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Heavy machinery is seen at First Quantum's Frontier copper mine in Fungurume, southern Democratic Republic of Congo. (KATRINA MANSON/KATRINA MANSON/Reuters)
Heavy machinery is seen at First Quantum's Frontier copper mine in Fungurume, southern Democratic Republic of Congo. (KATRINA MANSON/KATRINA MANSON/Reuters)

Streetwise

Copper the place to be for acquisitions Add to ...

There’s a lack of supply in the copper business -- not just in the market for the metal but the market for miners.

A slew of big companies are looking for acquisitions in the copper business, meaning that recently depressed prices for some mid-size copper miners might prove attractive.

Copper miners such as Inmet Mining and First Quantum Minerals have been savaged this week on the Toronto Stock Exchange in part because of concern that China’s growth is slowing, which might eat into the fundamentals of the copper market. Copper fell to a two-week low in the wake of China cutting its growth forecast.

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Miners, however are still bullish on copper and looking to add production. That means copper’s run of big mergers and acquisitions seems likely to continue.

Mitsui & Co. of Japan is looking for copper production in South America, and is seeking production of about 120,000 tons a year. Poland’s KGHM Polska Miedz SA, which just bought Canada’s Quadra-FNX, says it needs another acquisition to reach its 2018 target of copper production. And Minmetals Resources Inc., which has already made a big copper deal of late, said it’s looking to make a purchase a year as it grows. Copper is one of the metals its targeting. (Full credit here to Bloomberg News, which reported all three stories.)

That’s a lot of appetite for copper, especially given the universe of publicly traded copper miners with significant projects in the pipe has been shrinking as producers are snapped up.

Bank of Nova Scotia’s mining analysts say Capstone Mining may be a logical target for KGHM, “given the similar geographical focus to Quadra-FNX, the company’s strong focus on exploration, and very solid balance sheet.”

Another potential target, according to Scotia, is First Quantum Minerals . Scotia analyst Tom Meyer ranks First Quantum his first pick, citing takeover potential.

And if Mitsui is looking for production in South America, Inmet Mining has a mine to sell them, or at least a stake in one. The company is working to develop its Cobre de Panama project and is likely to seek a partner.

Canada’s Baja Minerals is also working to bring on a big copper project called Boleo in Mexico. Production at Boleo is slated to begin next year -- though Baja has some near-term issues to deal with in the form of a proxy fight.

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