India's biggest copper smelter should get a favourable ruling from a court on Monday or soon after and could restart within a couple of weeks, traders said on Friday, but may face conditions on how it operates after a month-long shut down.
Govt ordered Sterlite Industries to shut its smelter in Tuticorin on March 30 after residents complained of emissions that resulted in breathing difficulties.
The company says high emission readings were likely to have happened when workers recalibrated sensors following two days of maintenance.
The plant meets half of India's copper demand and exports mainly to China. Further delays would exacerbate a tight domestic market, underpin global premiums for refined copper and enable Chinese smelters to charge higher processing fees.
A fast-track environmental court will consider a request to reopen the plant on April 29.
"I personally think they will restart, even if it takes a week or two more. I don't think that they are going to be shut down," said a source at an Indian trading house.
Traders said a restart may be conditional. Experts inspected the plant on April 23 and plan another visit on Saturday. The panel will submit its report to the court on April 29.
"Depending on the report, the court may choose to give the other parties or us time to file an objection and then the process may take another two weeks or so," said T.R. Rajagopalan, Sterlite's lawyer, adding that it would take at least three days to start production after the green light.
The shutdown will cut copper supplies and conversely boost supply of copper concentrate. Some copper concentrate suppliers have already resold May and June shipments, a trading house source said, suggesting they expected a prolonged shutdown.
More refined copper supply cuts will come when Hindalco Industries' Birla smelter shuts in May and June. Both plants produce around 30,000 tonnes a month and both export slightly under half of their production.
"There is an impact obviously on the domestic Indian market," said another trader. Some Indian consumers have turned to stocks, while some customers in Vietnam have tapped Japanese sources for supply, traders said.
Most of India's copper exports go to China, the world's biggest consumer of the metal, which used around 9 million tonnes last year -- vastly more than India's annual consumption of around 600,000 tonnes.
Copper premiums in Singapore hit an almost one-year high early this month, partly fuelled by Sterlite's halt, and have since steadied near 10-month highs.
Sterlite's smelter in the coastal southern town of Tuticorin has long been the focus of protesters and politicians who say it is a risk to the local fishing industry.
Sterlite is a unit of London-listed resources conglomerate Vedanta Resources Plc which is controlled by Anil Agarwal, India's 21st richest man, according to Forbes magazine.