Satellite monitoring data of metal processing plants released on Friday showed that global copper smelting activity fell to the lowest level in two years in April, as Chinese smelters were closed for maintenance and production at North American factories slowed.
Earth-i, which specialises in observational data, tracks smelters activity that accounts for 80-90% of global production. The agency sells data to fund managers, traders and miners. It also publishes a free monthly index of global copper smelter activity.
The global copper dispersion index, which measures smelter activity, fell to 44.0 in April from 46.8 in March, the lowest since March 2021. The North American regional dispersion index fell to 24.2, the weakest level since July 2020. A reading of 50 points indicates that smelter operations are at the average level over the past 12 months.
There is also a second index showing the percentage of active smelters. The dispersal index may remain under pressure as Indonesia's PT Smelting Gresik smelter is set to shut down for 75 days starting this month, while Bulgaria's Aurubis Pirdop operation is also expected to undergo maintenance, the statement showed.
"The most immediate impact of the decline in global smelting activity in April was the rise in processing and refining charges in the barrel concentrate market," said Guy Wolf, global head of analytics at Marex.
He added that the dispersion index has an inverse correlation with LME copper prices, so it is expected to rise in the second half of the year after bottoming out.
In the nickel market, the global dispersion index fell to 43.3 in April from 46.8 in March.
China's nickel pig iron (NPI) index fell to 37.9 in April, the lowest level since February 2022, from 45.4 in March.
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