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Teck Halts QB2 Project Expansion in Chile on Coronavirus Fears

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Teck Resources Ltd (TECK - Free Report) has temporarily suspended construction activities at its major Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (QB2) project in Chile amid spiraling coronavirus fears. The move is in line with the Chilean government’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus and ensure employees’ safety as well.

The QB2 project will be suspended for initial two weeks, following which Teck will re-check the project status in response to any further development of the COVID-19 situation. The suspension will impact approximately 15,000 workers on the project. QB2 is an important project for Teck, as completion of this project will make it a major global copper producer. In December 2018, the company’s board sanctioned full construction of this project, with the first production targeted for fourth-quarter 2021.

The company has taken precautionary measures to ensure safety of the QB2 project employees and their families, keeping in view that a large number of its workers commute from Chile.  Notably, so far, there have been no confirmed cases of the unit’s employees testing coronavirus positive.

Following the news, the company’s shares depreciated 21.5% on Mar 18. Falling copper prices have aggravated the decline. This Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell) company’s shares have plunged 73.1% over the past year compared with the industry’s decline of 30.8%. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Mining stocks have been plagued with sliding metal prices over escalating coronavirus fears. Copper and zinc prices have plummeted following the outbreak of the coronavirus, while macroeconomic slowdown poses a threat to the Copper and Zinc metal markets. Copper is the worst performing among metals, with prices on the London Metal Exchange on Mar 18, sliding more than 8% to $4,860.5 per ton — the first time in three years.

The virus has claimed thousands of lives across the world and become a major threat to public health worldwide. Both commodity and stock markets are bearing the brunt of the outbreak with disruption of global supply chain, businesses shutting down in China as well as in the United States and Europe.

Moreover, mining companies are halting their operations in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. Peru has declared a 15-day national quarantine period. As a result, Newmont Corporation (NEM - Free Report) and Pan American Silver Corp. (PAAS - Free Report) , along with other miners, have halted their operations in the country. Apart from this, in Canada, Brazilian miner Vale S.A. (VALE - Free Report) is slashing its output in Voisey’s Bay copper mine.  

Teck is a significant copper producer in the Americas, with four operating mines in Canada, Chile and Peru, and copper development projects in North and South America. Its main projects are Highland Valley Copper in Canada and Antamina, Quebrada Blanca and Carmen de Andacollo in South America. The company’s business units are focused on steelmaking coal, copper, zinc and energy.

For the current quarter, the company projects the Steelmaking Coal segment sales volumes at 4.8-5.2 million ton, down from the previous estimate of 5.1-5.4 million ton due to weather-related issues in British Colombia and rail blockades. Given the dismal demand due to the coronavirus outbreak, and the high inventory levels on account of rail and port constraints, the company plans to shut down the Neptune Bulk Terminals, in order to progress the facility upgrade, which might dent quarterly coal production.

The company intends to complete major plant outages in 2020. Though these outages are likely to lower steelmaking coal production in the first half of the ongoing year, it will eventually pick up in the second half.

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