Mining sector economics appear to be on the rise, with Fluor Corp. announcing construction contracts for what owners and observers say are multibillion-dollar copper and iron ore projects in Peru and Australia. But global trade uncertainties are keeping the mining resurgence shaky.
Fluor announced on Aug. 8 notice to proceed on an EPC contract to build the Quelleveco copper mine in southern Peru, an estimated $5.3-billion project that mining unit President Tony Morgan said would tap one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper deposits. The open-pit mine was approved on July 26 by the board of developer Anglo-American plc after Mitsubishi Corp. agreed to a 40% stake. It is set to produce 300,000 tonnes of copper per year, beginning in about 2022. Fluor did not disclose the contract amount, but industry analyst Jamie Cook, a Credit Suisse managing director, said in a research note that the “scope could be at least half” of the project amount. Fluor has managed site development since 2014.
Fluor also announced Aug. 2 a construction project management award for the planned $4.9-billion South Flank iron ore mine in Western Australia, which owner BHP Billiton says is the largest of its type ever built there. Fluor is mum on the amount, but says its mining backlog “will approach $6-8 billion by year-end.” The contract, which includes building an 80-million-tpy crushing and screening plant, continues earlier up-front work.
Oil and gas sector gains have supported mining expansion so far this year, said Zacks Equity Research in an Aug. 13 note. “Growth in U.S. GDP and continued improvement in end-use sectors … are tailwinds for metals.” But market jitters have emerged recently, with copper prices down 17% this year on fears of escalating U.S.-China trade wars that threaten global growth and metals demand, says an Aug. 13 Bloomberg report. But Cook says a tripling of feasibility studies are “a leading indicator for projects moving forward in 2019, with the most notable pocket of growth in copper, and potential for a few greenfield projects 2-3 years out.”