Anglo American will cautiously consider acquisitions and new projects following a rebound in commodity prices from coal to copper that has turned round the fortunes of the company.

The London-listed miner was one of the hardest hit during the commodity market downturn in 2015 and 2016 but with its debt now under control it is thinking about how it can expand its business and replace the metals and minerals its digs out of the ground.

“We constantly scan the horizon,” Mark Cutifani, chief executive, told the FT Commodities Global Summit in Lausanne. “There’s probably about 5 per cent of those opportunities out there that you can really add value with. From time to time you might see us do something.”

“But in most cases you are going to pay high prices for assets so it’s a hard way to make money,” he added. “We think there is a lot opportunity and leverage in improving our existing assets. We have to get that right first.”

Strong global economic growth has lifted the fortunes of Anglo American, which mines copper in Chile, diamonds in Botswana and coal and platinum in South Africa. Its share price has risen almost 500 per cent since the start of 2016 and the company recently declared its highest dividend in a decade.

It is now considering spending $5.5bn to develop one of the largest untapped copper ore bodies in southern Peru.

But rather than taking on big projects alone, Mr Cutifani said he wanted to “syndicate” development of large mines, such as the Peruvian Quellaveco mine.

“You should be very careful about the bets you make over the next one to two years — you want to be able to get a lot of cash back in that period,” he said.

Anglo American wanted sell down its 82 per cent stake in the Quellaveco project to between 51 and 70 per cent, he said, to pay for the development. The company’s partner, Mitsubishi, has an option to increase its holding from 18 to 30 per cent and is said to be working with banks to assess its options.

A decision on whether to proceed with the project will be taken later this year.

Anglo American had five major mining projects when Mr Cutifani took over in 2013 but would only consider one large-scale project now, he said.

“We’re allergic to those types of risks today, but at the same time we’ve got to be careful we don’t become gun shy either,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the balance right.”

Anglo American has also invested in exploration, which will see benefits in the next 12 to 18 months, Mr Cutifani said.

Anglo American’s fortunes are still heavily tied to South Africa, where it is a large producer of platinum, iron ore and coal. The appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa, who started a union for mine workers, as the country’s president was a hopeful sign, Mr Cutifani said.

Under Mr Ramaphosa a new mining charter in the country could be signed within nine months, he said.

The industry has been locked in a bitter dispute with the government about what it says are onerous new mining laws.

“I think he’s started off exceptionally well, I’m very optimistic,” Mr Cutifani said. “I think we’re in a different place but we also have to recognise it’s not going to be easy . . . We are going to have to bring the country along and as an industry we have to do our part.”

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