Freeport’s Adkerson Sees Copper Scarcity Trumping Cooling Effort

The copper market, unlike oil, is supported by a dearth of new discoveries at a time of rising demand that will accelerate with decarbonization efforts, according to the world’s biggest publicly traded producer of the metal.

While government and market actions can have an impact in the short term, copper is a very long term business and is “extraordinarily strong,” Freeport-McMoRan Inc. Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson said in an interview Thursday.

“There’s no shale oil for copper,” he told Bloomberg Television. “Unlike the oil industry, where you have an ongoing flow of discoveries and now with a new element of shale coming in, copper mines of size are very rare to find.”

Freeport’s Adkerson Sees Copper Scarcity Trumping Cooling Effort

Bets on tight supplies have sent copper prices to record levels as major economies emerge from the pandemic and the energy transition boosts the outlook for the metal used in electric installations. The rally has cooled somewhat with the outlook of a tapering by the U.S. Federal Reserve and China’s efforts to ease a commodities price surge.

The industry is facing a supply scarcity that will require both copper substitution and increasing recycling, Adkerson said. If prices were to double tomorrow, Freeport would be unable to bring on new supply within five years, he said.

Freeport’s margins are expanding as near-record prices and a ramp-up at its flagship mine in Indonesia counter any cost increases. The company has “its arms around” input supply challenges, he said.

Host nation politicians and unions seeking a bigger share of the copper windfall is a typical response to surging prices, he said.

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