First mined by man more than 10,000 years ago, copper today is one of the most common and versatile metals in use around the world. It is an internationally traded commodity, and its price is effectively determined by the major metals exchanges— the London Metal Exchange (LME), the New York Commodity Exchange (COMEX) and the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE). Prices on these exchanges generally reflect the worldwide balance of copper supply and demand, but from time to time, they are also influenced significantly by investment flows and currency exchange rates.
Copper’s physical attributes include superior electrical conductivity, corrosion resistance, structural capability, efficient heat transfer and aesthetics. Other materials that compete with copper include aluminum, plastics, stainless steel and fiber optics. Despite recent higher prices, substitution of competing materials has been modest because it is difficult to duplicate copper’s unique characteristics.
Copper consumption is closely associated with industrial production, and therefore, tends to follow economic cycles. During an expansion, demand for copper tends to increase, thereby driving up the price. As a result, copper prices are volatile and cyclical.