Copper price turns higher again – Grasberg gashed

In New York on Monday copper for delivery in March jumped 1.6% to $2.7515 per pound or $6,066 a tonne after listed copper miner Freeport McMoRan said negotiations with the Indonesian government to restart exports from its Grasberg mine in Papua province has stalled. Copper is trading at levels last seen late May 2015 with year-to-date gains of just under 9%.

Phoenix-Arizona-based Freeport said in an update as a result its operating subsidiary in the country PT-FI "is proceeding with its plan to suspend investments in Papua, reduce its production by approximately 60 percent from normal levels and implement cost savings plans involving significant reductions in its work force and spending levels with local suppliers."

Freeport said its 25%-owned smelter in the Asian nation which has been hit by a strike expects to resume operations in March, but warned that its first quarter production has taken a substantial hit:

Assuming resumption of PT Smelting’s operations in March and a continuation of the ban on exports, FCX estimates its first quarter sales will be reduced, resulting in deferrals of approximately 170 million pounds and 270,000 ounces, representing a reduction of approximately 17 percent for copper and 59 percent for gold of its consolidated first quarter sales.

Freeport Indonesia is proceeding with its plan to suspend investments in Papua and reduce its production by approximately 60 percent from normal levels

In January Freeport said for each month of delay in obtaining approval to export, the Indonesian subsidiary's share of production is projected to be reduced by approximately 32,000 tonnes of copper and 100,000 ounces of gold.

Freeport also said consolidated sales volumes from Indonesia mining operations assuming normal operations, including the resumption of concentrate exports in February 2017 and the renewal of its smelters export license are expected to total 590,000 tonnes of copper and 2.2 million ounces of gold for the year 2017.

Force majeure at Escondida

The copper price is also being kept on the boil after BHP Billiton declared force majeure at its Escondida mine in Chile ten days ago saying it could no longer meet contractual obligations on metals shipments from the mine, the world's largest copper operation by a wide margin.

The union representing some 2,500 striking workers at Escondida last week agreed to participate in government mediation, and according to a Reuters report BHP will be attending a meeting on Monday if blockades of non-striking workers and contractors are lifted.

BHP operates and majority owns the mine with fellow Melbourne diversified giant Rio Tinto. The previous labour deal was signed four years ago when copper was trading around $3.40 a pound.

In its recent financial results BHP expected full-year production at Escondida of 1.07 million tonnes, which gives the mine a nearly 5% shares of global primary copper production. BHP also cut full year guidance by 40,000 tonnes to 1.62m tonnes.

After a relatively quiet year in 2016 for supply disruptions (there is around a 6% production swing factor in global production of over 20 million tonnes) due to bad weather, labour action and other unforeseen events, 2017 is already off to a bad start.