The world’s biggest mining companies would like you to put more zinc in your zucchini and copper in your socks and dental floss.
While builders and manufacturers remain the biggest metals users, producers are confronting the end of a Chinese industrial boom that fueled surging global demand and prices. For more than a decade, the country dominated markets as it sucked up raw materials to build factories, homes and power lines. Now, with the industrial engine cooling, mine owners are looking for new uses to spur sales like in fertilizer, electric-car batteries and salmon cages.
“Traditional demand isn’t going to fall off a cliff,” said Paul Gait, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd. in London. “But it’s true that no one wants to hear about industrial production growth or Chinese cement demand anymore.”
Mining companies have toyed with exotic uses for years, but the search took on new urgency as the economy began to mature in China, the world’s biggest buyer of metals. This year, the country will have its slowest growth in copper use in a decade, Barclays Plc analysts said last month. Base metals including aluminum and nickel are heading for their first quarterly decline in more than a year.
In May, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded China’s sovereign debt, sparking concern that tighter credit will hurt smokestack industries. Fixed asset investment trailed estimates last month as the country’s property market cooled and the country sought to rein in credit, data showed Wednesday.
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