Copper’s outlook under threat as economic risks pile up

Credit: KGHM

Copper is under assault from various risks that threaten to undermine the prospects of the key metal needed to wean the world off of fossil fuels, according to CRU Group’s Vanessa Davidson.

Threats include “the possibility of lower GDP or industrial production triggered by geopolitical risks, high inflation becoming more embedded in the economy, or the effects of Covid-19 lasting longer than anticipated,” CRU’s director of copper research and strategy said Monday at a mining conference in Toronto. Other near-term risks include slower-than-expected takeup of green technologies, more scrap availability as well as substitution and reduced use of the industrial metal, she said.

Copper fell as much as 2.3% Monday on the London Metal Exchange, the most in a month, as commodities tumbled alongside US equities on increasing worries that Federal Reserve interest rate hikes will plunge the economy into a recession. The red metal is down 4.4% this year after soaring more than 25% in each of the previous two years.

Still, Davidson said copper’s long-term demand outlook remains intact—boosted by consumption in industries such as electric vehicles and clean-energy technologies.

“The green energy story should contribute significantly, adding additional 2 million tons of copper demand by 2030,” Davidson said during her talk at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada mining conference.

CRU’s latest forecast calls for global copper demand to rise 2.1% per year to 28.5 million metric tons by 2030, according to Davidson’s presentation. Copper usage from green energy is expected to account for 20% of total consumption by 2040, up from just 2% in 2015, she said.

“Without demand from green energy transition, global copper consumption will start to plateau around 2027 at around 25 million tons,” Davidson said.

(By Yvonne Yue Li)

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