Prices for molybdenum are closely related to copper. The metal is often produced as a by-product of copper, meaning that molybdenum output tends to rise and fall depending on how much copper is being produced. Oil prices are also a good indicator of where the molybdenum market is headed.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, worldwide molybdenum production increased by 6,000 metric tons (MT) from 2019 to 2020, rising from 294,000 MT to come in at 300,000 MT. But which countries were the top molybdenum producers last year? Here’s a look at which nations put out the most of the metal in 2020, as per the latest data from the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 120,000 MT
China produces the vast majority of the world’s molybdenum supply by a large margin. The country’s molybdenum output fell by 10,000 MT in 2020 to come in at 120,000 MT for the year.
The molybdenum market as a whole is closely tied to China, and not just because the country produces so much of the metal. China also has a massive industrial sector that requires huge amounts of molybdenum to make steel. The Chinese government has recently been tightening up its mining standards in an effort to meet more stringent environmental regulations. As a result, molybdenum facilities have been inspected, forcing firms to either upgrade them to meet these standards or shut down. So far, that hasn’t seemed to hurt China’s production.
Mine production: 58,000 MT
Second in the molybdenum producers lineup is Chile, whose molybdenum production rose slightly in 2020, hitting 58,000 MT; the country produced 56,000 MT in 2019.
State-owned Codelco produces the bulk of Chile’s molybdenum, and KGHM Polska Miedz (WSE:KGH) is also a producer in the country. Hot Chili (ASX:HCH,OTC Pink:HHLKF) is working on bringing its Productora copper project into production in Chile, and intends to produce molybdenum as a by-product.
3. United States
Mine production: 49,000 MT
The US bumped up its molybdenum production by 13 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year.
As mentioned, the metal is often produced as a by-product of copper and other metals, and that’s evident when looking at US output stats. In 2020, molybdenum was produced at nine mines in the country, but was a primary product at just two of them. One such primary molybdenum operation is Freeport-McMoRan’s (NYSE:FCX) Climax and Henderson mines in Colorado.
According the US Geological Survey, the rise in American molybdenum production was due in large part to a by-product mine in Utah that increased its output by more than 60 percent. The higher amount of metal coming out of the Utah operation “offset the production delays caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic at other molybdenum producers.”
Mine production: 30,000 MT
Coming in fourth on this list of molybdenum producers is Peru, which has seen rising production in the past few years, reporting 2019 output of 26,000 MT in comparison to 30,000 MT in 2020.
The Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines expects mining investment in the country to grow by 21 percent in 2021 over the previous year to reach US$5.2 billion, before climbing further to US$6 billion in 2022. That could be good news in disguise for molybdenum which, as noted, is often produced as a by-product of copper and other metals. One major molybdenum-producing mine in Peru is Freeport-McMoRan’s Cerro Verde mine, which is primarily a copper producer.
Mine production: 17,000 MT
Molybdenum production in Mexico has seen peaks and troughs over the last decade, Statista data indicates. However, in the past three years, the country’s output has risen by 5,000 MT to reach 17,000 MT in 2020. One major molybdenum-producing mine in the country is La Caridad, which belongs to privately owned Grupo Mexico. The mine produces molybdenum as a by-product of copper.
Mine production: 7,000 MT
Armenia’s molybdenum production has remained relatively stable over the past few years, but ticked up slightly from 6,300 MT in 2019 to 7,000 MT in 2020. CRONIMET Mining subsidiary Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine runs Kajaran, the country’s largest copper-molybdenum mine.
Mine production: 3,500 MT
Iran is another molybdenum producer whose output levels have remained relatively flat in the recent past, with production coming in at 3,500 MT since 2016.
Little information is available on molybdenum in Iran, and that may be because in 2012 the Iranian government banned exports of molybdenum concentrate in an effort to “support national production.” It banned exports of about 50 aluminum, petrochemical and other products at the same time.
Mine production: 2,800 MT
Overtaking Canada for eighth place on this molybdenum producers list is Russia. The US Geological Survey provides only an estimate on Russian molybdenum output. For 2020, it suggests that the country put out 2,800 MT of the metal, on par with the previous year. A company called SMR that is part of EN+ Group bills itself as Russia’s only fully integrated molybdenum producer, and the largest ferromolybdenum producer in the country in terms of volume.
It’s worth noting that Russia retains much of its molybdenum for domestic projects. A report from Emerging Markets notes that Russian nuclear reactors are specifically designed to use a type of molybdenum only produced within the country.
Mine production: 2,700 MT
Canada’s molybdenum production fell significantly in 2020, coming in at 2,700 MT after the nation posted production of 3,900 MT the previous year.
The BC-based Endako mine, owned by Centerra Gold (TSX:CG,NYSE:CGAU), used to be a key molybdenum producer in the country, but is now on care and maintenance. Another Canadian source of molybdenum is Taseko Mines’ (TSX:TKO,NYSEAMERICAN:TGB) Gibraltar mine.
Mine production: 1,800 MT
Finally, Mongolia’s molybdenum production has remained roughly stagnant over the past five years.
Similar to Iran, little information on molybdenum in Mongolia is available. One company with a molybdenum project in the country is Erdene Resource Development (TSX:ERD,OTC Pink:ERDCF), which holds the Zuun Mod molybdenum-copper project in the country.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.