Friday, July 07, 2006

The Possible Coming US Building Sector Disruption

One of the materials that the US construction industry depends heavily on is copper, and global inventories of copper are at an all time low so any disruptions in the supply chain can cause major disturbances in the US market.

Such a disruption seems poised to happen at the end of this month. BHP Billiton's Escondida mine in Chile, the largest copper mine in the world has started a work slowdown and can legally strike on August 2nd, the day their contract expires. Indeed, this possibility caused copper futures to soar 21.3 cents per pound (6%) just yesterday.

This very well could happen. The company and it's employees are pretty far apart in negotiations. BHP has offered miners a ridiculously low 1.5% wage increase while the employees are demanding an equally ridiculous 13% wage increase with a 16 million peso ($29,299) signing bonus.

If a strike does occur, with global inventories virtually nil, this would lead to a slowdown in this country's building sector. We import 23% of our copper from Chile, and while many would be eager to fill the US demand for copper it is important to remember that copper is sold on the commodity market, so the spike in price would also contribute to a slow down.

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