(New throughout, adds details from conference call, U.S. expansion; updates stock price)
By Ernest Scheyder
Jan 24 (Reuters) - Freeport McMoRan Inc shares slid 9 percent on Thursday after the world’s second-largest copper miner posted lower-than-expected quarterly profit and forecast a drop in 2019 production.
A 14 percent dive in copper prices slammed the company in the fourth quarter, yet the chief executive officer said U.S. demand remains strong and underpins Freeport’s plans for a major expansion in the United States.
Still, the first quarterly results report from a global miner rattled investors at a time when customer confidence has been shaken by trade tension and shaky economies in many regions.
Rivals Rio Tinto Ltd and BHP Group Ltd are slated to report results next month.
Global demand for copper, a key material used in construction and manufacturing, has slipped in the past year on concerns about economic growth during the ongoing trade spat between the United States and China, Brexit, the U.S. government shutdown and other factors.
The average price Freeport received for its copper fell 14 percent during the fourth quarter to $2.75 per pound. That has unnerved Wall Street, with shares of Freeport down more than 30 percent in the past six months alone.
Longer term, demand for the red metal is expected to spike due to the electrification trend. Electric vehicle motors use twice as much copper as internal combustion engines.
“The fundamentals of the copper market point to a very positive future,” Freeport Chief Executive Richard Adkerson said on a Thursday conference call with investors. “Copper prices simply have to rise.”
In anticipation of that, Phoenix-based Freeport is spending $850 million to open a new U.S. copper mine.
Adkerson, CEO since 2003, has called the United States core to Freeport’s growth, noting that demand in the country has risen and the company has had to buy copper from rivals just to honor customer contracts.
“The market may be focused on the fourth-quarter miss today, but we do not believe these historic results are very meaningful to the investment case as Freeport is entering a transformational period,” said Jefferies analyst Christopher LaFemina.
Freeport posted fourth-quarter net income of $140 million, or 9 cents per share, compared to $1.04 billion, or 70 cents per share.
Excluding one-time Freeport earned 11 cents per share. By that measure, analysts expected earnings of 18 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Copper production fell 17 percent to 841 million pounds during the quarter.
Freeport last month relinquished majority control of Grasberg, the world’s second-largest copper mine, under pressure from the Indonesian government even though it will remain the project’s operator.
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio