World's largest copper mine output, profit plummeted in Q1

Output at Chile’s Escondida, the world's largest copper mine, fell in the first three months of 2016 causing profits to sink 47% to $265 million compared to the same period last year, among weak prices for the industrial metal.

The mine, co-owned by BHP Billiton (57.5%) and rival Rio Tinto (30%), produced 265,597 tonnes in the period, or 23% less than the 347.125 tonnes it generated in Q1 2015, Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported (in Spanish).

Mine revenues also plummeted to about $1.4 billion from $2 billion in the same period last year.

If Chile’s production continues to suffer due to weak prices, the country — the world’s No. 1 copper producer — will lose ground to competitors including PeruChinaUnited States, Australia and emerging markets, such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa’s Copperbelt, state copper commission Cochilco warned in January.

Concerns over China’s economy likely to weigh on copper prices in the longer term.

While copper prices have picked up in recent weeks, long-term demand fundamentals are likely to limit price rises in 2016, experts believe.

Growth in China — the world’s largest copper consumer, accounting for 45% of global demand — continues to be slow.

"Chinese manufacturing is not picking up momentum, so demand is not picking up and there is no reason for copper prices to rise," Julius Baer analyst Carsten Menke told Reuters last month.

“Despite sizable policy stimulus in China…demand for copper is unlikely to receive a boost on the scale that had seemed likely,” Caroline Bain, senior commodities economist at Capital Economics wrote on Wednesday.

The chairman of Codelco, the world’s largest copper miner, agrees. Oscar Landerretche, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has said that oversupply is likely to last through this year and next, keeping prices around $2 to $2.10 a pound.

More than 750,000 tonnes of annualized supply were idled in 2015 by companies including Freeport McMoRan and Glencore in response to low prices, according to a report by consultants Wood Mackenzie.

In addition some major projects are ramping up this year including China Minmetals' Las Bambas mine and Freeport's Cerro Verde expansion project in Peru. There is also a robust pipeline of projects that could fill any supply gaps including First Quantum's Cobre Panama and the Goldcorp-Teck joint venture in Chile named NuevaUnion.

World's largest copper mine output, profit plummeted in Q1

Escondida produced 265,597 tonnes in the first three months of 2016, or 23% less than in Q1 last year. (Image courtesy of Rio Tinto)