June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. and Codelco, the world's two largest copper producers, said China's plans to curb its economy threaten to reduce demand for the metal after prices slumped 15 percent in two months.
The copper market will be "volatile" for as much as another year after China took measures to cool its property market, Codelco Chief Executive Officer Diego Hernandez said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. The Asian nation is a "risk to the world's market place in the near term," Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said in an interview.
Chinese policy makers are trimming stimulus measures this year after a $1.4 trillion lending binge revived growth in 2009. Officials are targeting a 22 percent reduction in new loans and have sold bills and raised banks' reserve requirements to suck money out of the financial system. Copper has slumped from a 20- month high in April on concerns about global economic growth.
"In the short term, we are subject to the volatility of the world economy," said Hernandez, a former head of BHP Billiton Ltd.'s base metals business who became chief executive of state-owned Codelco, based in Santiago, last month. Emerging market demand "could slow down for a while," he said.
Equity and commodities have slumped on speculation that Europe's debt crisis will spread, hurting global economic growth. The Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of 19 raw materials dropped 8.2 percent last month, the most since November 2008.
"China is the biggest user, so any concerns about demand there will continue to be a drag on copper," Donald Selkin, the chief market strategist at National Securities Corp. in New York, said today in a telephone interview.
Freeport fell 4.1 percent to $66.17 in New York composite trading. Before today, the shares dropped 14 percent this year.
Copper futures for July delivery fell 9.4 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $2.9465 a pound on the Comex in New York, the biggest drop for a most-active contract since May 25. Earlier, the metal touched $2.9255, the lowest price since May 20.
Reports June 1 showed the rate of manufacturing gains slowed in China and the U.S., the world's biggest copper users. European factory-output growth slowed more than previously estimated last month, figures showed yesterday. Copper prices in New York dropped 7.4 percent in May, the most since January.
"China is cooling from very strong levels, the European recovery threatens to stall, and the U.S. is leveling out," said David Thurtell, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. in London.
China is seeking to limit inflation to about 3 percent this year and said May 13 it will crack down on price speculation and hoarding in some food commodities to reach the target. Consumer prices jumped 2.8 percent in April from a year earlier, the fastest pace in 18 months.
"It's positive" that China's government is working to minimize inflation, Adkerson told Bloomberg Television today in an interview. "It will likely lead to a more sustainable situation going forward."
Still, both companies are investing in expansion plans in expectation of rising future demand in China and other emerging economies. Combined, they account for about a fifth of global output of copper, which is used in plumbing and wiring.
Codelco will invest $15 billion over the next five years to revamp production at its aging mines, Hernandez said. Production will rise to over 2 million tons a year from about 1.7 million tons through the increased spending, he said.
Freeport, based in Phoenix, will spend $100 million this year to explore for copper and gold after cutting back on investments in 2009 amid concern over the world economy, Adkerson said in April.
China, India and other emerging economies need copper "for their growth, urbanization, programs that they have and I don't see how that could stop," Hernandez said.