Copper Slips from Six-week High on Investor Fear of US Fiscal Cliff

After hitting a six-week high on Wednesday, copper dipped Thursday on concern that US lawmakers won’t be able to reach a deal that staves off the “fiscal cliff,” spending cuts and tax increases that are set to automatically come into effect in 2013.

Copper got a boost earlier this week on hopes that a deal could be reached to avoid the fiscal cliff and on signs that demand for copper is improving in China, the world’s largest consumer of the metal.

Thomas Keller, CEO of Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said this week that China’s commitment to urbanization and industrialization should give the copper market a “healthy boost” in the coming years. Keller also said that even if China’s economy only grows by a single digit going forward, “there’s still a lot of tonnage adding to the demand globally,” SteelGuru reported.

Thursday, the rhetoric between the White House and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives suggested that it will be difficult for the two entities to reach a compromise, and investor unease put downward pressure on copper prices.

Danske Bank analyst Christin Tuxen said the base metals market will be looking at the US non-farm payrolls data that comes out today. He said it will be “instrumental in showing how the labour market is doing in the United States, and that is important for the economy in general,” Reuters reported.

On the London Metal Exchange, copper for three-month delivery was slightly down, at $8,061 per tonne late Thursday compared to $8,065.25 the day before. On Wednesday, copper touched $8,095.75 in London, the highest since October 19, although it didn’t come near a September high of $8,422. COMEX copper for March delivery was down 1.1 percent at $3.6455 per pound in mid-afternoon trade in New York.

Company news

BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT) said it is transferring responsibility for the Olympic Dam operation to its Base Metals Customer Sector Group as it searches for a less capital-intensive design for the open-pit expansion of the project. The group is shutting down its uranium business, which until now has been responsible for the project, The Australian reported.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE:FCX) said it plans to buy Plains Exploration & Production (NYSE:PXP) and McMoRan Exploration (NYSE:MMR) for $9 billion to add oil and gas resources to its business. The company’s stock fell 16 percent and shareholder BlackRock described the move as “disappointing,” The New York Times reported. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings placed Freeport on Rating Watch Negative, citing “additional borrowing” and “assumed debt.” Once more details of the transactions are known, it will “resolve the watch,” and it is likely that Freeport’s debt could be downgraded by one notch, Reuters reported.

Xstrata’s (LSE:XTA) CFO, Trevor Reid, won’t take the role of CFO in the combined Glencore-Xstrata company after shareholders voted against the retention bonuses for Xstrata’s managers, Financial Director reported.

Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,NYSE:RIO) said it plans to reduce its costs by more than $7 billion by 2014, of which about $1 billion will come from cutting spending on exploration and evaluation projects this and next year.

Junior company news

Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS,LSE:NUS) stopped work at its Papua New Guinea deep-sea mine after the government, which took a 30 percent stake in the project and agreed to co-finance it, started a legal process to determine whether it is obligated to continue funding, the Science and Development Network reported, citing CEO Michael Johnston. “We were at an expensive stage of the build,” Johnston said. We were spending US$3 million or US$4 million a week. For a company of our size, we couldn’t continue to pay for that ourselves.”

Sunridge Gold (TSXV:SGCcompleted an initial resource estimate for its Adi Rassi copper-gold deposit at the Asmara project in Eritrea. It said inferred mineral resources of 15.77 million tonnes contain an average grade of 0.54 percent copper and 0.33 grams per tonne of gold. “We are pleased with this initial mineral resource estimate for the Adi Rassi deposit based on just twenty-two new drill holes by Sunridge and believe that further drilling will significantly expand and upgrade the mineralization,” president and CEO Michael Hopley said in a statement.

Catalyst Copper (TSXV:CCYcompleted a preliminary economic assessment of its La Verde project in Mexico and estimates $1.63 billion in pre-tax net positive cash flow.

Discovery Metals (ASX:DML) has been ordered to halt production at the Boseto copper and silver mine in Botswana after a pit wall failure. It said it is “reviewing what impacts, if any, this may have on short term mining schedules and production.”

EMED Mining (LSE:EMED,TSX:EMD) expects to ramp up production at the former Rio Tinto mine near Seville in Spain “significantly faster” than previously planned, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report on 4-traders.com.

Dia Bras Exploration (TSXV:DIBchanged its name to Sierra Metals and will start trading under the symbol SMT.

 

Securities Disclosure: I, Ragnhild Kjetland, hold no investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.