The price of copper has slumped, but one factor could cause its value to spike
Copper prices came under further pressure overnight, as ongoing US-China trade war fears continue to weigh on the commodities outlook.
But ongoing industrial disputes at BHP’s huge Chilean copper mine could provide near-term support for the base metal, says Commonwealth Bank commodity analyst Vivek Dhar.
Overnight, “workers at BHP’s Escondida copper mine voted in favour of a strike after the union rejected the company’s final offer for a collective contract,” Dhar said.
“If extended negotiations fail, which include government-mediated talks, a labour strike could commence as soon as mid-August.”
Copper prices managed to climb off a two-week low overnight but still finished down by around 0.5 per cent for the session.
It forms part of a broader three-month downtrend, which has seen the prices fall by almost 20 per cent from multi-year highs reached in May.
The base metal is often described by traders as “Dr Copper” — a reference to the fact that copper itself has obtained a Ph.D. in economics.
Due to its extensive use in industrial production, manufacturing and consumer electronics, price movements in copper are often an accurate predictor of turning points in the global economy.
Trade war fears and a coordinated tightening of monetary policy by global central bank are cited as two key factors that could weigh on the global growth outlook.
And along with copper’s recent fall, the latest JP Morgan data showed global manufacturing activity slowed to a one-year low in July.
However, Dhar said supply side factors could reverse copper’s recent decline.
BHP’s Escondida mine is the largest copper mine in the world, accounting for around 4-5% of global copper supply.
Dhar said the worker’s union at Escondida has indicated it is willing to strike for at least 30 days, and two other large Chilean copper mines also face “imminent disruptions”.
“Supply disruptions, particularly at Escondida, could see copper prices spike,” Dhar said.