BEIJING: China's top copper smelters on Thursday raised their floor treatment and refining charges (TC/RCs) for the first quarter of 2019 by 2.2 percent, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

At a meeting in Shanghai, the 10-member China Smelters Purchase Team (CSPT) set the TC floor for the first quarter at $92 per tonne and the RC floor at 9.2 cents per pound, up from $90 per tonne and 9 cents per pound, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2018, two sources said. The rates for the first quarter of 2018 were $87 per tonne and 8.7 cents per pound.

The miners pay the TC/RCs to the smelters to process their ore into refined metal, with higher minimum charges for processing indicating a well-supplied copper concentrate market.

The CSPT, whose members include Jiangxi Copper Co and Tongling Nonferrous Metal Group, meets every three months to set the floor TC/RCs. Members are supposed to adhere to the floor in any processing deals with copper miners.

The first-quarter floor is also 13.9 percent higher than the annual rate of $80.80/8.08 cents agreed by Jiangxi Copper and Chilean miner Antofagasta in the first major smelter-miner settlement for 2019.

The first settlement traditionally serves as the benchmark for the year, although some smelters complained the rate was too low.

In a note on Dec. 20, Argonaut Securities analyst Helen Lau said spot TCs were at $92 a tonne. Smelters may have accepted a lower TC for 2019 because “if they don't they will risk not having enough concentrate to process", she added.

Amid mine supply constraints and strong refined copper production in China, “we expect the spot TC/RC to reverse its rally soon," she said.

Copyright Reuters, 2018