Commodities & Metals

Rio Tinto’s Mongolian Copper Mine Makes First Deliveries

Copper bars
Source: Thinkstock
In what may be the last massive mining project we see for some time, Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. (NYSE: TRQ) announced yesterday that the $6.2 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project in Mongolia has shipped its about 5,800 metric tons of copper concentrate to China. Turquoise Hill is majority owned by Rio Tinto plc (NYSE: RIO) and owns a 66% stake in the Oyu Tolgoi mining operations. The government of Mongolia owns the remaining 34% of the mine through its ownership of Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi.

The bad news is that copper prices are near a 12-month low, trading today at around $3.07 a pound. The London Metals Exchange (LME) cash price for copper futures is around $6,765 a metric ton, down 0.8% on the day. Six months ago the three-month futures price was near $8,000. LME inventories total 656,600 metric tons, just short of a six-month high.

The second (and final) phase of construction is currently estimated to cost another $5.1 billion and excludes a new coal-fired electricity generating plant that was originally budgeted at $1.16 billion and an expansion to the phase-1 concentrator that was budgeted at $645 million. The second phase calls for the construction of an underground mine, and earlier this year Turquoise Hill estimated a capital cost increase of about 30% to build that mine.

Barrick Gold Corp. (NYSE: ABX) recently suspended its Pascua-Lama project on the border between Chile and Argentina after pouring more than $5 billion into the gold silver mining project. Barrick has been fined $16 million for environmental issues and has run into all sorts of delays in completing the project.

Another giant miner, BHP Billiton Ltd. (NYSE: BHP) froze approvals for new projects in April, including a new potash mine in Canada which could have cost $10 billion to develop. Last year the company also junked a plan to expand a copper and uranium mine in Australia that had been estimated to cost around $30 billion.

Mining companies are retrenching, looking to keep shareholders happy with stock buybacks and dividend hikes, not massive new projects that take billions of dollars and years to realize. Don’t expect another Oyu Tolgoi for years to come.

Shares of Turquoise Hill are up 2.2% in the early afternoon today, at $5.99 in a 52-week range of $5.03 to $10.14.

Rio Tinto’s ADRs are up 2% as well, at $40.82 in a 52-week range of $39.14 to $60.45.