Buenaventura sees Antofagasta as ally in copper growth plans

Freeport’s Cerro Verde copper mine (Credit: Freeport)

After a few weeks digesting Antofagasta Plc’s surprise entry into its shareholder register, Buenaventura sees the new investor as an ally in its copper growth plans rather than a rival eying control of the Peruvian firm.

Buenaventura shares have surged 50% since mid-December when Antofagasta unveiled a 19% stake. That makes Antofagasta the biggest shareholder after the combined holdings of members of the Benavides clan that founded the Peruvian miner. Some investors have speculated that the firm controlled by Chile’s richest family may look to take over Buenaventura at some point.

“In the little conversation that’s taken place, there’s an amiability,” said chairman Roque Benavides, adding he has a personal relationship with his opposite number at the Chilean firm, Jean-Paul Luksic. “They participate as qualified shareholders. Nothing more than that.”

Antofagasta has indicated that the main reason for its investment is to gain exposure to Buenaventura’s copper assets, he said. The stake also opens the door to gaining a boardroom presence, a proposal that will be considered at a March shareholders meeting.

While the Lima-based company is known mainly for its precious metal mines, it also owns 20% of the giant Cerro Verde copper mine operated by Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and its pipeline of projects includes the Trapiche copper deposit, for which it may seek an equity partner. That partner could be Antofagasta, although such an arrangement would mean the London-listed firm would have to abstain from boardroom voting, Benavides said.

Antofagasta has stumbled with its previous efforts to build a presence outside of Chile — namely in Pakistan and the US. It’s looking at Peru to help grow its production profile at a time when the copper market is expected to tighten with mines getting harder to build and demand accelerating in the transition away from fossil fuels.

“Copper shines as brightly as gold in these times,” Benavides said.

(By James Attwood and Marcelo Rochabrun)

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