Western Australia is best known for its iron and gold output, but copper stocks in the state are making moves as well.
Western Australia is viewed as the engine room of Australia's mining industry, but it's not a major player when it comes to copper production and known resources — that crown sits firmly atop South Australia.
Nevertheless, while Western Australia is best known for its iron and gold output, two sectors it has cornered in Australia, it's also home to many base metals mines and exploration projects. At least eight individual base metals projects and operations have been identified by Geoscience Australia, with copper featuring in each of them.
Being home to such a large gold- and iron-mining industry, Western Australia hosts some of the largest mining companies in the world and attracts many prospective exploration and development companies.
That means investors looking at copper in the state have a healthy selection of investment opportunities, ranging from the likes of giants Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM,OTC Pink:NCMGF) and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,NYSE:RIO,LSE:RIO) to smaller companies like Cyprium Metals (ASX:CYM) and Venturex Resources (ASX:VXR)
All of those companies are accessible through the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) — and you can click here for a convenient guide on investing on the exchange.
We'll get back to the companies themselves shortly. First, more on copper in Western Australia. Without belabouring the point, Western Australia is one of the premier mining investment jurisdictions in the world, accounting for some 57 percent of all mining investment in the country, according to its Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS).
In the 2018/2019 fiscal year, almost AU$17 billion in investment was dumped into the state, as per the WA Mining Club, with that investment yielding healthy returns in the same year of AU$107 billion in sales.
The industry is also very healthy. At the end of 2020, DMIRS reported that the mining of minerals and petroleum yielded AU$174 billion in sales for the state — 94.32 percent of all exports in that year.
Furthermore, Western Australia ranks highly in the Fraser Institute's annual survey of mining companies. The state is the top Australian jurisdiction for investment attractiveness, and comes in fourth worldwide, falling beyond only Nevada, Arizona and Saskatchewan in 2020.
Now on to the companies — below is a list of stocks that are listed on the ASX and are operating in the copper space in Western Australia. All stats were current as of October 11, 2021, and companies are listed in order of market cap from largest to smallest.
1. Rio Tinto
Market cap: AU$155.39 billion; current share price: AU$102.25
As one of the largest miners in the world, it's no surprise that Rio Tinto has a copper pot on the boil in Western Australia, where the company already earns tens of millions in iron ore earnings.
Rio's copper interests in the state are centered on the Winu prospect in the north of Western Australia, which has an inferred mineral resource of 503 million tonnes at 0.45 copper equivalent.
"Study work to date suggests the copper mineralisation supports the development of a relatively shallow open-pit mine, combined with industry-standard processing technology that is used at other Rio Tinto sites," reported the company in mid-2020.
2. Newcrest Mining
Market cap: AU$19.55 billion; current share price: AU$23.87
Newcrest Mining is one of the big players in Western Australian copper. The company is the 100 percent owner of the Telfer gold-copper mine near Port Hedland in the northern portion of the state. Telfer consists of open-pit and underground operations, and produced 16,000 tonnes of copper in 2020, states a 2020 annual report.
3. Sandfire Resources (ASX:SFR)
Market cap: AU$1.93 billion; current share price: AU$5.39
Sandfire Resources owns and operates the DeGrussa copper-gold operations some 900 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia's capital. The company has two mines on the site: DeGrussa and Monty.
4. Cyprium Metals
Market cap: AU$107.32 million; current share price: AU$0.19
Collectively known as the Paterson projects by Cyprium, the assets are located in the famed Pilbara region. The Nifty mine produced 700,000 tonnes of copper between the time that it opened 1993 and when it was placed into care and maintenance in 2019.
5. Anax Metals (ASX:ANX)
Market cap: AU$32.92 million; current share price: AU$0.09
Anax Metals has an 80 percent interest in the Whim Creek copper project in the Pilbara. Its partner is the well-funded Venturex Resources (20 percent). Anax has a binding royalty agreement with Anglo American (LSE:AAL,OTCQX:AAUKF) for a 1 percent net smelter return for copper and zinc production at the project, which yields the company US$20 million for capital expenses and development.
The project is deep in the development stage, with environmental studies, geotechnical studies and infrastructure assessments underway.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Scott Tibballs, currently hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.