SALAMANCA, Chile, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Brazilian miner Vale (VALE5.SA), the world's largest iron ore producer, on Thursday boosted its 2015 copper output estimate by 45 percent to one million tonnes as it seeks to diversify its business.
The miner wants to expand its base metals output to take advantage of rising prices, especially for copper, and rival top producers of the red metal like Chile's state-run Codelco [CODEL.UL] and Freeport-McMoran (FCX.N).
"Diversification is part of Vale's strategy," said Tito Martins, Vale's Executive Director for Base Metals at the inauguration of a $140 million copper plant in northern Chile, which will produce 18,500 tonnes of copper per year.
"Copper, given current market trends, appears to be an extremely attractive investment," he said.
Copper prices rose to all-time highs in November on the back of an expected supply deficit in 2011 and strong demand from top consumer China.
Vale previously expected to produce 691,000 tonnes of copper in 2015.
That estimate, which was released in the company's investment plan in October, did not include additional output from projects that are still in exploratory phase, he said. Vale will be able to carry out most of this production increase through existing projects, though Martins said it did not rule out possible acquisitions of copper reserves.
Company officials said expansion at Tres Valles did not appear likely, but said it would help the company get a foothold in Chile, the world's top copper producer.
Vale also has copper production in Brazil in Canada, where copper is produced together with nickel at the Voisey's Bay and Sudbury mines.
The company produced 131,000 tonnes of copper during the first nine months of 2010, though this figure was lower than capacity because of an extended strike at its Canadian nickel operations.
Vale's 2011 target for copper output is 332,000 tonnes per year.
Copper represented less than 3 percent of Vale's revenues in the third quarter of 2010, compared with around 60 percent for iron ore in the same period, according to the company's earnings statement for that period.
Vale has identified copper and fertilizers as key areas of expansion for the company.