REPORT: Early production in gold, copper and iron ore falls flat
If early production announcements for the three months to end-March turn out to represent the entire mining industry, then there has been a significant fall in quarter-on-quarter production for the three most important mined metals: gold, copper and iron ore.
However, the production results published to-date suggest that gold and iron ore production is still higher than the year-ago quarter, up almost 12 percent in the case of iron ore.
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According to the SNL Metals & Mining database, 188 companies have already announced gold, copper and iron ore output for the March quarter for which comparable data is also available for the December 2014 quarter.
In the State of the Market report for the three months to end-March, published May 18, SNL notes that the 46 most significant gold producers — those with a March quarter output of over 50,000 ounces — reported a combined 11.2 million ounces, compared with an equivalent 12.5 million ounces in the December 2014 quarter, equivalent to a fall of over 10 percent.
Cutback in copper and iron ore
By mid-May, SNL had recorded production data for the March quarter from 49 copper-producing companies. The 22 largest listed companies — companies with quarterly output of over 10,000 tons — had combined production of 2.41 million tons, a decline of four percent on the previous quarter, amounting to 88,807 tonnes.
Of these largest producers, 13 companies, or about 59 percent, reported lower output between the December and March quarters.
Glencore Plc booked the largest absolute decline in output compared to the previous quarter, amounting to 46,700 tons; Antofagasta Plc's output was down by 41,000 tons; and Freeport-McMoRan's output fell by 37,648 tons. Nevsun Resources Ltd. booked the largest quarter-on-quarter percentage decline of 28 percent, while Antofagasta's output was down by 22 percent.
Of the top seven copper producers in the March quarter, only the largest, BHP Billiton Group, reported a quarter-over-quarter increase in production, which was up 9 percent, or 36,300 tons, to 460,000 tons.
There has been a welcome decline in iron ore production. According to SNL data, 15 companies have reported iron ore output of over 1.0 million tons in the March quarter. These companies produced a total of 308.5 million tonnes, compared to 324.4 million tons in the preceding quarter — equivalent to a fall of 5 percent or 15.84 million tons. However, this quarterly tonnage represents a year-on-year increase of almost 12 percent.
Of the leading iron ore producers, only BHP Billiton reported a quarter-on-quarter increase in production, but all of them saw significantly higher year-on-year output.
BHP Billiton reported a rise in iron ore production of 5 percent compared with the December quarter, rising 2.63 million tons to 58.98 million tons, and 20 percent on the year-ago quarter. The company has driven production for the first three quarters of fiscal 2015 to a record 172.4 million tons, despite iron ore prices sinking to a record lows.
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Copper production from top ten companies to increase by 3.8%
Copper production from the world’s top companies is set to increase by up to 3.8% this year, following a fall of 0.2% in 2020, GlobalData analysis reveals. Last year’s marginal slump saw production drop to 11.76 million tonnes (Mt).
The initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mining operations was immense, however, six of the ten largest copper producers succeeded in increasing output last year. In 2021, copper production from the top ten copper companies is expected to bounce back, rising by up to 3.8%, to reach 12.2Mt, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
The highest increase in copper production was by Canada’s First Quantum, which, despite all the challenges, reported 10.4% growth in 2020. The company’s Sentinel mine in Zambia and Cobre Panama were key contributors to this growth. While the latter remained under care and maintenance between April and August 2020, it delivered record production levels during the subsequent months.
Codelco, the world’s largest producer of the red metal used in electric vehicles, also bucked the trend.
Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, commented: “Despite Codelco reporting over 3,400 active cases during July 2020, the company achieved 1.2% growth in its production in 2020. The company implemented a four-phase plan, as part of the COVID-19 measures, to ensure the health and safety of its employees, while also avoiding any significant impact to its copper output.”
Although the overall impact was minimal, declines in production were observed from Glencore (8.2%), Antofagasta (4.7%), BHP (3.9%) and Freeport McMoRan (1.3%). Reduced operational workforces due to COVID-19 measures, lower ore grades and production halts due to maintenance were the key disruptors to output during 2020.
The move towards electric vehicles and clean energy from renewables sources such as solar panels and wind turbines has driven the copper price to all-time highs. Copper has been among the best performers over the last month where metals ranging from aluminum to iron ore have surged to their highest prices in years. The rally is being fueled by stimulus measures, near-zero interest rates and signs that economies are recovering from the global pandemic.