Copper is an important and much needed commodity. It is classified as an industrial metal. However, what if at some point in the future it became scarce enough to be reclassified as a precious metal?
Such a scenario seems inconceivable at this stage. After all copper is much more abundant than precious metals such as silver and gold. Most view it in the same light as other industrial heavy weight commodities such as iron ore or crude oil; fundamental resources in the movement, development and growth of the world.
Much of the world’s copper sources are also concentrated in just a few areas of the world most noticeably in Chile, which is the world’s largest copper producing country. Peru is the second biggest producer of copper followed by China and the USA. In 2018, the total global production of copper was 21 million tons. By comparison in that same year, the total global production of usable iron ore was 2.5 billion tons. For aluminium it was 60 million tons, for nickel it was 2.3 million tons, for lithium it was 85 thousand tons, for silver it was 27 thousand tons, and for gold it was 3.26 thousand tons.
A United States Geological Survey (USGS) global assessment of copper deposits around the world conducted in 2014 stated that there contained 2.1 billion tons of copper resources (note resources and not reserves) discovered under the ground while the number for ‘undiscovered resources’ of copper came at 3.5 billion tons. As of 2018, total global reserves of copper were 830 million tons.
In 2018, total global reserves for the following commodities were as follows…
Iron Ore: 170 million tons of ‘crude’ ore reserves containing 84 million tons of iron reserves. *However it should be noted that the total amount of identified iron ore resources under the ground currently stands at 800 billion tons of crude ore resources containing 200 billion tons of iron resources.
Aluminium: Global resources of bauxite (from which aluminium is extracted) are estimated to be between 55-75 billion tons.
Nickel: 89 million tons. *Total global resources of nickel are currently identified at 130 million tons
Lithium: 14 million tons. *Total global resources of lithium are currently identified at 62 million tons
Silver: 560 thousand tons. *Silver is primarily extracted as a by-product mostly from lead-zinc mines, then from copper mines and then thirdly from gold mines
Gold: 54 thousand tons.
So in light of all my findings, could copper one day become a precious metal? In my view, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Even if there is a growing demand for copper, the fact is, compared with silver and even other industrial metals like nickel and lithium, there is simply an abundance of copper. The current total global copper reserves are nearly ten times greater then the current total global nickel reserves and over a thousand times greater than the total global silver reserves, never mind gold.
Still, copper is aesthetically a very attractive metal and I rather like the novelty value of owning a few pieces of copper bullion. You can often buy a 1kg bar of copper via most bullion dealers for a very modest sum and the German bullion company Geiger Edelmetalle has a number of copper coins and bars you can buy from their online shop.
However, if you wanted exposure to copper in your portfolio, as with other industrial commodities such as iron ore, crude oil or aluminium, you are better off investing in blue chip mining stocks such as Rio Tinto or Antofagasta, which produce a lot of copper. What’s more, both companies also pay a dividend. Alternatively, you can invest in a copper ETF, where you have direct exposure to the copper price, but without the added stress of having to worry about factors such as company mismanagement or political issues when investing in copper related mining companies.
Both these options are far more practical than owning physical copper, which is just not feasible at current prices if one wanted to accumulate a large position. Even accumulating a growing stack of physical silver at its current prices can incur high storage costs if you wanted to store it with a reputable bullion dealer.
By Nicholas Peart
(c)All Rights Reserved
Main USGS link for commodity stats…
Copper production 2018 link…
Click to access mcs-2019-coppe.pdf
Iron Ore production 2018 link…
Click to access mcs-2019-feore.pdf
Aluminium production 2018 link…
Click to access mcs-2019-alumi.pdf
Nickel production 2018 link…
Click to access mcs-2019-nicke.pdf
Lithium production 2018 link…
Click to access mcs-2019-lithi.pdf
Silver production 2018 link…
Click to access mcs-2019-silve.pdf
Gold production 2018 link…