Vale SA, the world’s largest iron-ore producer, is aiming to boost copper output more than fivefold by 2015 as it seeks to diversify sales and catch up with rivals such as Codelco SA and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.
The company wants to accelerate its copper projects to be among the world’s top five or six producers, Tito Martins, head of Vale’s basic materials operations, said today at an event near Salamanca, Chile. Vale is analyzing three or four projects in Chile, Peru and Brazil’s Carajas region and may also explore for copper in Indonesia and the Philippines, he said.
Vale, based in Rio de Janeiro, plans to produce about 1 million metric tons annually within five years. Possible acquisitions may push that target higher, Martins said. That compares with the 198,000 tons the company produced last year and a target of 691,000 tons by 2015 that the company announced on Oct. 28.
Copper prices in London more than doubled in the past two years, and reached a record $8,966 on Nov. 11 amid growing Chinese demand and concerns about production shortages. World consumption of copper exceeded supply by 363,000 tons in the first eight months of 2010, almost eight times more than a year earlier, the International Copper Study Group said Nov. 23.
Vale also said today it completed its Tres Valles mine in central Chile’s Coquimbo region, with initial capacity of 18,500 tons of copper cathodes a year. The world’s second-biggest miner by market value spent $140 million on the project.
Making acquisitions will depend on Vale’s capacity to discover new copper reserves at its current assets, Martins said during a press conference after inaugurating Tres Valles.
“It would be something more targeted, looking to buy reserves,” he said.
Tres Valles is Vale’s first copper venture in Chile, the country that controls about 30 percent of the world’s total reserves of the metal. The company’s current pipeline of copper projects in Brazil will lead to production of 700,000 tons a year once completed, Gilberto Schubert, Vale’s country manager for Chile, said in a separate interview.
‘Speed up Expansion’
“Vale has in its plans to speed up the expansion in these new projects,” Juliano Navarro, an analyst at Banco Espirito Santo SA, said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo. “It’s a matter of diversification, to be in a lot of different countries and regions even if it’s with small assets.”
Vale produced 131,000 tons of copper in the first nine months of 2010, down 21 percent from 2009, the company said Oct. 18. Codelco produced 1.78 million tons in 2009 and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. produced 1.61 million tons, according to London-based metals-consulting company CRU.
Vale rose 27 centavos, or 0.6 percent, to 49.50 reais as of 6:08 p.m. in Sao Paulo trading today. The company has gained 17 percent since the start of the year.