Friday, November 28, 2008

Chile: copper production down, copper price down...and it's only going to get worse

This is not good for Chile.

Today Chile's stats office published its monthly update. As Otto knows all the tricks and how to navigate LatAm government bureau websites, you can read it yourself by clicking this link (it's a PDF and quite big, so have patience).

As usual there's a lot of good macro info on board, but Chile's lifeblood export of copper (that, depending on pricings, accounts for between 50% and 60% of everything it sells to other countries) has suffered a notable setback in recent times and is a fair snapshot of the country right now. This simple little table sums up the problem:

Chile and Copper

Oct-07 Oct-08 %Difference
Cu production 484,741MT 450,731MT -7%
Cu Price/lb $3.20* $2.23 -36.60%
Est Cu Revenues U$3.42Bn U$2.22Bn -35%
*LME estimate

$1.2Bn in lost revenues for a single product is not funny in anyone's language. And note that copper prices for October averaged $2.23/lb: when October finished copper spot was at $1.81/lb. spot has sunk further since then and we can expect at least 20% lower prices for the month of November. But the good things we can say about Chile are:

1) At least we can trust their statistics. Along with Brazil, Chile has a decent reputation for not trying to spin things and massage official numbers.

2) They've saved for the rainy days. As this chart shows, Chile has high levels of international reserves to see itself through.

3) The gov't has started to help out. For example, this week the Bachelet admin announced an $18m fund o help small copper producers that will compensate the little guys and give them at least $1.99/lb for any Lb of copper they sell. This isn't some $200Bn stimulus package, of course, but it does show the gov't is aware of sector issues and is willing to help.

4) etc

Chile is a strange country, a real Curate's Egg, in fact. But when it comes to business and mining they've always been head and shoulders above the rest of the continent. If any country can get through this downturn relatively unscathed, it's Chile.