Record Copper Prices Trigger Wave of Robberies

Reuters reports this morning that sky-high Copper (NYSE:JJC) prices, which rose to an all-time high of of $465 per pound in mid-February this year, have triggered a wave of stealing of copper goods as thieves try to cash in on the increasingly expensive metal. A cadre of criminals recently stole $800 worth of copper scrap from air conditioning units in Mobile, Alabama (leaving $38,000 in excess damages) with local law enforcement adding, “We’ve had copper robberies since forever, but we’ve seen a spike so far this summer.” The US Dept. of Energy notes as well, “Since the beginning of the 2004 spike in copper prices, copper theft and copper prices have been directly linked.”

Supporting the surge in prices of the red metal has been booming growth in demand led by emerging market nations, with China (NYSE:FXI) a major contributor. Chinese customers have purchased an estimated 40 percent of this year’s 21 million metric tons of copper production. European law enforcement officials have also reported significant increases in rates of copper theft, with Scotland Yard saying copper crimes rose 85 percent in London, and French police adding that thievery had increased 123 percent year-on-year for the metal.

Corporations too are becoming more likely to be targeted by cash hungry copper robbers, according to Reuters, “Michigan utility company DTE Energy (NYSE:DTE) reported thefts costing the company $10 million in 2007. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (NYSE:PCG) was spending more than $1 million per year in damages, the Department of Energy reported.” Officials for Verizon (NYSE:VZ) also expressed concerns over increased attempts at copper theft.

State and Federal governments have responded with legislation to attempt to put a halt to the crime wave, though Federal efforts were stymied when the Copper Theft Prevention Act failed to reach a Congressional floor vote in 2008. States have been more successful in enacting anti-crime laws, with South Carolina the most recent of 33 states to pass copper anti-theft provisions. The law in Carolina “prohibits recyclers from paying cash for copper, with the aim to make copper less attractive to drug addicts trying to make a quick dollar.” As copper (NYSE:JJC) prices may continue to rise in coming months due to a predicted shortfall in supply, state and federal lawmakers may have to step-up their jurisprudential efforts.