top copper mining companies include, in order of production:
Codelco: The state-owned Chilean group is the world’s single biggest copper producer, controlling about 20 percent of total global reserves. The company produced about 1.76 million metric tons of copper in 2010. Codelco has over $20.28 billion in assets, with 30 studies and projects in its current portfolio. Total capital expenditure is about $4.95 billion. It is currently in a lawsuit against Anglo American, as both sides accuse each other of violating the terms of a contract that gave Codelco the right to buy a 49 percent stake in Anglo American Sur, which includes the Los Bronces mine.
Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) The Phoenix, Arizona-based company is the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer. It produced about 1.44 million metric tons of copper in 2010. Freeport-McMoRan is also the world’s largest producer of molybdenum and a major producer of gold. A three-month-long strike at its Grasberg mine in Indonesia was resolved last month once the company agreed to increase wages by 24 percent in the first year, and by another 13 percent in the second year for the 8,000 miners. Union workers at the mine, which holds the world’s largest recoverable reserves of copper, are expected to resume full work by January 20. At the height of the strikes at the mine, concerns about output disruption had increased speculation about prices rising and supplies falling.
BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) The Australian group produced about 1.14 million metric tons of copper in 2010. It has a five-year plan to invest $80 billion in capital expenditure on future opportunities, BHP has a 57.5 percent stake in Chile’s Escondida mine, which is the highest producing copper mine in the world.
Xstrata (LSE:XTA) The Swiss-British diversified mining group produced about 907,000 metric tons of copper in 2010. Last December, Xstrata completed the $111 million extension to its Kidd mine in Northern Ontario which it stated was done on time and on budget. In November, the company said that it had agreed upon a new three-year labor contract with over 550 workers at its Lomas Bayas mine in Chile.
Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO) The London-based company produced about 701,000 metric tons of copper in 2010. It supplies about 18 percent of annual US refined copper requirements from its Bingham Canyon mine in Utah. Through a joint venture with Freeport-McMoRan, Rio Tinto has a 40 percent share of production above specific levels at Indonesia’s Grasberg mine until 2021, and 40 percent of all production after 2021.
Anglo American (LSE:AAL) The London group produced about 645,000 metric tons of copper in 2010, and has six copper operations in Chile. It also has controlling interests in Chile’s Michiquillay project and a 50 percent stake in Alaska’s Pebble project. Anglo American expects its Los Bronces project in Chile to produce over 900,000 tons a year by the end of this year.
Grupo Mexico (OTC PINK:GMBXF) The diversified group based in Mexico City is involved with transportation and infrastructure as well as the mining industry. Its mining division represents the majority of the company’s sales through the Southern Copper Corporation, which includes Minera Mexico and Southern Peru, as well as Asarco in the United States. Grupo Mexico produced about 598,000 metric tons of copper in 2010.
Glencore International (LSE:GLEN) The Swiss company has a 34.4 percent stake in Xstrata, and it produced about 542,000 metric tons of copper in 2010. Glencore has mines in Canada, Australia, and South America, and the red metal produced in those regions are smeltered and refined in Western Europe, China, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the United States. In June, Glencore agreed to buy CST Mining’s CST Resources unit for $475 million to gain control of the Mina Justa copper project in Peru. The deal fell through in November as CST Mining failed to meet the conditions required of the deal, but speculation is growing that the deal may be reviewed once again.
Southern Copper Corp (NYSE:SCCO) The company which is 80 percent owned by Grupo Mexico is also listed independently on the New York Stock Exchange as well as the Lima Stock Exchange. It produced about 487,000 metric tons of copper in 2010. Its operations focus on southern Peru at its Cuajones and Toquepala mines, as well as its Cananea mine in Mexico.
KGHM Polska Miedz (WAR:KGH) The Polish group produced about 426,000 metric tons of copper in 2010. Last December, the company agreed to buy Canada’s Quadra FNX Mining for about $2.84 billion, or CDN 2.87 billion. The deal was seen as a move to reduce its own production costs while raising output, as the acquisition would increased annual production by over 100,000 tons from 2012.
I, Shihoko Goto, have no interests in the companies mentioned in this article.