SANTIAGO, March 29 (Reuters) – The copper market has solid fundamentals despite current market volatility and will maintain high prices for at least the next 12 months, Ivan Arriagada, CEO of Chile’s Antofagasta, forecast.
In an interview with Reuters during the CRU-CESCO World Copper Conference in Santiago, Arriagada also said the company is still looking to develop its Twin Metals project despite the Biden administration’s refusal to renew its licenses.
And although the company is on the lookout, it sees few options for copper deals on the market.
When it comes to copper prices, Arriagada said he based his forecast on the key role that copper plays in energy transition, especially with electric cars.
“In the short term, in the next 12 months, the important thing is that we have a market with solid fundamentals,” Arriagada said. “There is a context of relative tightness due to supply chain conditions, inflation, and all that means we expect prices to remain at levels that they have been at recently, which are good prices.”
However, he said the world economy is entering a phase of lower growth in the midst of the Ukraine conflict and that will have to be considered going forward, particularly in 2023.
The company maintains its goal of producing 660,000-690,000 tonnes this year. This factors in the impact of a drought at its flagship Los Pelambres mine, which the company plans to offset with a desalination plant in the second half of the year.
Arriagada reiterated Antofagasta’s intention to reach a production level of 900,000 tonnes by 2026, citing the company’s deposits.
“We have the mining resources to sustain that projection and a plan that contemplates making those investments, if the conditions exist and we obtain the permits,” he said.
The Antofagasta (ANTO.L) board of directors must decide whether to go ahead with a plan for a new concentrator at its Centinela mine by the end of the year during a time of political uncertainty due to a new leftist government and the drafting of a new constitution.
We hope to have “a horizon of certainty regarding the prevailing conditions to make that investment and we therefore hope that by that time the processes that are under way will be at a degree of progress” to decide, Arriagada added.
Additionally, a plan for a mining royalty to raise revenue for social programs is currently under way in Chile’s Congress.
“In tax decisions, a balance between contribution through taxes and industry competitiveness should be maintained and we think that’s something extremely important that should be weighed,” he said.
Antofagasta suffered a setback in its Twin Metals project in the United States after the renewal of two federal licenses was suspended. Arriagada said the suspensions affected a significant part of the company’s mining operations, but do not affect the rest of the company’s licenses.
“We are evaluating the best action, from the legal standpoint, to reverse these decisions, which seem to us to be administrative and clearly arbitrary,” Arriagada said.
“I hope that over the course of the next six months we’ll have clarity on the best legal path to take in regard to recovering these licenses,” he added.
The company expects to be able to implement the project by the end of the decade.
On the other hand, Arriagada said the company remains open to any attractive acquisition opportunities to increase its portfolio, but he admitted they are “very limited.”
Arriagada noted that neighboring Peru remains a point of interest despite ongoing political turmoil and other local challenges.
“We have a team working there looking for exploration targets that could be interesting and we have a preference for that region (Americas), including Peru, and we look at our projects with a long-term perspective,” Arriagada said.