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Copper smelter inactivity reaches 2024 peak in April before easing

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  • Copper smelter inactivity reaches 2024 peak in April before easing

14 May 2024 – London – Latest data from Earth-i‘s SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index shows that an average of 18.7% of global copper smelter capacity (covering 90% of the total) was inactive in April 2024, compared with more usual levels of 13.3% and 14.9% recorded in April 2023 and 2022 respectively. Inactivity reached a peak to date this year of 23.1% on 18th April, before ending the month at 20.2%.

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index (1 Jan 2022 – 30 April 2024)

Inactivity tends to start rising seasonally as scheduled smelter maintenance closures kick in and reach its height towards the end of the quarter. This would suggest the 2024 peak levels of inactivity have yet to be reached. Scheduled closures aside, smelter output must also contend with the tight concentrates market, as witnessed by extremely low treatment charges (TCs). Underlining this, the International Copper Study Group recently lowered sharply its mine output forecast for 2024 and now anticipates a near-negligible rise.

Against this backdrop, major producers in China had earlier announced plans to curtail output this year. Certainly, inactivity in the top producing nation was elevated in the last week of April at around 23.6% before easing slightly on the final day of the month. This uptick in activity levels looks to be the result of the Sanmenxia (Zhongyuan Gold) smelter coming back online, suggesting planned maintenance was completed on time. Meanwhile the Hongsheng and Qinghai plants are still showing as inactive, while Shandong Humon is active even though a month-long closure was slated through to early May.

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index – China (1 Jan 2022 – 30 April 2024)

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index – China (1 Jan 2024 – 30 April 24)

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index (1 Jan 2022 – 30 April 2024)

Outside China, smelter inactivity peaked at 26.6% on April 18th, but retreated to 18-19% in the final week of April. In Chile, Enami’s Hernan Videl Lira smelter has been inactive since the end of March, in line with announced plans to replace it and Codelco’s Las Ventanas plant with a larger 800,000 tonnes per year (tpy) smelter on the site of the former.

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index – ex. China (1 Jan 2024 – 30 April 24)

Blips of inactivity were also noted at another facility in Chile and one in Europe, but these will be monitored further to ascertain whether or not this was very temporary.

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index – Chile (1 Jan 2024 – 30 April 24)

Elsewhere, our observations still do not detect activity at the 500,000 tonnes per year (tpy) Adani greenfield smelter in India. The facility currently is excluded from SAVANT calculations.

Adani Copper Smelter – India – January 2024

The Inactive Capacity Index is derived from binary observations of a smelter’s operational status as being either active or inactive. The capacity weighted global and regional indices show the percentage of smelter capacity that is inactive, with readings displayed in the chart below as a weekly rolling average.  A reading of zero would indicate 100% smelting capacity.

The SAVANT platform monitors up to 90% of the smelting capacity for copper, nickel and steel around the globe. Using daily updated sources, including extensive use of geospatial data collected from satellites, the index reports on the activities at the world’s smelting plants offering subscribers unprecedented levels of coverage, accuracy and reliability. This dataset allows users to make better informed and more timely trading decisions.

Sign-up here for a trial of the SAVANT service.

About Earth-i:

Earth-i is a geospatial intelligence company using machine learning, artificial intelligence and Earth Observation data to provide unique and relevant insights, derived from diverse geospatial data, that deliver clear decision advantage for businesses, governments and other organisations.

Earth-i provides advanced analytics using automated interpretation of a range of geospatial Earth Observation data sources including colour imagery, colour video, infra-red and radar from a range of sources including satellite, drone, aerial and ground-based sensors. This data is fused with additional data sources to extract factual understanding and generate predictive insights across a range of markets such as commodities, supply chain, agriculture, infrastructure and defence.

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Earth-i’s SAVANT platform provides indicators of smelter activities around the globe, in an easy-to-understand format, covering multiple metals and minerals.

Data is collected and analysed using advanced algorithms derived from Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques. Data is taken from several different Earth Observation satellites and our global and regional indices are updated daily to give consistent, insightful and dependable results.

Two types of indices are provided: smelter activity levels and periods of shutdown or inactivity. With daily monitoring capability, SAVANT provides data on a near real-time basis for up to 95% of global smelting capacity, including China, about individual smelters, regions, countries and companies.

Activity is scientifically measured using a consistent methodology. Over eight years of historical data is available.

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