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Trucks operate in the open-pit mine of Freeport's Grasberg copper and gold mine complex near Timika, in the eastern region of Papua, Indonesia on Sept. 19, 2015.

ANTARA FOTO/Reuters

Freeport McMoRan Inc is not interested in selling its Grasberg copper and gold mine in Indonesia, Chief Executive Richard Adkerson said on Monday, tamping down speculation of a deal with Canadian miner Barrick Gold Corp.

Barrick CEO Mark Bristow in recent weeks has expressed interest in buying Grasberg. Earlier this month Bristow said he sees no competition for the asset from global or state-backed Chinese miners.

That back and forth from two of the mining industry’s most-powerful executives comes as investors are expecting a wave of buyouts this year, especially for copper assets.

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Copper is a key material used in construction and electric vehicle motors. Many analysts expect a supply crunch in the next decade.

“Now’s just not the time for Freeport to think about doing a big strategic move,” Adkerson said at the BMO Global Metals and Mining Conference in Florida.

When asked on Monday if he remained interested in Grasberg, Bristow told Reuters he felt the world’s second-largest copper mine and largest gold mine should be worth more than it currently is.

“I think the point is, is it undervalued? Yes. Could that value be delivered? Of course. What is the best way to do that? That’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it?” he said.

Shares of Freeport, the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer, fell 6 percent on Monday on fears the coronavius is spreading globally, while Barrick’s stock rose 4.6 percent as gold prices jumped.

Gold is considered a safe-haven for investors in times of crisis, whereas copper prices are linked closely to global economic health. Barrick is the world’s second-largest gold producer after Newmont Corp.

Bristow has said copper is attractive because it is often mined alongside gold and the metals share common processing techniques.

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Bristow told the conference Barrick has capacity for M&A but demurred when asked directly about his interest in a deal for Grasberg.

“My point is that copper is an inevitable part of gold mining in the future,” he said during webcast remarks, which followed a presentation by Freeport’s Adkerson.

“You can interpret that whichever way you want,” he said.

Freeport could revisit M&A in two to three years as copper prices improve and the miner’s production outlook stabilizes, Adkerson said.

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