Chinalco Mining bullish despite copper price fall

Resources giant's optimism about metal's prospects runs counter to analysts' forecasts of a supply surplus on global market this year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 3:57am


Chinalco Mining, the non-ferrous and non-aluminium metals unit of aluminium giant Chinalco, remains upbeat on copper prices despite recent falls and less rosy views among analysts.

"We are optimistic on the [demand and supply] fundamentals of copper, we believe copper is relatively robust among other metals," chief executive Peng Huaisheng said.

With projected cash production cost of about US$1,509 per tonne, Peng said Chinalco Mining had a "relatively strong" capacity to withstand price declines.

The company has completed about 80 per cent of construction work at its US$3.5 billion Toromocho mine in Peru, about 140 kilometres from the capital, Lima. Commercial production is scheduled to start in the fourth quarter of this year, and the company estimated its net profit would exceed US$300 million next year.

It is the world's third-largest pre-production copper project, measured by average planned annual production between last year and 2020, according to metals researcher CRU Strategies.

Some analysts and Australian metals giant Rio Tinto have projected that copper supply will turn into surplus this year and next year after years of shortages, putting downward pressure on its price.

The three-month copper futures contract has fallen 6.1 per cent since the end of last year and fetched about US$7,450 a tonne yesterday, with much of the decline caused by speculators.

A Deutsche Bank report released yesterday said speculative net short positions in the Commodity Exchange - part of the New York Mercantile Exchange - were at their highest level since February 2009.

"It is difficult to envisage sustained price strength over the next couple of quarters in base metals given the likelihood that restocking from a re-acceleration in the Chinese economy is likely to be finished by mid-spring," the investment bank's analysts said.

They forecast the spot market copper price at the London Metal Exchange to fall to US$7,180 per tonne in 2015 from US$7,953 per tonne last year, at an average 3.5 per cent a year.

They estimated that a global 420,000 tonnes of supply shortage would turn into a surplus of 230,000 tonnes this year, 640,000 tonnes next year and 870,000 tonnes in 2015.

Still, Peng said he was optimistic that the mainland's economic growth would continue to give support to the copper price, noting that up to 4.9 million tonnes of copper concentrates would need to be imported annually to feed the country's smelters, whose combined annual capacity stands at 6 million tonnes.

In the next few years, domestic mines could only supply 1.1 million tonnes of concentrates, which are processed from mined raw ore, he said.

Toromocho's average annual designed output capacity is 177,780 tonnes of copper over its 36-year production life.

When it floated shares in Hong Kong in January to raise US$3.4 billion, Chinalco Mining said some 30 per cent of the proceeds would fund potential acquisitions.

Peng yesterday said its targets were mainly copper projects in South America, but he would not give any timetable for execution, saying the company's priority was to put Toromocho into production.