Copper to rally to $3 once virus passes, Chile minister says

Baldo Prokurica. (Image courtesy of Chile’s Ministry of Mines via Flickr.)

The deadly coronavirus that’s rattled markets since January won’t stop copper prices from surging to $3 a pound this year, according to Chilean Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica.

The price of copper, often used as a barometer for the global economy, has dropped about 7% so far in 2020, signaling demand for the metal used in everything from electronics to automobiles has cooled as investors retreat from riskier assets.

Copper supplies at warehouses tracked by the Shanghai Futures Exchange expanded to the highest ever for this time of year as logistical constraints inside China are stopping output from reaching end-users, further pressuring down price for the metal.

Copper prices “should stabilize once the coronavirus passes,” Prokurica said in an interview at the PDAC conference in Toronto

Copper prices “should stabilize once the coronavirus passes,” Prokurica said in an interview at the PDAC conference in Toronto.

“Nobody has information to say that the coronavirus will last one or two or three months, but SARS and the like lasted between two and three months, so we think that is what will happen with the coronavirus.”

On Monday, copper climbed 2.2% in New York to settle at $2.595 a pound, buoyed by the gradual reopening of factories across China and signs of imminent support from central banks to tackle economic fallout from the outbreak.

“I have the impression that the price should be between $3 and something more,” Prokurica said, citing the demand and supply situation and wage negotiations due at mines in Chile as potential factors.

Cochilco, the Chilean copper commission, lowered its price projection to $2.85 a pound from an earlier estimate of $2.90 in January.

Chilean copper deliveries

No copper cargoes from Chile to China have been suspended and Chilean miners have not seen a reduction of orders related to the coronavirus, Prokurica said.

China’s copper buyers were in talks with suppliers to reschedule some deliveries last month as the Asian country extended the New Year holiday and ordered entire cities to remain quarantined, according to Cochilco.

Over a quarter of the world’s copper supply is mined from Chile, and fewer orders from its biggest buyer would hamper growth in the South American country.

“We have confidence that measures that have been announced by president Xi Jinping, special measures to reactive the economy, will work,” Prokurica said.

Bond issue

The world’s top copper producer, Codelco, is planning to tap international markets with a new bond issue in April, Prokurica said.

“It will be in the American market but open to the world,” he said, adding the state-run miner doesn’t have any financing problems.

The offer would mark the first time the company sells debt since Moody’s Investors Service lowered its baseline credit assessment rating for the miner, citing declining ore grades and rising costs of production. Its debt rating was reaffirmed at A3, the fourth-lowest investment-grade rating.

The company, which hands all of its profit to the Chilean government, has planned to spend more than $20 billion over a decade to modernize its aging mines and prevent a looming production slump.

Codelco went into the market in January, offering $2 billion in 10- and 30-year bonds.

Mining royalties

President Sebastian Pinera’s administration is discussing a “better alternative” to the proposed 3% hike on mining royalties, Prokurica said.

Lawmakers in Chile’s lower house mining committee are scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposal to increase royalties on copper and lithium miners. The bill includes an exception for operators extracting over 12,000 metric tons of fine copper or 50,000 metric tons of metallic lithium per year.

The proceeds from the royalties would be used for development work in communities where the materials are extracted in order to help mitigate environmental effects.

Prokurica said government officials are in the process of designing an environmental, social and governance-oriented mining policy for the 2020-2050 period.

(By Maria Elena Vizcaino and Esteban Duarte)

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