Cobalt ‘bubble’ will burst, Ivanhoe executive in Congo says

Almost three-quarters of the world’s cobalt comes from Congo. Credit: The Impact Facility

The demand for cobalt is a bubble that will burst as new battery technology reduces the need for the metal, according to the head of the chamber of mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congo holds more than half the world’s cobalt reserves, but the market’s negative perception of the central African nation’s business climate means companies will soon find alternative ways to create the power needed for the green energy revolution, Louis Watum of the Federation des Entreprises du Congo told a virtual conference on Monday.

“I’m not a fan of cobalt,” said Watum, who is also an executive at Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. and previously ran their Congo operations. “Cobalt is a bubble that is going to burst.”

Watum suggested investors focus instead on Congo’s copper, which he said has stronger fundamentals because of upcoming infrastructure expansion around the globe. Ivanhoe just started its Kamoa-Kakula copper project, which could become one of the world’s largest. Unlike many other copper mines in Congo, it won’t produce cobalt.

Watum urged Congo’s government to guarantee investors more stability and to invest in energy and transportation infrastructure that will lower production costs for miners. Copper production in Congo currently costs about the same as in places like Chile or Peru, where mineral grades are a small fraction of those in the central African country, Watum said.

Fastmarkets quoted cobalt prices at $20.33 per pound on Friday, about $1.10 below its five-year average and well below the $44 it fetched in April 2018, though up 30% in the year-to-date.

Copper is trading near an all-time high on the London Metal Exchange.

(By Michael J. Kavanagh, with assistance from Mark Burton)

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