LONDON (Reuters) - Chilean miner Antofagasta sees copper prices averaging around $6,600 a ton this year, before returning to 2007 averages in 2011, as improving United States and European demand supports prices.
Copper for three month delivery on the London Metal Exchange traded at about $7,565 a ton at 1140 GMT on Wednesday.
"We're very positive on the copper fundamentals," chief executive Marcelo Awad said at the Reuters Global Mining and Steel Summit on Wednesday.
"We have noticed, in the last two months, some fresh demand coming from Europe and the United States -- the main reason is that they have nearly depleted all their strategic inventories.
"We are confident that this year the copper price will be trading at an average over 300 cents (per lb) and next year we foresee an even higher average."
He added that it would come as no surprise to see copper prices in 2011 close to 2007 averages above 360 cents a lb ($7,937 a ton) but with high volatility.
The red metal, used in power and construction, hit an all-time high at $8,940 a ton in July 2008 but fell to $2,825 in December 2008 as the global economic slump hit prices.
Boosting sentiment in recent weeks has been a rise in canceled warrants -- material earmarked for delivery from stocks in London Metal Exchange warehouses.
"Most of the canceled warrants announced at this moment, two thirds, is here in Europe," he said. "That also shows that perhaps Europe is starting to pick up with fresh demand."
Last year, a combination of Chinese buying, improving economic data, a weaker U.S. dollar and new fund money helped copper gain 140 percent.
Awad said he saw no signs of waning Chinese demand.
"China has been the most important player of this market in the last five or six years," he said. "They were even more important during the downside of the world economy because with all their stimulus packages."
"I still think that despite the tightness on the monetary system in China, it won't have an important affect on copper demand from China," he added.
The London-listed group is forecast to produce 543,000 tons of copper this year, over 700,000 tons by 2011 and 1 million tons after 2015.