A crane lifts a load of copper plates out of a treatment tank at a copper mine, operated by a unit of Vedanta Resources Plc. (Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)

Copper Prices Are About to Go on Steroids, Citi Says

(Bloomberg) -- Copper’s slump amid a deepening global trade conflict offers a long-term buying opportunity, according to Citigroup Inc., which shrugged off fears for world growth to boost its long-term forecasts.

“Prepare for a decade of Dr. Copper on steroids,” analysts including Max Layton and Tracy Liao wrote in a July 17 note. The bank sees average annual prices at $8,000 a metric ton in 2022, passing $9,000 a ton by 2028 under its baseline scenario. The metal, often viewed as a barometer of world economic health, closed Tuesday at $6,152 a ton in London.

Copper Prices Are About to Go on Steroids, Citi Says

Copper has spiraled lower in the past six weeks as President Donald Trump upends global trade with disputes involving multiple nations, most critically with No. 2 economy China. But, in the longer term, Citigroup said prices have to rise because the metal is getting much more difficult and more expensive to mine.

“We look beyond the potential trade war to longer-term copper market fundamentals and we find that current prices of $6,200 a ton are nowhere near high enough to enable the market to clear,” the analysts said. “Copper is set to outperform most other commodities under our coverage over the coming decade on a lack of mine supply growth.”

Citigroup’s forecasts from 2023 are based on a new long-term forecast of $7,500 a ton, assuming 2 percent annual inflation, up from an earlier outlook of $7,000 a ton, the bank said. The metal slumped to its lowest in a year earlier this month, after touching its highest since 2014 in June.

The bullish outlook chimes with other analysts and miners who see a supply shortage looming as urbanization and the rise of renewable energy and electric vehicles fuels the world’s need for the metal. Demand can keep growing at an average of 2.7 percent a year through 2030, with new energy sectors and EVs contributing most of the increase, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. The market is entering a long period of deficits starting this year, Citigroup said.

“The overall lull we’re seeing in project development will start to weigh on the market and we’ll start to see supply fall well behind what are relatively conservative demand forecasts,” Daniel Hynes, senior commodity strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “I’m still quite positive on copper in the longer term, but even in the shorter term we’re starting to see some value and concerns around the trade war are overdone.”

Citigroup added a note of caution for the near term in its report, noting that if a full-blown trade war materializes, copper will fall “materially lower before it goes higher again.” Still, that’s not the bank’s base case, and copper should find a floor near current prices as high-cost mines come under pressure in the low $6,000 range, it said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.