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Chile's Deadly Earthquake And Effect On Copper

Monday, 1 Mar 2010 | 12:13 PM ET
Chile
Chile

The devastating impact of the earthquake in Chile over the weekend will take weeks to accurately assess. Over 700 people have died and some 1.5 to 2 million others have been "displaced" at last count.

Damages from the quake could run up to $30 million in damage or the equivalent roughly 15 percent of the South American nation's GDP, according to the insurance modeling firm Eqecat.

Chile is the world's largest copper producer and while the reaction to the quake would likely have had a dramatic impact on copper prices if the commodities markets had been opened, the price rally that has occurred 48 hours after the event has been rather muted.

COMEX May copper futures initially rallied up to the daily price limit when the Asian markets opened overnight, rising about 5.6 percent, but have pared those gains in trading this morning. Copper prices are now up less than 2 percent as energy and metals have been slipping since the euro significantly against the dollar (below the key $1.35 technical level.)

Looking at a map of Chilean copper mines, it's clear why the quake did not have more of an impact on this base metal. The majority of the mines are in the northern part of this long, narrow country and the epicenter of the quake was 200 miles south of its capital of Santiago.

Chile's Coldelco, the world's largest copper company, has reopened its El Teniente division, which produces nearly 400,000 metric tons of copper a year. The other Coldeco mine closest to the epicenter, Andina, remains closed due to power supply issues, but should reopen shortly. Anglo American's Los Bronces and El Soldado mines, producing about 280,000 tons per year, are closer to the epicenter and have been shut down, as has the port of San Antonio.

The biggest two of Chile's three oil refineries, accounting for over 220,000 barrels/day of capacity, seem to have suffered greater damage than the copper mines. However having that amount of crude taken off the market has had minimal price impact.

Still die-hard bulls may use this quake disruption to add to the thesis that world oil supply disruptions are starting to cause a tightness in supply. But despite the lift in gasoil and heating oil prices this morning, the quake hasn't offered much bullish momentum to crude prices.

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