The copper industry has been wary about calling the doubling of prices in the past year as the start of a new supercycle. On Friday, a veteran of the red metal got pretty close.
Richard Adkerson, chief executive officer and chairman of top publicly traded producer Freeport-McMoRan Inc., said the surge in prices to above $4 a pound isn’t just a spike and is supported by fundamentals — with scarce stockpiles, strong demand and dearth of big new projects waiting in the wings.
For 74-year-old Adkerson, the 2020-2021 upswing has “a degree of an echo” with a decade ago, when prices hit record highs after Chinese industrialization outpaced supply growth. While “you never know what’s around the corner,” the latest rally is supported by even fewer prospects to bring on new supply, he said.
“If copper were to go to $10 tomorrow, it would take us seven, eight years to get new production to the market,” he said during the Fastmarkets Copper Seminar on Friday.
For Freeport, the jump in copper prices is creating “a magical time” given it’s coinciding with the ramp-up of its giant Grasberg mine in Indonesia, he said.
While Freeport’s board made “a bad decision” by diversifying into oil at the peak of the cycle, this time around directors are committed to copper and rewarding shareholders, Adkerson said. Still, the company will be well positioned to pounce on opportunities that may come along, he said.
(By James Attwood)