Reduced supply from major copper producers Panama and Peru may flip the global copper market into a deficit from surplus in 2024 or at least tighten oversupply if the disruptions are not resolved in coming months, analysts said on Tuesday.
Panama’s top court on Tuesday ruled that Canadian miner First Quantum’s (FM.TO) contract to operate the Cobre Panama mine there is unconstitutional, while a union representing half of the workers at Peru’s Las Bambas mine went on strike.
If the Cobre Panama mine were to be permanently shut, then the market could easily move into deficit in 2024, said Macquarie analyst Alice Fox.
However, if it is out of operation only until Panama’s May 2024 presidential election, it would mean a loss of around 40,000 tons of copper this year and 160,000 tons next year, according to her estimate.
“This could result in a small deficit this year but the market should be able to absorb the loss next year and remain in surplus, albeit a smaller one. This could provide some support to prices next year,” she added.
Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange rose 1.4% to $8,480 a metric ton by 1721 GMT. Reuters’ November poll of analysts forecasts an oversupply of 302,500 tons of copper in 2024.
Bank of America’s 2024 base-case scenario sees the global copper market surplus at 150,000 metric tons, said analyst Michael Widmer. That includes 370,000 tons from Cobre Panama, 200,000 tons of production increase from Las Bambas and incorporates a 6% disruption allowance.
“So losing any of these tonnages might well take us closer to a deficit,” Widmer said.
Copper, used in power and construction, is widely expected to benefit from the green energy transition in coming years, however, it is up just 1.2% so far in 2023 amid patchy post-pandemic recovery of top metals consumer China and concerns about economic growth elsewhere.
“Participation in the copper market has been slim. This could be the trigger for some longer-term investors to come in, especially given the deficit calls for the back half of this decade are now being brought forward,” said Al Munro at broker Marex