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Like a fortunate flock of migratory fowl, Canadian copper miner HudBay Minerals (NYSE: HBM ) has answered the call of the wild with a strategic foray into South America.
Proposing to snatch up Canadian-based developer Norsemont Mining with a cash and stock offer valued at $520 million, HudBay Minerals has moved decisively to gain a foothold in one of the more prolific global hot spots for copper production: Peru.
Norsemont's flagship Constancia property is perched between the southern Peruvian cities of Cuzco and Arequipa, at elevations that are perhaps best-suited for the birds (as high as 15,400 feet above sea level!). Once constructed, the operation is expected to support a 15-year mine life with annual production of 172 million pounds of copper. Thanks to strong by-product credits of molybdenum and silver, Constancia is conservatively expected to permit cash operating costs of less than $1 per pound of copper.
Although I do consider the acquisition a plainly positive development for shareholders of both companies, I must take issue with one aspect of HudBay CEO David Garofalo's recent statement. I do agree that "this transaction helps solidify HudBay's position as one of the leading mid-tier mining companies with an enhanced growth pipeline," but I do not consider Peru to be a "stable, mining-friendly" jurisdiction.
Now that workers at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold's (NYSE: FCX ) Cerro Verde mine have announced their intention to strike later this week, 2011 marks the fifth consecutive year during which I have personally tracked organized work stoppages within Peru's mining industry. Related demonstrations have turned ugly on a number of occasions, even resulting in loss of life. This long continuum of labor disputes and their aftermath is not, by my estimation, indicative of a highly stable mining jurisdiction. Looking deeper into the nation's history, modern examples of mine nationalization and a military coup offer added context regarding relative instability.
I am not at all averse to mining investment in Peru, so long as these factors are well understood. Peru is replete with opportunity for growing copper production, and already places second to neighboring Chile among the world's top producers. Antamina, a single mine in which major miners BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) and Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK ) hold stakes, by itself accounted for a major chunk of Peru's 2010 copper output.
Mining equipment manufacturers like Joy Global (Nasdaq: JOYG ) anticipate growing investment in Peruvian mine development going forward, and the impressive stock performance of miners like Southern Copper (NYSE: SCCO ) and Buenaventura (NYSE: BVN ) reminds us that miners continue to operate profitably despite the frequent disruptions.
With that said, I remain resolutely bullish on the price outlook for copper, and I consider HudBay Minerals one of several attractive producers for Fools to consider within the space.