Copper

More bullish than ever – why this broker is doubling down on copper, gold, and silver

Fri 14 Jun 24, 12:38pm (AEST)
copper winning1200x630
Source: Shutterstock, Market Index

Key Points

  • Base metals prices are pulling back sharply after a massive bull run since February
  • ASX metals stocks have ridden the commodity price rollercoaster and are at a potential crossroads
  • Major broker Citi has doubled down on its bullish view on copper and precious metals, triggering several price target increases and one rating upgrade for ASX metals stocks

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for investors in Aussie mining stocks. Things were going pretty good there for a while: base and precious metals prices were rising, lithium was at least going sideways…and then it all unravelled…

As legendary newsman Ron Burgundy would say…Well, that escalated quickly!

Let’s take a quick look at the charts of the key base and precious metals after their massive rise and fall, then get a major broker’s take on the situation.

Citi has been a long-time metals bull, absolutely nailing their copper call – and in good news for metals bulls – they see even more upside ahead.

What do the charts say about metals prices?

Copper

First up, copper. It all started in February around US$8,085/t (London Metals Exchange contracts here). Three months later, an all-time record high at US$10,857/t. Tuesday’s low was US$9,567/t and the last price is US$9,733/t.

Copper - LME Official Cash chart 13 June 2024
LME Copper price chart

That’s 35% up, 12% down, and the better part of a couple of percent back up again. A wild ride indeed! Aussie copper stocks have also ridden the rollercoaster – the largest ASX-listed pure play Sandfire Resources (ASX: SFR) for example, doing 46% up and 15% down over the same timeframe.

We’ll look at Citi’s fundamental take on copper later, but my 2 cents on the technicals is the short-term trend has neutralised while the long-term uptrend remains intact. The demand zone I’ve highlighted in light green between 9599-9728 really needs to hold now, or copper risks probing a full retracement to the long-term uptrend ribbon.

Nickel

Nickel tends to take a back seat to copper, possibly because its withering bear market pushed so many ASX-nickel producers to the wall, and therefore, there really hasn’t been much to see or do in the sector for some time.

But nickel’s 36% rise from its February low to its May peak pegged copper’s run, and in true nickel form, so too has its 18% pullback. This begs the question: Is the glass half full or half empty for nickel?

Nickel - LME Official Cash chart 13 June 2024
LME Nickel price chart

The main difference you’ll notice between the charts of copper and nickel is the lack of a long-term uptrend in the nickel price. I must admit that I was sold a dummy here: I tipped that a new long-term uptrend had begun on 17 May after observing the test and hold of the long-term trend ribbon.

Typically, when the long-term trend goes from offering dynamic supply to dynamic demand, it’s the start of a new long-term uptrend. I suggest my bold call isn’t dead, but it is on life support, and it’s fading fast…

If we don’t see a sharp rally in the nickel price – very soon – the bear market may reassert itself. Ideally, the nickel price closes back above the long-term trend ribbon and starts printing rising peaks and rising troughs again (i.e., building demand and diminishing supply).

Aluminium

Aluminium’s ride has been a little more subdued than its copper and nickel cousins with a 26% rise and 8% fall since its February low. Like copper, though, it’s still sporting a long-term uptrend against a neutral short-term trend.

The most telling signal that the short-term trend has transitioned to down will come on any subsequent tests of the short-term trend ribbon. If the short-term trend ribbon repels prices downwards – then the short-term trend has swung to down.

Ideally, as with copper, we see a decisive close back above the short-term trend ribbon, accompanied by a return to rising peaks and rising troughs.

Aluminium - LME Official Cash chart 13 June 2024
LME Aluminium price chart

Gold and Silver

I’ve recently covered the technicals for gold and silver in Evening ChartWatch editions – head to these links for the latest gold analysis and latest silver analysis.

What does Citi say about copper and ASX metals producers?

That’s the technicals, now for a fundamental view from one of the biggest metals bulls in the business over the last 12 months – Citi.

As I’ve reported several times, Citi has pretty much nailed their bull call on copper, tipping for some time now that US$10,500/t was the target (as reported above, the high was $US10,857/t).

I have good news for copper bulls: In their latest research report on the red metal titled “Australian Copper Equities Pulling forward $12k/t expectations and upgrading estimates”, Citi is doubling down on their bullish copper call, increasing its medium-term target price, as well as its positioning in several ASX copper producers.

Firstly, Citi has upgraded its 2025 copper price target by 20% from US$10,000/t to US$12,000. The broker proudly notes “We now sit ~$2k/t above consensus”, and their global commodity team continues to view copper as their “top pick” in industrial metals.

There are three main reasons for Citi’s continued bullish view on copper:

  1. Improving global growth expectations

  2. Impending rate cuts from global central banks (note that the ECB has already begun the process, and a benign US CPI print this week sets us up nicely for the first Fed cut before the end of the year).

  3. Tighter physical market with below-trend supply growth

In light of the above, Citi claims it’s hard to make the case for not owning copper, and also precious metals”.

On that last bit, precious metals, Citi has also increased its forecasts for gold and silver by 6% and 30% respectively in 2025, and by 20% and 47% respectively in 2026.

The upshot of the above tweaks in modelling leads Citi to several price increases and one rating upgrade for the Aussie mining stocks they feel are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in metals prices.

29METALS (ASX: 29M)

  • Increases price target to $0.55 from $0.45, retains NEUTRAL rating

  • “On one hand the stock is highly leveraged given the higher costs, but on the other there’s still material headwinds to overcome such as Capricorn Copper’s future and recapitalising the balance sheet.”

Evolution Mining (ASX: EVN)

  • Increases price target to $4.50 from $4.40, retains BUY rating

  • “Our EBITDA lifts materially, i.e., 26% in FY25e on the higher revenue even after we’ve pushed up costs.”

  • “We continue to rate EVN at Buy, in part due to the copper leverage which is ~30% of revenue. Citi is bullish on gold too…we think precious metals and copper will outperform, with EVN’s gearing providing leverage.”

BHP Group (ASX: BHP)

  • Retained $48.50 price target, retained BUY rating

  • “Our latest commodity deck lifts EBITDA 3%/7% in FY25/26. This was primarily driven by higher copper prices and partially offset by higher unit cost assumptions.”

  • Reiterates preference over RIO

Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO)

  • Retained $137 price target, retained NEUTRAL rating

  • “Our latest commodity deck lifts EBITDA 6%/5% in CY25/26. This was primarily driven by higher copper, aluminium and alumina prices and partially offset by higher unit cost assumptions.”

South32 (ASX: S32)

  • Increases price target to $4.00 from $3.65, retained NEUTRAL rating

  • “Our latest commodity deck lifts EBITDA 42%/21% in CY25/26. This was primarily driven by higher copper, aluminium, alumina and silver prices and to a lesser extend higher manganese, zinc and nickel prices.”

Sandfire Resources (ASX: SFR)

  • Increases price target to $8.90 from $7.90, upgrades rating to NEUTRAL from SELL

  • “SFR is a clean beta to the copper price and benefits from a scarcity of ASX copper exposure premium.”

  • “We upgrade our EBITDA by +20% in FY25-27 on our higher copper/zinc/silver deck.”

There are many ways to play copper on the ASX but pure plays are limited. Source Citi Research
Figure 4. There are many ways to play copper on the ASX but pure plays are limited…Source: Citi Research, Company Reports, Visible Alpha. From: “Australian Copper Equities Pulling forward $12k/t expectations and upgrading estimates”, Citi Research, 13 June 2024.

 

Written By

Carl Capolingua

Content Editor

Carl has over 30-years investing experience, helping investors navigate several bull and bear markets over this time. He is a well respected markets commentator who specialises in how the global macro impacts Australian and US equities. Carl has a passion for technical analysis and has taught his unique brand of price-action trend following to thousands of Aussie investors.

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