TOKYO (Reuters) - Nippon Mining Holdings Inc. 5016.T, the world’s second-biggest copper smelter, aims to boost purchases of copper from its own mines to 50 percent within five to 10 years, up from the current 16 percent.
The Japanese smelter is accelerating the development of copper mines in Chile and other Latin American countries as it pushes into upstream operations and the electronics materials sector, moving away from the unprofitable smelting business.
“It would be tough to survive as a smelter in this severe business environment if we don’t have our own mines,” Nippon Mining President and Chief Executive Officer Mitsunori Takahagi said in an interview on Wednesday at the Reuters Global Mining and Steel Summit in Tokyo.
The company currently purchases 90,000 tonnes a year of copper from its equity holdings in the Escondida, the Callahuasi and the Los Pelambres mines in Chile, out of its total 530,000 tonnes acquisitions through its Pan Pacific Copper Co. (PPC) unit, a joint venture between its Nippon Mining and Metals unit and Mitsui Mining and Smelting Co. (5706.T).
The Caserones mine in Chile, which PPC bought last year for $137 million, is expected to start producing 110,000 tonnes of copper from 2011.
“We’d love to own another mine similar in size to Caserones,” Takahagi said, adding it had received several approaches from companies selling slightly smaller mines.
Nippon Mining plans to invest 35 billion yen for the production facility at Caserones after a feasibility study next year. That is part of its $3.6 billion investment program for the three years through March 2010.
Rapid consolidation among major miners, tight supplies of copper concentrate and expanding smelter capacity in China are making things increasingly difficult for Japanese smelters.
Last year, global miners including BHP Billiton Plc./Ltd. (BHP.AX)(BLT.L) had cut smelters’ fees to process concentrate into refined metal by nearly 37 percent for the January and December 2007 period.
“The smelting business is no longer a source of profit for us,” Takahagi said.
Despite surging demand for copper products in China and other Asian countries, Nippon Mining has no plans to increase its smelting capacities and copper purchases over the next three years, he said.
Takahagi said Nippon Mining is ready to cut output if miners push it for low fees in an ongoing mid-year settlement.
“Yes. A production cut is possible. We can’t go on if we can’t make profit,” he said.
Nippon Mining already has the biggest share of the global market in such products as treated rolled copper foil used in printed circuit boards and materials used in chips and flat-panel displays.
Its PPC unit has an alliance with South Korea’s LS-Nikko Copper Inc., which supplies about 60 percent of the country’s copper.
Additional reporting by Miho Yoshikawa, Ritsuko Shimizu