China factory data roils copper stocks – Freeport falls 9%
The value of base metal miners and the diversified giants fell on Tuesday as metals prices dropped back to near financial crisis lows after Chinese manufacturing data shocked commodity markets.
In New York trade on Tuesday copper for delivery in December dipped below the $2.30 per pound or around $5,070 a tonne as the red metal's recovery from July 2009 levels hit last week begins to look shaky.
Nickel tumbled more than 2% falling to below the $10,000 a tonne level again, while aluminum, tin, zinc and lead all trended lower on Tuesday. Iron ore has held up relatively well compared to the base metal complex with the steelmaking raw material exchanging hands for $55.70 a tonne on Tuesday, unchanged from yesterday.
The August Caixin manufacturing purchasing managers index in China – considered one of best indicators of underlying economic activity and closely correlated with the copper price – came in at a six-and-a-half year low of 47.3 on Tuesday. The official manufacturing PMI compiled by the Beijing government fell to a three-year low of 49.7, down from 50.0 in July. A reading below 50 indicates contraction.
The bleak outlook for the sector prompted investors to look for exits, resulting in billions of lost market value among heavyweights.
Shares in world number one BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) fell 6.8% in New York, bringing its losses over the past three months to 22%. The Melbourne-based company which relies on oil and iron ore for the bulk of its earnings is down 49.8% over the last year with its market worth falling below $100 billion again on Tuesday. BHP peaked at a market cap of $280 billion in 2011.
Copper and gold giant Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) was trading 9.1% down in mid-afternoon dealings with more than 34 million shares in the owner of the iconic Grasberg mine in Indonesia exchanging hands.
Last week Freeport became the first major copper miner to announce its slashing production to cope with the depressed copper price. That led to a huge surge in the $10.8 billion stock, which vies with Chile's state-owned Codelco as the world number copper miner in terms of output, but year to date Freeport has been decimated with shares down 58% in price in 2015 and trading nearly three-quarters below the same time last year.
American Depositary Receipts of Vale (NYSE:VALE) trading in New York declined a relatively modest 3.3% on Tuesday, but the Brazilian company, the globe's top iron ore miner, has already lost 48% of its market value in 2015.
The world's second largest miner based on revenue Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) which relies on copper and iron for nearly 80% of its earnings dropped 5.5% in heavy volume falling close to multi-year lows hit last week. The Anglo-Australian giant's stock has been swinging wildly this year and is down more than 24% since the start of the year.
The world's fourth largest miner Glencore (LON:GLEN) was again the worst performer on the day, falling just shy of 10% in London to trade at a record low. The $30 billion company is now worth only a quarter of its value since May 2011 when its shares were first publicly floated. The Swiss mining and trading giant relies on copper for 38% of its earnings (vs some 20% at BHP Billiton and only half that at Rio Tinto) so it has a lot riding on the outlook for the red metal.
Anglo American (LON:AAL) shares fell 7.6% in New York bringing year to date declines to more than 40%. Canada's Teck Resources (TSX:TCK) was one of the worst performers among the diversified heavyweights, trading down 7.9% in late afternoon. Shares in the coal and base metal company are down more than 50% this year alone.
$21 billion Southern Copper Corp (NYSE:SCCO) managed to limit losses to 3.6% while investors in fellow South American copper producer Antofagasta's (LON:ANTO) were less forgiving, pushing the stock down 5.6% in New York.
Down 4.8% South32 (LON:S32), recently spun off from BHP, were spared some of the carnage, but the Perth and Johannesburg-based firm that's reliant on coal for a big chunk of its earnings is trading nearly 36% below its May listing value.
Over the counter units in Norilsk Nickel (OTCMKTS:NILSY), Russia and the world's top producer of the steelmaking ingredient, fell 5.4%. The little traded counter is up 12% this year affording the company a $24.5 billion market capitalization.