WHAT IS 'Copper'

Copper is a reddish-gold colored metal that is ductile, malleable and an effective conductor of heat and electricity. Copper was the first metal to be worked by humans and is among the most widely used metals today.

BREAKING DOWN 'Copper'

Copper combines well with other metals to form widely used alloys such as brass and bronze. Copper is considered a base metal as it oxidizes relatively easily. It has the symbol Cu and the atomic number of 29 in the periodic table. The name is derived from the Old English name coper in turn derived from the Latin cyprium aes, meaning a metal from Cyprus. The discovery that it could be hardened with a little tin to form the alloy bronze gave the name to the Bronze Age. Copper was used to make coins along with silver and gold. It is the most common of the three metals so is the least valued. All U.S. coins are now copper alloys, and gun metals also contain copper. Most copper is used in electrical equipment such as wiring and motors. It also has uses in construction, for example in roofing and plumbing, and industrial machinery such as heat exchangers. Copper sulfate is used widely in agriculture and as an algicide in water purification.

Copper price determinants

The price of copper is a good barometer for the overall strength of the global economy. The greatest determinants of copper prices are emerging markets, the U.S. housing market, supply disruptions and substitution. Because of infrastructure demand, emerging markets are a key driver of copper prices. Emerging market countries have high demand for housing and transportation infrastructure and other types of construction. So the price of copper is sensitive to growth rates there. The homebuilding industry accounts for half of U.S. copper use such as in electrical wiring, roofing, plumbing fixtures and insulation. So economic indicators that influence U.S. housing demand, including nonfarm payrolls, mortgage rates, U.S. GDP and demographics, also influence copper demand. Political, environmental and labor issues can influence copper prices through supply and demand. Nationalization of copper mines or miner strikes can disrupt supply and pressure prices higher. Natural disasters or wars and other conflicts can slow mine output and increase copper prices. If copper prices rise, buyers may seek substitutions. Cheaper metals such as aluminum can replace copper in power cables, electrical equipment and refrigeration equipment.  Nickel, lead and iron also compete with copper as substitutes in some industries.

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