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US ports await impact of Chilean strike

Keywords: Tags  Copper, Port of New Orleans, Panama City port, LME, London Metal Exchange, Chilean port strike, Angamos, San Antonio Antofagata

NEW YORK — An ongoing strike at Chilean ports could impact copper deliveries to Panama City, Fla., and New Orleans in the next few weeks.

"If we are going to see any change in the rate of delivery, it will start to show up in the next few weeks," a Panama City port spokesman told AMM. "So far, we have not seen any impacts. It’s still a little early to know whether we’re going to see impacts or not."

"It’s still pretty soon after the (Chilean) work stoppages began," a Port of New Orleans spokesman said, "(but) anything that affects shipments of nonferrous metal (from Chile) could affect the Port of New Orleans."

A stevedores’ strike began at Angamos in mid-March (, March 22), with workers at the Chilean ports at Antofagasta, Inquique and San Antonio joining shortly after (, March 28).

U.S. traders confirmed that the strike has already delayed March copper deliveries, and both consumers and traders anticipate it will give copper cathode premiums a boost from the current range of 4.5 to 5.5 cents per pound if the dispute is prolonged (, April 2).

Both New Orleans and Panama City could experience fewer imports as a result of the Chilean labor dispute, although traffic may not fall off significantly if other countries boost copper production, the Port of New Orleans spokesman said. "We do receive copper from Brazil and Peru, although it remains to be seen if those countries will step up their production to meet demand (if the Chilean strike continues)."

Panama City port receives almost all of its copper from Chile, the spokesman said, adding that Peru used to ship copper to Panama City but hasn’t for years because most of its copper exports go to China.

Panama City port handled about 250,000 tonnes of Chilean copper in fiscal 2012 and is on pace to hit 300,000 tonnes in fiscal 2013 due to warehouse financing deals and the U.S. economy picking up steam, the spokesman said.

New Orleans handled some 600,000 tonnes of copper, aluminum, tin, zinc, nickel and lead. The port spokesman was unable to quantify how much Chilean copper was shipped to the port in 2012.

New Orleans has become the domestic location of choice for traders to store material in London Metal Exchange-listed warehouses, with inventories in New Orleans increasing to 167,650 tonnes on April 3 from 75,775 tonnes at the start of the year. Warehouse companies have been offering incentives to get metal into their stores in New Orleans since last year (, Oct. 8).

However, Panama City may take some of the heat off New Orleans soon, as the LME Warehousing Committee reportedly has discussed making the city the next domestic delivery location for copper.

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