COURTESY SOUTHERN COPPER CORP.Southern Copper Corp.'s Toquepala open-pit mine, in southern Peru, produced 187,579 tons of copper in 2006.
The current meteoric rise in copper prices is due partly to China's explosive economic growth, as that country snaps up the metal to use in construction, industry and consumer products.
But other factors are at play, too:
• Copper demand is growing in many nations, as they either develop their economies or climb out of the Great Recession.
• Bringing new mines online to feed that demand takes a lot of time and money.
• New investment vehicles for copper could take some supplies off the markets - and just the possibility has already sent prices skyward.
In Arizona, the surging prices are triggering more copper exploration and mining, creating new jobs (see related story on Page A1).
But the boom carries a potential downside. Prices are rising so furiously that a copper bubble could occur, hurting the same copper companies that are riding high today, some experts say. That could send prices crashing when the bubble bursts - adding another chapter onto the long boom-bust story of the copper industry.
Experts say the higher prices could also hurt many industries that use copper - in cars, homes, computers and thousands of other products.