The Rise of Small Mines as Copper Surges to 7-year High

Featured Image: Luis Cortes, an artisanal miner at a mill in a small copper and gold processing plant at the "Inca de Oro" (Inca gold) miners association near Copiapo city, north of Santiago, Chile, December 14, 2015 (Source: Reuters)

Copper reached a new 2020 high and is currently up to 1.45% to $ 3.481 per pound on the London Metal Exchange (LME), surging to its highest value in almost eight years.  In fact, the rise in price of the red metal shows no sign of slowing down and continues its climb. This increase comes after positive figures from China, where manufacturing activity grew at its fastest pace in more than three years (Chile Minería). Naturally, with these values production and freight costs are viable and as a result, many small deposits in Chile recently reopened and are back in business.

Figure 1- Copper cathodes (Source: Industry Queensland)

This reality greatly contrasts with the international copper prices after the end of the super cycle, where the red metal reached around 4 dollars per pound in 2011 and fell too less than 2 dollars a pound just 5 years later, in 2016.  This eventually led to the closing of many small and artisanal mines in Chile.

The creation of promotion instruments for small miners to add value to their deposits has launched 56 mining operations throughout the country only this year. This represented an investment of almost 1.5 million dollars. In the country, more than 20 thousand people work in small mining. In fact, as Baldo Prokurica, Chile’s Minister of Mining explained, “the Enami plants, which is where the miners deliver their ore, both copper and gold, have considerably improved their supply. We have had 14% more mineral delivered to the sites compared to 2019, even during the months where the price of copper was lower, March to July, through the promotion carried out by Enami, the supply of miners increased considerably, compared to the last year in the same period, despite the pandemic. This shows that the State's promotion of this activity has given results” (Litoral Press). In October 2020, Enami registered 796 active small producers, a figure that is higher than the annual average of 785 active producers.

Figure 2 - Luis Cortes, an artisanal miner at a mill in a small copper and gold processing plant at the "Inca de Oro" (Inca gold) miners association near Copiapo city, north of Santiago, Chile, December 14, 2015 (Source: Reuters)

Another factor that plays in favor of small copper mines is the price of the dollar. This is explained by the fact that the production is calculated in that currency. Consequently, small mining is very sensitive to variations in the price of metals as Robert Mayne-Nicholls, Enami's executive vice president, explains [1].

Read More:

Chile Míneria: https://bit.ly/37oj2ca

Litoral Press: https://bit.ly/39uLefY

Reporte Minero: https://bit.ly/36sDU2F

Posted in LATAM

Maria Dias View posts by Maria Dias

Lisbon-based geologist. Graduated from the University of Lisbon, with a M.Sc. degree in Economic Geology. Her M.Sc. thesis was heavily focused on geochemistry and mineral chemistry in magmatic-hydrothermal systems. The project was made in collaboration with EDM (Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro - Portugal), where she worked as an intern for two years. She has a keen interest in geochemistry and petrology applied to ore-forming systems.