Japanese copper smelter output seen falling despite demand recovery

Credit: Sumitomo Metal Mining

Japan’s output of refined copper in the first half of the 2021/22 financial year will fall 1.9% year on year, Reuters calculations from plans outlined by smelters showed, despite recovering demand from a slump during the pandemic.

The weak forecast comes also amid fears that a recent fire at a Japanese semiconductor factory will aggravate a global chip shortage and force automakers to cut output.

Japan’s biggest copper supplier Pan Pacific Copper (PPC) plans to slightly raise its output, but most others including second-ranked Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) and third-ranked Mitsubishi Materials have plans for lower output from April to September.

SMM is planning maintenance at its Toyo factory and operations at Mitsubishi Material’s Onahama plant have slowed due to a problem with an external company’s system to supply oxygen.

PPC, jointly owned by JX Nippon Mining & Metals and Mitsui Mining and Smelting, expects domestic demand of wrought copper products will improve this year from last on stronger output by automakers and semiconductor makers, a PPC spokesman said.

Japan’s demand for wrought copper products is forecast to rise 13.4% in the 2021/22 year after falling 11.7% a year earlier, the Japan Copper and Brass Association said this week.

“But overall copper demand won’t reach the 2019 level as the pace of recovery in construction is slow, weighing on electric wire demand,” the PPC spokesman said.

A chip-making factory owned by Renesas Electronics, which accounts for 30% of the global market for microcontroller units used in cars, was hit by fire last month and the company said on Tuesday it would take at least 100 days for production to normalize at the plant in northeast Japan.

“We have not seen any signs of slowing orders from automakers yet, but we are concerned the chip shortage may force them to slash output,” a SMM spokeswoman said.

(By Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)


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