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Antofagasta’s copper output climbs on better grades

Los Pelambres, located 240 km north-east of Santiago, is Antofagasta’s flagship operation. (Image courtesy of Minera Los Pelambres)

Chilean copper miner Antofagasta Plc (LON:ANTO) reported an almost 22% increase in copper output in the three months leading up to to June 30, thanks mostly to better ore grades, particularly at Centinela.

Production in the second quarter was 198,600 tonnes of copper, 5.3% higher than the prior quarter with all operations registering an increase. For the first half of 2019, copper output rose 22% year-on-year to 387,300 tonnes.

The FTSE 100 company, majority-owned by Chile’s Luksic family, maintained its full-year copper production forecast of 750,000 -790,000 tonnes.

The Los Pelambres expansion, kicked off early this year, includes the construction of a desalination plant and water pipeline

In terms of net cash cost, a measure of the cost of producing a pound of copper, it lowers its projected price to $1.25 per pound, as it expects to benefit from a weaker Chilean peso.

Antofagasta said Los Pelambres churned out 91,200 tonnes of copper in the quarter. The expansion, which began early this year, is slated to begin production in the second half of 2021. 

As part of the project, the company is building a desalination plant and water pipeline, which will benefit the existing operation in cases of prolonged or severe drought, and for a potential further phase of expansion, chief executive officer Ivan Arriagada has said.

Copper miners in mature markets, particularly in Chile, the world’s top producer of the red metal, have seen production costs rise as they need to dig deeper and process larger amounts of rock to obtain the same amount of copper they used to a decade ago.

At the same time, prices have been volatile due to the ongoing trade war between China, the world’s top copper consumer, and the United States.

On Wednesday, benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange traded up 0.5% at $6,000 a tonne.

The metal, used widely in the power, construction and electric vehicles sectors, hit a six-month low at $5,740 in June.