South America lockdown starting to hit base metals supplies

Newmont said it would scale down its Yanacocha operations in Peru. Photo by Buenaventura.

The novel coronavirus pandemic is starting to hit mine supply of base metals after months of affecting refined demand, according to commodities analysts at Fastmarkets, as countries across South America begin to close their borders to contain the virus outbreak.

Mining giants such as Newmont and Freeport-McMoRan have already halted or scaled down their operations in Peru due to the 15-day national quarantine, while those operating in neighbouring Chile, the world’s top copper producer, are starting to take similar action.

“As China is restarting, coronavirus-caused supply disruptions might support metals prices in the short term”

Dmitry Glushakov, head of mining research, VTB Capital

Although many of the major mines in Peru are still in operation, companies including Canada’s Teck Resources and Trevali Mining are closely monitoring the situation and plans to adapt if necessary. The country’s top copper asset, the Las Bambas mine owned by MMG, has yet to be affected by the lockdown.

Metal market sellers are also experiencing difficulties in transporting material out of Bolivia, which borders Peru and Chile and relies on ports in either countries, due to the curfews and border shutdowns.

Analysts at Fastmarkets believe the extended closures and logistical jams could see supply of base metals produced in the region restricted, going some way to balance markets in which demand has plummeted along with prices since January.

“As China is restarting, coronavirus-caused supply disruptions might support metals prices in the short term,” Dmitry Glushakov, head of mining research at VTB Capital, said in a market note.

This also comes as treatment charges for metal concentrates are at multi-month highs, with smelters less keen to take material and supply overloaded.

Fastmarkets assessed treatment charges for high-silver lead concentrates, the kind of which are produced in Peru and Bolivia, as high as $200 per tonne in February, the highest level since coverage started in 2014. Meanwhile, copper concentrate charges are trading at their highest in a year.

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