Highland Valley weathers slump in copper prices

A dip in copper prices saw production at Highland Valley Copper drop by seven per cent in the second quarter of 2013, but the union head believes this is just a market blip.

In fact, Richard Boyce, president of Steelworkers Union Local 7619, notes Teck Resources is hiring more staff at Highland Valley despite the company reporting second-quarter earning about half of what the miner saw a year ago.

"As a matter of fact, I don't think a month goes that I don't talk to 15 or 20 new hires," Boyce said Thursday.

Between now and the end of the year Boyce expects Highland Valley will add 60 to 80 more staff, he said.

"As a mine, we do extremely well," said Boyce.

The findings, released Thursday, state copper production of 25,000 tonnes at Highland Valley was seven per cent lower than a year ago.

Profits for the quarter also took a hit. The report states Highland Valley made $62 million compared to $87 million during the same period in 2012.

Boyce said all indicators point to copper prices recovering in due time. The industry as a whole is also doing well.

"There's so many other mines that are looking to come on board," he said.

Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said Highland Valley's production is up 14 per cent year to date compared to 2012.

"Highland Valley Copper is an important operation for Teck," he said, adding the company continues to invest in expanding the mine.

The Vancouver-based company has been hit particularly hard by lower prices for steelmaking coal, which fell by 23 per cent compared to the same quarter last year.

The company said copper prices fell by 38 cents during the quarter, while zinc was down by two cents.

As a result, the company said it has decided to slow reopening of its Quintette coal mine in B.C. and Phase 2 of the Quebrada Blanca copper mine in Chile.

Teck also increased its cost-reduction target to $300 million, up from the previous goal of $250 million. The miner said it has already implemented $220 million of the original cuts and has identified an additional $80 million.

Teck made its comments after reporting a second-quarter profit attributable to shareholders of $143 million or 25 cents per share, down from $354 million or 60 cents per share a year ago.

The company's revenues from operations were $2.2 billion for the three months ended June 30, down from $2.6 billion a year ago.

Copper revenue totalled $693 million, down from $731 million, while coal revenue amounted to $1 billion, down from $1.36 billion a year ago.

Zinc revenue fell to $455 million compared with $467 million in the second quarter of 2012 and energy revenue doubled to $2 million compared with $1 million.

Teck shares were up $1.01 at $24.70 in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday afternoon.

THE DAILY NEWS/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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