(Reuters) – Nearly a quarter of the world’s major copper mines are running in the red, even after producers including Codelco and BHP Billiton engage in their deepest cost-cutting in years, according to a Reuters analysis.
A 17-percent slump since last July has pushed copper futures on the London Metals Exchange to under $6,000 a tonne, the lowest since 2009, is the first major test of producers’ margins since the global economic crisis, forcing a new reckoning after five years of relatively consistent profitability.
Codelco, the Chilean state miner that produces about 8 percent of the world’s copper, will review the cost reduction plan at its Salvador mine as it prepares to restart operations there after torrential rains shuttered the complex in March, said a source close to the state-run miner.
The company has an ambitious target to slash total costs by as much as $1 billion this year. Salvador produced copper at a cost of some $11,439 per tonne in the fourth quarter last year, the highest out of 91 mines analyzed by Thomson Reuters unit GFMS as part of its Copper Mine Economics database.
The mines account for more than two-thirds of global output, and almost a quarter of them had production costs late last year above current prices.
The GFMS analysis, which is based on quarterly and semi-annual filings by 26 mining companies, gives the deepest insight yet into the voracious pace of cost-cutting by miners late last year as the sell-off in copper quickened, a hot topic at CRU Copper’s conference in Santiago this week.
In the final three months of last year, the industry’s total costs on average fell by 6 percent to $4,426 per tonne quarter-on-quarter, the lowest since late 2013, GFMS said.
Investors are “increasingly concerned” about the cost curve, said Jeremy Sussman, mining equity analyst at Clarksons Capital.
Falling oil prices have saved fuel costs at open-pit mines that run big fleets of trucks, and the weak peso in Chile has cushioned costs for some miners in the world’s top producer.
“They (miners) have done everything in their control. We’re seeing the benefits of better discipline in costs, but copper prices are working against them,” said GFMS metals analyst Bruce Alway.
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