May 9, 2013 7:14 pm

Rio Tinto mine set to go online this year

Rio Tinto will meet its target of commencing copper production at Oyu Tolgoi, its Mongolian mine, confirming a widely expected rise in the supply of the red metal later this year.

Copper

Concerns about leading copper projects coming online have weighed on the copper price for most of this year. Although uncertainty had heightened about production at Oyu Tolgoi after Rio and the Mongolian government were locked in negotiations over management fees, cost overruns and transparency, Sam Walsh, chief executive of the miner, said on Thursday that it was weeks away from gaining government approval to ship copper.

New supplies from Oyu Tolgoi, along with Chilean mines Los Bronces and Escondida later this year, are expected to accelerate the global copper surplus.

“The pace of the inventory increase will pick up in the fourth quarter when new mine projects come on line, and demand is seasonally weaker,” said Ryan Belshaw, copper analyst at Macquarie in London.

Sluggish global demand for the red metal amid rising supplies has been a concern for analysts and traders. Demand from the US, Europe and Japan has been extremely weak for the large part of this year, said analysts. The Chinese, the largest consumers of copper, have also been refraining from buying so far this year.

The latest monthly trade data showed that in April, China’s imports of refined copper and copper products had fallen 7.4 per cent from a month before and 21 per cent from a year earlier. For the first four months of the year, copper imports fell 27.2 per cent.

Walter de Wet, analyst at Standard Bank in Johannesburg said the fall in copper import levels came as consumers of the red metal used up their inventories rather than buying from overseas. “The data is consistent with the PMI data earlier this month, suggesting that raw material inventory levels declined during the month as fabricators destocked,” he said.

While some traders and analysts see China’s stricter controls over financing deals using copper as collateral affecting import levels of the metal, others expect Chinese buyers to return to the market now that prices on the London Metal Exchange have fallen below those in Shanghai. “Now prices on the LME have fallen, we are seeing signs that Chinese buyers have come back to the market,” said Mr Belshaw.

Copper lost ground on technical trading on Thursday, with the red metal for three month delivery on the LME declining almost 1 per cent to $7,350 a tonne.

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