Antofagasta expects copper deficit of up to 300,000 tonnes this year

Antofagasta’s planned $2.7 billion concentrator at its Centinela mine, which is at the feasibility stage, would most likely be funded by debt. (Image courtesy of Antofagasta Minerals.)

Chilean miner Antofagasta Plc. (LON: ANTO) expects the anticipated global copper deficit to hit between 100,000 and 300,000 tonnes this year as consumption growth remains positive, but production increases are minimal.

Releasing the company’s annual results, chief executive Iván Arriagada also revealed that the first phase of a planned expansion at its flagship Los Pelambres copper mine had been approved, as widely anticipated.

Construction has begun and first production is expected around mid-2021, with capex forecast to be $1.3 billion, which includes $500 million for a 400-litre per second desalination plant and water pipeline that will supply the water requirements of the expansion and, potentially, future ones, Antofagasta said.

The first phase of a planned expansion at Antofagasta’s flagship Los Pelambres copper mine has been approved, with first production expected around mid-2021.

Phase 1 of the expansion, the miner added, will increase annual copper production by 40,000 tonnes in the first, reaching 70,000 tonnes towards the end of the first 15 years.

The company, majority-owned by Chile’s Luksic family, said it is planning to expand its Centinela mine by building a new concentrator at an estimated cost of $2.7 billion.

“During 2018 the company considered two growth alternatives for Centinela: the construction of a second concentrator, and the expansion of the existing concentrator,” it said.

“Following a detailed evaluation of the two alternatives it has been decided to progress the studies on a second concentrator, as this alternative has the best combination of financial returns and risk profile.”

While it’s a more costly option, the new concentrator will help Antofagasta produce an extra 180,000 tonnes of copper per year.

The miner noted it expected to complete a feasibility study on the project in 2020.

In addition, Antofagasta plans to move forward with a feasibility study for the Twin Metals Minnesota project, a copper, nickel and platinum deposit.

Record production

Annual copper output rose 3% to 725,300 tonnes of copper and came in at the higher end of Antofagasta’s forecast, as its Centinela mine produced better quality ore and higher output.

This was after the company had to cut its 2018 production guidance in October, hurt by demand disruptions for the metal, caused by top consumer China’s trade war with the United States.

The miner also declared a bumper dividend for 2018 on the back of record output and asset sales, which sent its shares soaring to a seven-month high.