Copper concentrates produced by mines are sold to smelters and refiners who treat the ore and refine the copper and charge for this service via treatment charges (TCs) and refining charges (RCs). The TCs are charged in US$ per tonne of concentrate treated and RCs are charged in cents per pound treated, denominated in US dollars, with benchmark prices set annually by major Japanese smelters. The customer in this case can be a smelter, who on-sells blister copper ingots to a refiner, or a smelter-refiner which is vertically integrated.
The typical contract for a miner is denominated against the London Metal Exchange price, minus the TC-RCs and any applicable penalties or credits. Penalties may be assessed against copper concentrates according to the level of deleterious elements such as arsenic, bismuth, lead or tungsten. Because a large portion of copper sulfide ore bodies contain silver or gold in appreciable amounts, a credit can be paid to the miner for these metals if their concentration within the concentrate is above a certain amount. Usually the refiner or smelter charges the miner a fee based on the concentration; a typical contract will specify that a credit is due for every ounce of the metal in the concentrate above a certain concentration; below that, if it is recovered, the smelter will keep the metal and sell it to defray costs.
Copper concentrate is traded either via spot contracts or under long term contracts as an intermediate product in its own right. Often the smelter sells the copper metal itself on behalf of the miner. The miner is paid the price at the time that the smelter-refiner makes the sale, not at the price on the date of delivery of the concentrate. Under a Quotational Pricing system, the price is agreed to be at a fixed date in the future, typically 90 days from time of delivery to the smelter.
A-grade copper cathode is of 99.99% copper in sheets that are 1 cm thick, and approximately 1 meter square weighing approximately 200 pounds. It is a true commodity, deliverable to and tradeable upon the metal exchanges in New York (COMEX), London (London Metals Exchange) and Shanghai (Shanghai Futures Exchange). Often copper cathode is traded upon the exchanges indirectly via warrants, options, or swap contracts such that the majority of copper is traded upon the LME/COMEX/SFE but delivery is achieved indirectly and at remove from the physical warehouses themselves.