Teck Resources Ltd. posted record copper production in the fourth quarter, in line with the company's long-term vision to produce more of the critical mineral while preparing to exit the coal business as soon as a blockbuster deal with Glencore takes effect.

The Vancouver-based miner reported Thursday that its fourth-quarter profit rose compared with a year earlier as it ramped up operations at its Quebrada Blanca, or QB2, mine in Chile.

It reported a profit attributable to shareholders of $483 million or 92 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31, up from $266 million or 51 cents per diluted share a year earlier.

Copper production in the quarter totalled 103,000 tonnes of copper, up from 65,000 tonnes a year earlier. The bulk of that growth came from Quebrada Blanca, where production of copper in concentrate was 34,300 tonnes in the fourth quarter and 55,500 tonnes for the year.

Teck also saw increased production from its Highland Valley copper operations in B.C. and its Antamina copper mine in Peru.

Teck, which has made no secret of the fact that it believes the future of the mining industry lies with the green economy, has been seeking to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of its portfolio.

A key part of that plan has been the Chilean mine project, which produced its first bulk copper concentrate last year and which the company is working on ramping up to full production. The operation is targeted to achieve between 230,000 and 275,000 tonnes of copper production this year.

"We remain focused on achieving reliable and consistent operations at QB. However, production was lower than planned in the fourth quarter," said CEO Jonathan Price on a conference call with analysts. 

"Throughout 2024, we expect to see progressively stronger production from QB."

Copper is considered a key component of the energy transition because of its use in electrical wiring, wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles.

Teck will be freed up to focus on copper and other critical minerals such as zinc once the sale of its coal business to international giant Glencore is approved.

That agreement, announced in November, will see Glencore pay US$6.9 billion for a 77 per cent stake in Elk Valley Resources, Teck's steelmaking coal business.

A smaller component of that deal, involving the sale of minority interests in Elk Valley Resources to Japan's Nippon Steel Corp. and South Korean steelmaker Posco, has already closed.

Before its bid for Elk Valley Resources was accepted by Teck, Glencore had originally pursued a hostile takeover attempt for the entire company. But the idea of an international heavyweight acquiring all of Teck ignited sentiments of economic nationalism, with B.C. Premier David Eby speaking out against the proposed deal and federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre urging the government to block any acquisition of Teck by Glencore.

The federal government itself said at the time it was watching the situation closely, and that any takeover bid for Teck would go through a rigorous approvals process.

Price said Thursday that while the sale of the steelmaking coal business to Glencore is still working its way through the regulatory process, he has confident there will be no issues.

"We expect that we will receive the required approvals, both the Investment Canada approvals and the antitrust approvals," Price said, adding he has seen nothing that gives him cause for concern.

"These things just take time. We're working through that process, and we still expect this to close no later than the third quarter of this year."

On an adjusted basis, Teck said it earned $1.40 per diluted share in the fourth quarter, up from an adjusted profit of $1.07 per diluted share a year earlier.

Revenue totalled $4.11 billion, up from $3.14 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022.

The company's zinc in concentrate production amounted to 182,000 tonnes, up from 143,000 a year earlier. Refined zinc production totalled 70,000 tonnes, up from 46,000.

Teck's steelmaking coal production rose to 6.4 million tonnes for the quarter, up from 4.9 million tonnes a year earlier.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024.