Skyrocketing copper prices are driving thefts and material substitution

Aug 01, 2010 | 06:56 AM | Tatyana Shumsky

Thefts are the dark common thread weaving copper fabricators and their customers together, as both are vulnerable to substantial loss of material. And while the thefts themselves are becoming a huge problem, equally troublesome is the lack of standardized theft-prevention methods that make policing extremely difficult.

"On the industrial side, it's not as common an occurrence as people think. It's still a difficult task to accomplish. But when there's money to be made, greed is a powerful motivator. It can fill up a truck in a hurry," a buyer for a wire maker said. "The single most important factor is price."

A buyer at a second wire manufacturer agreed. "The higher (the price) goes, the more vulnerable you become. A truckload can go for a couple hundred thousand dollars to half a million dollars very easily. The higher the cost of copper, the more vulnerable you are to thievery. We do not like to see copper at $3 a pound, but we can't control it so we have to deal with it," he said.

Red metal prices, which had spent decades hovering around the $1-per-pound mark, went on a historic bull run in 2004 that over the next few years saw copper breach the $4-per-pound level and remain above $2.50 most of the time since.....

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