Copper didn’t put on the best performance in 2023, but experts remain optimistic about the years ahead.
While construction and electrical grids have long been major markets for copper, today the rise in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), EV charging infrastructure and energy storage applications are some of the biggest emerging drivers of copper consumption. Indeed, the copper market is on the verge of a “generational shift” in demand as the world transitions to a green economy, according to BNY Mellon Lead Portfolio Manager Al Chu.
Given those factors, investors may want to keep an eye on the world’s top copper-producing companies. According to the latest stats from financial markets data provider Refinitiv, the following companies produced the most copper in 2022.
1. Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX)
Production: 1.53 million MT
Freeport-McMoRan recorded 1.53 million metric tons (MT) of copper production in 2022. One of its biggest copper assets is the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, which is the second largest copper mine in the world, as well as the world’s second largest gold mine. The company continues to make significant investments to increase its output of both copper and gold.
Long-term mine development activities are underway at Grasberg’s Kucing Liar deposit. Freeport-McMoRan believes that the deposit has the potential to produce more than 6 billion pounds of copper and 6 million ounces of gold between 2028 and the end of 2041.
Production: 1.45 million MT
As the world’s second largest copper producer, Chilean state-owned Codelco put out 1.45 million MT in 2022. Production for the year was negatively impacted by ongoing maintenance at its Chuquicamata smelter.
Codelco is in the midst of a US$1.4 billion project aimed at extending the life of its Salvador mine through 2068 by converting the underground mine to an open-pit operation. The project is a part of the company’s 10 year, US$40 billion plan to upgrade its many aging mines.
3. BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP)
Production: 1.13 million MT
BHP produced 1.13 million MT of copper in 2022 and operates two mines in Chile and one in Peru. The first is Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, which is an important contributor to the country’s economy. Its other Chilean mine is the Spence copper mine, whose life it is working to extend by 50 years. In Peru, BHP owns the giant Antamina copper-zinc mine.
Although the red metal is only one of the resources BHP produces, the company has been increasing its foothold in the copper market through exploration and development, as well as through acquisitions. In April 2023, the mining giant finalized its US$6.4 billion acquisition of Australian copper-gold producer OZ Minerals.
3. Grupo Mexico (BMV:GMEXICOB)
Production: 1.13 million MT
Grupo Mexico is the largest copper producer in Mexico, and its copper production, combined with that of its indirect subsidiary Southern Copper (NYSE:SCCO), came in at 1.13 million MT in 2022 to tie with BHP. In addition to Mexico, the company and its subsidiaries have operations in Peru, the US, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. The conglomerate has 14 underground and open-pit mines; 52 smelters, refineries and other plants; and eight exploration projects.
Grupo Mexico says it is completing expansion work at its Buenavista del Cobre mine in Mexico and Toquepala mine in Peru.
5. Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF)
Production: 1.01 million MT
Glencore produced 1.01 million MT of copper in 2022. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Swiss-based company operates the Katanga and Mutanda copper-cobalt mines. Its Australia operations are the Mount Isa mines, which produce copper anode material, silver-lead bullion and zinc concentrates, and the CSA underground copper mine. Additionally, Glencore holds interests in the Collahuasi mine (44 percent) in Chile and the Antamina mine (33.75 percent) in Peru.
In early 2023, Glencore was trying to win over Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.A,TSX:TECK.B,NYSE:TECK) shareholders with a US$23.2 billion merger offer in a bid to further increase its position in the global copper market. Although that didn’t happen, Glencore agreed to acquire a 77 percent stake in Teck’s steelmaking coal business in November 2023.
In May 2023, the market heard plans that the major diversified miner was looking to invest US$1.5 billion in an expansion project at its Antapaccay copper mine in Peru.
6. Zijin Mining Group (SHA:601899)
Production: 859,000 MT
Zijin Mining Group was the sixth largest copper-producing company in 2022 with output of 859,000 MT. The company’s diverse metals portfolio includes seven copper-producing assets in China and several others in copper-rich jurisdictions such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru.
One of the pillars of Zijin’s 2030 development goals is to become a top three copper producer. “Providing materials the world needs for a low carbon future” is the company’s mission, which is reflected in its increasing investments in copper. In August 2023, the company said it was considering a US$3.8 billion expansion of its Cukaru Peki copper mine in Serbia.
7. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM)
Production: 776,000 MT
Canada’s First Quantum Minerals produced more than 776,000 MT of copper in 2022. The company previously had seven copper-producing mines across six countries, with the most important being the Kansanshi copper-gold mine in Zambia and the newest one being the Cobre Panama copper mine in Panama. However, in November 2023, First Quantum was forced to shut Cobre Panama down after its contract was ruled unconstitutional in court.
In March 2023, First Quantum completed a partnership agreement with Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,NYSE:RIO,LSE:RIO) to advance development in one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper resources, the La Granja copper project in Peru.
As of early 2024, the company was pursuing various efforts aimed at shoring up its balance sheet.
8. KGHM Polska Miedz (FWB:KGHA.F)
Production: 733,000 MT
Poland’s KGHM Polska Miedz has operations in Europe, North America and South America, and says that it holds over 40 million MT of copper ore resources worldwide. In 2022, the company produced more than 733,000 MT of copper.
Along with copper concentrates, KGHM’s primary products include copper cathode and copper wire rod. In February 2023, KGHM signed a copper cathode supply agreement with Nexans (EPA:NEX), one of the largest wire and cable companies in the world.
9. Anglo American (LSE:AAL,OTCQX:AAUKF)
Production: 664,000 MT
British miner Anglo American controls a diverse resource portfolio that includes economically important commodities such as diamonds, platinum, iron ore and copper. The company holds a 44 percent stake in Chile’s Collahuasi copper mine. Anglo American’s Los Bronces open-pit copper-molybdenum mine is also located in Chile, as is its El Solado mine, which is reportedly running out of high-grade ore.
To strengthen its position as one of the world’s top copper producers, the company is advancing its Quellaveco copper project in Peru. Once in operation, it is expected to deliver around 300,000 MT of copper annually in the first 10 years.
10. Antofagasta (LSE:ANTO)
Production: 646,000 MT
Chile-based copper miner Antofagasta operates four mines in Chile and produced more than 646,000 MT of copper in 2022.
Copper output was down for the year due in part to challenges at the company’s flagship asset, Los Pelambres, including drought-induced water restrictions and a leak in an underground concentrate pipeline. Los Pelambres is a sulfide deposit that produces copper, gold, silver and molybdenum. Declining grades at the Centinela mine also contributed to lower copper production and sales in 2022.
In mid-2023, Antofagasta cut its production guidance for the year in half due to delayed completion of the desalination plant and concentrator expansion at Los Pelambres.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.