Copper prices have rallied to a record-high in 2021 on expected demand growth amid a supply deficit.
While construction and electrical grids have long been big markets for copper, today the rise in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), EV charging infrastructure and energy storage applications are considered some of the biggest drivers of copper consumption.
CIBC commodity analysts have forecasted copper prices will rise to US$5.25 per pound in Q4 2021 and into the first quarter of 2022. Copper prices are expected to average US$4.62 per in 2021 and US$4.75 per pound in 2022.
Given those factors, investors may want to keep an eye on the world’s top copper producing companies. According to the latest stats from financial market data provider Refinitiv, the following top copper producing companies produced the most copper in 2020.
Production: 1.762 million tonnes
The first top copper producing company on the list is state-owned Codelco. The world’s biggest copper producer, the company had an output of 1.762 million tonnes of copper in 2020. Although there were concerns early in the year that operation curtailments due to the coronavirus pandemic would knock Codelco from its top spot, the Chilean company defied those expectations to meet its production guidance for the year.
In May 2021, Codelco announced the start of a US$1.4 billion project aimed at extending the life of the Salvador mine thru 2068 by converting the underground mine to an open-pit operation. The project is a part of the company’s 10-year, US$40 billion plan to upgrade its many aging mines.
2. Glencore (LSE:GLEN)
Production: 1.26 million tonnes
Major diversified miner Glencore produced 1.26 million tonnes of copper in 2020. After suffering an 11 percent drop in copper production for the first half of the year versus the same period in 2019, the company cut its annual production guidance for the full year to 1.225 million tonnes.
Rather than COVID-19 disruptions, Glencore attributed its production decline to its Mutanda mine being placed on care and maintenance in 2019. Operations at Mutanda, the world’s biggest cobalt mine, are set to resume sometime in 2022. In addition to its cobalt production, the mine has five copper production lines.
3. BHP Group (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT)
Production: 1.214 million tonnes
In 2020, BHP produced 1.214 million tonnes of the red metal. The Australian mining giant managed to keep its copper production numbers high despite the year’s COVID-19 disruptions and strikes at Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine.
Labor strife has continued for BHP into 2021 at the Escondida and Spence copper mines in Chile, although the company claims the current strikes have not impacted production.
4. Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX)
Production: 1.078 million tonnes
Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan recorded 1.078 million tonnes in copper production for 2020. Despite the coronavirus related production setbacks, strong copper prices helped to buoy profits for the company.
One of the company’s biggest copper assets is the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, the tenth-largest copper mine in the world. The company continues to make significant investments in Grasberg to increase both its copper and its gold production.
5. Grupo Mexico
Production: 975,898 tonnes
Grupo Mexico’s mining division is the largest copper producer in the country. 2020 marked a year of record copper production for the company despite the global coronavirus crisis.
On its website, Grupo Mexico says its expansion work at its Buenavista del Cobre mine in Mexico and Toquepala mine in Peru will make the company the world’s third largest copper producer.
6. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM)
Production: 715,762 tonnes
Canada’s First Quantum Minerals produced more than 715,000 tonnes of copper in 2020. The company was able to increase its production guidance in 2020 despite temporary coronavirus shutdowns at its Cobre Panama mine operations.
In 2021, output is expected to be strong from Cobre Panama and its other two key copper mines, Kansanshi and Sentinel in Zambia.
7. Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO)
Production: 548,074 tonnes
Rio Tinto’s copper production in 2020 totalled 548,074 tonnes. The company is one of the largest diversified mining companies in the world behind BHP — and like BHP, Rio Tinto is also negatively impacted by strikes at Chile’s Escondida mine. Rio Tinto holds a 30-percent interest in the project.
8. KGHM Polska Miedz (WSE:KGH)
Production: 543,672 tonnes
Poland’s KGHM has operations in Europe, North America and South America, and says that it holds over 38 million tonnes of copper ore resources worldwide. In 2020, the company produced more than 543,000 tonnes of copper.
KGHM recently announced it’s cutting a few small assets from its portfolio, including the Carlotta copper mine in the United States. In the first quarter of 2021, the company achieved its best operating and financial results in nearly decade.
9. Antofagasta (LSE:ANTO)
Production: 503,577.6 tonnes
Chilean copper-miner Antofagasta operates four mines in Chile and produced more than 503,000 tonnes of copper in 2020. The company’s production was impacted by having to place its flagship Los Pelambres mine on care and maintenance as well as lower grades at its Antucoya operations.
Antofagasta recently pledged to cut its carbon emissions down 30 percent by 2025 by using renewable energy sources. By the end of 2020, the company reported that it already powers 19 percent of its operations with renewable sources.
10. Nornickel (OTCMKTS:NILSY)
Production: 456,240 tonnes
Russia’s Nornickel produced more than 456,000 tonnes of copper in 2020. The company is also the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium.
Moving forward, by 2030 Nornickel is looking to increase its copper production by 20 percent from its current level. The company is upgrading its production capacity at the Ruchey copper-nickel mine, replacing its obsolete 75,000 mt/year Kola copper refinery with a state-of-the-art 150,000 mt/year plant.
This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2016.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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