were purchased by oil companies in the 1970s. A string of unprofitable years in the early 1980s led the oil companies (except one) to divest their copper subsidiaries. This, along with expanding international competition, led management of the again independent copper producers to bring new hydrometallurgy technology on stream, institute other production efficiencies and tighten other cost controls in a revitalization program that was perhaps unprecedented in US industry.
Today the US copper companies, despite the high cost of the world's strictest environmental standards, are well positioned to live with low price levels and to profit from improvements in the demand for copper.
Restructuring of the US brass mill industry in the past few years has been at east as profound. The same economic factors at work in recent years in the mining industry squeezed the profit margins of brass mills, which had been dominated by large full-line mills producing a wide range of products including strip, sheet, plate, rod, bar, forgings, mechanical wire, and tubing. Today there is only one full-line mill as compared to eight in 1970.
What has emerged are largely single-product operations, most with up-to-date production equipment, able to complete on a worldwide scale. Many older mills have been closed and other companies restructured through leveraged buyouts and employee stock ownership plans.
The wire and cable mills have seen some restructuring, particularly in the breakup of some of the large, multi-product operations with former equity ties to mining companies, and also through numerous mergers and buyouts. Overall, however, these changes have not been so profound as in the case of the copper companies and brass mills.
In contrast to other metal industries there exists today almost no top-to-bottom integration of the US copper industry. The only move toward integration in the last 20 years has been the addition of continuous cast wire rod mills to the end of the production process by several refining companies.