Copper’s Boom Story Has Some Truth — and Lots of Hogwash

When Thomas Edison wired his own house in Menlo Park, then a tiny village in New Jersey, he fabricated a primitive cable. As insulation he chose a mix of asphalt, linseed oil and beeswax; for the core, copper wire. Why? The metal is the second-best conductor, only behind the much more expensive silver.

Fast forward nearly 150 years and copper remains as central to electricity as it did when Edison lighted the American evening. Now, as the energy transition aims to electrify everything, from driving to heating, copper will be everywhere too. Predictably, it has become the darling of the commodity market.1

The slogan is simple: In the climate-change era, copper is the new oil — a critical mineral essential to rewire our energy system with renewable power. As with every financial narrative, the story of the boom has a grain of truth — and ample hogwash.

Cynical metals investors should be forgiven for having a case of déjà vu: The same narrative served to inflate the bubbles in battery metals — lithium and cobalt — and rare earths elements a few years ago. Their prices all crashed after a short-lived, hyped bull run. Copper isn’t a bubble yet, but it is a crowded trade where everyone — commodity trading houses, hedge funds, Wall Street, mining executives — is betting in the same direction.