Peru , Dominican Republic , Chile and Argentina

Are LatAm gold miners shifting to copper?

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, May 06, 2021
Are LatAm gold miners shifting to copper?

The top gold miners in Latin America say copper will play a bigger role in their businesses amid soaring prices and a positive long-term outlook underpinned by the push for a green economy.

Copper prices have almost doubled in the space of a year to around US$4.50/lb amid fears of a global shortfall of the metal, as consumption recovers from a COVID-19 slump, with some analysts forecasting further short-term gains.

Demand is expected to grow in the coming years as the world shifts to renewable energy and electric vehicles, both of which will require large quantities of copper.


Against this backdrop, the region’s top gold miners have been quick to point to their copper credentials, both in current operations and future growth opportunities in their portfolios.

Newmont, the top gold producer in Latin America, says copper could grow to a fifth of its business in the coming years if major projects in the region come to fruition.

These include Norte Abierto and NuevaUnión in Chile.

Norte Abierto, a 50:50 JV with Barrick Gold, hosts reserves of 23.2Moz gold and 5.8Blb (26.3Mt) copper, while production at the US$7.2bn NuevaUnión asset – a 50:50 JV with Teck Resources – is forecast at 224,000t/y copper and 269,000oz/y gold.

Newmont also has the Galore Creek copper-gold project in Canada.

“If you assumed that just one of these three mega-projects come into our production profile at the back end of this decade, Newmont’s total production would be around 15-20% copper, providing us with a natural exposure to a metal of growing importance for reducing carbon emissions and facilitating the ongoing transition to a new energy economy,” CEO Tom Palmer told the company’s Q1 earnings call last week.

Other projects set to deliver growing copper output for Newmont are the US$2bn Yanacocha copper-gold sulfides expansion in Peru, which will extend the life of the Yanacocha mine (in picture).

The growing potential importance of copper to Newmont stems from the presence of copper and gold together in many large deposits globally, rather than any conscious decision to focus on the red metal.

“It's still very much a clear focus on gold as the core of our business but organically we’re seeing that as you look for the best gold projects… particularly when you look at our world class definition to look for those long-life projects and you look for those projects in the jurisdictions we're prepared to work in, they come with copper. So it's more of an organic benefit from that,” Palmer added.


While growth projects will increase some primary gold miners’ exposure to copper in the coming years or decades, the metal’s role has expanded far more quickly as a result of the price surge. 

“Copper is an important contributor to the bottom line of Barrick and with the recent rise in copper prices it’s making a 20% contribution to Barrick’s business as we speak, today, based on spot prices,” CEO Mark Bristow told the company’s AGM on Tuesday.

In addition to the Pueblo Viejo gold mine in the Dominican Republic, a 60:40 JV with Newmont, and the Veladero asset in Argentina, a 50:50 JV with Shandong Gold, Barrick’s global portfolio includes the Zaldívar copper mine in Chile, a 50:50 JV with Antofagasta.

Barrick remains focused on being a primary gold mining company, Bristow added, but also on high quality copper assets.

The metals are often found together in porphyry deposits, he added.

“Gold is a precious metal. Copper is probably the most strategic metal, and geologically related to gold. If you want to build a world-leading gold company, in the fullness of time you’re going to end up producing copper,” the CEO said. 

As well as growth projects – including the 50% stake in Norte Abierto – Barrick is actively exploring for copper.

“We have also said we’ll look to invest in specific copper operations when they are in a country where we believe we have a competitive advantage over and above traditional copper miners,” Bristow told the AGM.

The company has previously looked to M&A to increase copper exposure, including targeting a merger with Freeport-McMoRan last year, which failed to advance.

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