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Copper jumps to 20-month high on double mine closure; analysts react

Trucks at work in the copper mine 'La Escondida' in Chile
Jorge Mu-Oz | AFP | Getty Images
Trucks at work in the copper mine 'La Escondida' in Chile

London copper hit its highest levels in 20 months Monday as closures of two of the world's biggest mines amplified concerns of a supply shortage.

In early trading Monday, the three-month London Metal Exchange contract rose 0.10 percent to $6,097 per metric ton, its highest level since May 2015 and a continuation of the upwards trend seen since last week, when production was halted at two key sites.

Miners in Chile's BHP Billiton site, the world's largest copper mine, last week walked out over a wage dispute, prompting the firm to announce Friday that it would not meet its upcoming contractual obligations on metals shipments. Meanwhile, an export ban has caused Freeport-McMoRan to cease work in Indonesia after it failed to reach an agreement on a new mining permit with the government.

Prices leapt 4.4 percent Friday as tensions heightened, taking the metal to a 17-month high.

Since then, Reuters reported over the weekend that more than 300 vandals broke into property at BHP Billiton and forced contracted workers to stop working, causing the metal to rise to $6,204 a tonne in volumes of around 8,000 lots in Asian trading Monday.

But does this signal the start of a chain reaction for base metals or, rather, does it say precious little?

According to a press note from Kit Juckes, macro strategist at Societe Generale, it's a sector worth watching, "given the tendency for commodity prices to correlate."

A worker labels copper products at Truong Phu cable factory in Vietnam's northern Hai Duong province, outside Hanoi.
Kham | Reuters
A worker labels copper products at Truong Phu cable factory in Vietnam's northern Hai Duong province, outside Hanoi.

However, Vivienne Lloyd, senior analyst at Macquarie, believes the impact is set to be more limited.

"Copper rallying has a bullish effect on the other base metals, as we saw last Friday, but less so on other commodities such as energy," she told CNBC by email.

"It seems more likely to be a short term rally based on recent disruption events," said Lloyd, who believes a long-term run is unlikely.

"A sell-off when (BHP Billiton) goes back to work would be the most probable trigger for a reversal," she said, however suggesting that the troubles for Freeport-McMoRan in Indonesia could be somewhat greater.

"In the interim, however, uncertainty remains around Grasberg (Indonesia). We think PT Freeport Indonesia will move to reduce operations this week due to the export ban, which is likely to spark another short term up-trend."

Today's market shifts are also riding on the impact of stronger-than-expected Chinese data released last week, in which exports and imports were up, subsequently boosting metal prices.