BHP Billiton’s decision to halt output at its Escondida copper mine owing to labour disputes isn’t doing its share price any favours today, but it is working wonders for numerous other Australian copper miners who are likely to benefit from tighter supply conditions.

The world’s biggest miner said yesterday it would halt output at Escondida in Chile, the biggest copper producer, after unions voted to start striking today. At the same time, Freeport-McMoran flagged it would likely reduce output at its Grasberg mine in Indonesia as the miner awaits for the government to renew its export permit.

That gave the price of copper a nice boost, with the red metal rising 1.7 per cent to $5,895 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange yesterday as investors prepared for supply shortages.

Goldman Sachs estimated the two miners were set to produce a combined 9 per cent of world copper mine supply this year.

Copper hit a 20-month high of $5,991 at the end of January.

BHP shares were down 1.3 per cent in post-lunchtime trading in Sydney on Thursday and weighing on the broader S&P/ASX 200, which was off 0.1 per cent.

However, other copper miners were benefiting from BHP’s misfortune. OZ Minerals was up 2.1 per cent, Regis Resources was up 1.3 per cent and Sandfire Resources gained 0.8 per cent.

A little less than half of the stocks in the S&P/ASX 200 resources index were lower today, but the overall index was being dragged down by heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto, which was off 0.7 per cent.

Gold miners (many of which also produce copper) were buoyed by a 0.6 per cent rise in the price of the metal on Wednesday. In Asia today, gold was flat at $1,241.25 an ounce.

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