World’s number one copper producer forced to tap markets for mines overhaul

A new mine level being built at Codelco’s El Teniente will extend the mine’s life by 50 years. (Image: Codelco via Flickr.

The world’s largest copper producer, Chile’s Codelco, issued on Monday 10- and 30-year dollar-denominated bonds to secure funding for its multibillion-dollar upgrade projects only five months after saying it didn’t need to raise money this year or next.

IFR, Refinitiv’s capital markets news service, said the bonds were issued in New York with a price range of between 150 to 180 basis points over equivalent US Treasuries.

The move is part of the state-owned copper giant’s fresh funding strategy that includes taking out loans and selling non-structural assets. 

Codelco borrowed $300 million last month and sold two bonds for a combined $180 million in funding.

World’s copper producer issues 10-yr and 30-yr bonds to fund mines overhaul

It also a 37% stake in natural gas port terminal GNL Mejillones for $193.5 million.

The Santiago-based miner’s change of heart surprised some analysts as chairman Juan Benavides had said in April the company had sufficient funding this year and next to develop planned multibillion mine upgrades, key to maintain its production at current levels.

Ore grades have plummeted at Codelco’s aging mines, prompting the urgent need for overhaul schemes.

The company has already kicked off one of its most ambitious plans — the $5.6 billion conversion of the giant Chuquicamata open pit mine into an underground operation.

The next major mine overhaul is a $5.5 billion new level at El Teniente underground mine, the company’s largest, which fell under new CEO Octavio Araneda’s mandate in his previous role.

From Codelco’s presentation May 2019.

In the company’s pipeline of so-called structural projects are also a $1.3 billion expansion at the Andina mine, a $1 billion upgrade at Salvador and the expansion of Radomiro Tomic, which doesn’t have an estimated capital expenditure yet.

Codelco, which hands over all of its profits to the state, holds vast copper deposits, accounting for 10% of the world’s known proven and probable reserves and about 11% of the global annual copper output with 1.8 million metric tonnes of production.