Johannesburg - Copper theft is costing the economy an estimated R5bn per year, the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on Thursday as it released its first copper theft barometer in an attempt to reduce the costs of the crime on the economy."The barometer will measure and monitor the extent of copper cable theft in the country on a monthly basis (to raise) the general awareness of the crime," said Peggy Drodskie, executive adviser to the Sacci CEO, in Johannesburg."The theft of copper is an important issue that does not bode well for the future of South Africa," she said.The R5bn includes only the replacement value and does not take into account security or labour costs, said Drodskie.It also has an adverse impact on the economy through loss of productivity, negative investor perceptions and poor service delivery, among others."If you don't have a telephone (or) computers, your staff can't operate optimally," Drodskie said. This could even lead to the closure of small businesses.The barometer will reflect the experiences of Transnet, Telkom [JSE:TKG] and Eskom, and examine the previous six months preceding the release.The first barometer found the average monthly loss between April 2009 and October 2010 was R22.3m.Losses peaked in November 2009 at R46.42m and March this year at R47.2m."The trend generally is upwards... worryingly. We're looking at the reason for the troughs and peaks."She said copper theft seems to be driven by syndicates, and appears to be linked to the international copper price. Sacci would be investigating this further.November 2010 saw a substantial improvement year-on-year compared to November 2009, with a 60% reduction in replacement cost."In recent months, replacement cost levels remained volatile, but at substantially lower levels than experienced earlier in 2010."The November level of R18m is less than a third of the March 2010 peak."