China’s Effect on Copper

LME Week is an important tradition in the global metals industry calendar that takes place each year in London during the fall. This year’s event kicked off on Monday and the spotlight on industrial metals couldn’t be brighter, especially for copper. With prices up around 13 percent so far this year, copper’s notched a spectacular rebound off its lows and currently sits about 10 percent below its all-time high set in 2008.

China’s role in the copper market rebound can’t be overstated. World consumption of copper has increased 14.9 percent from 2003-2009. But remove China from the equation and world copper consumption swings in the opposite direction to a 14 percent decline over the same time period. Meanwhile, the other BRIC countries (Brazil, India and Russia) combined have seen their copper consumption grow 15 percent since 2003.

China and emerging nations need the copper because it is the most important metal for a rapidly industrializing nation. The average single-family home uses 439 pounds of copper in construction, an air conditioner uses 52 pounds and a refrigerator uses 4.8 pounds. The average vehicle contains more than 50 pounds of copper stretching nearly a mile, and Chinese auto sales have been booming.

In order to meet its ever-increasing demand for copper supply, China has looked beyond its borders for new sources. This chart from BMO Capital Markets illustrates the rapid rate in which Chinese copper imports have risen since Beijing announced the $586 billion stimulus plan in November 2008.

BMO expects Chinese copper imports to remain robust and on the rise and says “China is commanding a significant influence over the price of copper.”

Last year’s spike in Chinese copper imports left copper in short supply for everyone else, just as demand in the developed world is beginning to turn around. Morgan Stanley (MS) reports that consumption in the U.S. is up 5 percent in 2010 versus the same time period last year, the European Union is up 12 percent and Japan is up 37 percent.

MS is estimating that this rise in demand coupled with a weak supply response has the global copper market poised to shift into a deficit this year and remain there until 2013.

This could mean we haven’t seen the end of rising copper prices. BMO just revised its 2010 price forecast up 6 percent to $3.39 a pound, as well as its forecasts for 2011 and 2012.

About Frank Holmes 265 Articles

Affiliation: U.S. Global Investors

Frank Holmes is CEO and chief investment officer of U.S. Global Investors, Inc., which manages a diversified family of mutual funds and hedge funds specializing in natural resources, emerging markets and infrastructure.

The company’s funds have earned more than two dozen Lipper Fund Awards and certificates since 2000. The Global Resources Fund (PSPFX) was Lipper’s top-performing global natural resources fund in 2010. In 2009, the World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX) was Lipper’s top-performing gold fund, the second time in four years for that achievement. In addition, both funds received 2007 and 2008 Lipper Fund Awards as the best overall funds in their respective categories.

Mr. Holmes was 2006 mining fund manager of the year for Mining Journal, a leading publication for the global resources industry, and he is co-author of “The Goldwatcher: Demystifying Gold Investing.”

He is also an advisor to the International Crisis Group, which works to resolve global conflict, and the William J. Clinton Foundation on sustainable development in nations with resource-based economies.

Mr. Holmes is a much-sought-after conference speaker and a regular commentator on financial television. He has been profiled by Fortune, Barron’s, The Financial Times and other publications.

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1 Comment on China’s Effect on Copper

  1. Every ton not consumed in China has to be added to the world surplus, but there are no published statistics.. This year China is on track to produce 4.5m tons and imports 4.5m tons while only consuming 6m tons. Add this,about 3m tons, plus last years, about 2m tons, to the published statistics makes claims of a copper shortage beyond suspect.

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