Author Archives: Stuart Burns

It could be argued that Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House has come at the perfect time for the U.S.A.’s number two defense contractor, Boeing. If for no other reason than his assault during the election on the cost of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program created an opening for Boeing to put a lower-cost alternative back on the table.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35C won’t be ready in time, enter Boeing and an F/A-18 Super Hornet upgrade. Source: Adobe Stock/Spacekris.

At the same time, the U.S. military, particularly the Navy, are facing a bit of a problem with their older F/A–18 Super Hornets. As an article in Sea Power magazine notes, after 16 years of nearly constant combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria the F/A–18 Super Hornet is in danger of exceeding it’s 6,000 hours of operational life way before it had been expected in the next decade.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Meanwhile, the Navy variant of the F-35, the F-35C is still a long way from being finished and ready for service. Largely because of the compromises Lockheed Martin has had to incorporate into the F-35 program for the Marine Corps’ F-35B vertical-landing jet, the program is way over budget, running late and, still, according to Bloomberg has major operational capability shortcomings to overcome. Read more

Back in 2014, MetalMiner posted a series of articles under the collective title of “Car Wars” covering a number of related issues around the use of steel, aluminum, and composite materials in the construction of automobiles.

Benchmark Your Automotive Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

A particularly perceptive post by my colleague Lisa Reisman countered the belief that aluminum would be the material of the future for automobile construction by exploring the development of advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) and their emerging impact on the combined holy grail of weight reduction and greater structural strength.

Three years is a long time in automobile design and manufacturing, so it’s not before time that we have returned to the topic to review the extent to which AHSS grades have been adopted by the industry. I was fortunate in gaining the insight of Dr. Jody Hall, automotive vice president of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) during which Hall shared some of the latest statistics illustrating the extent to which, aided by relentless innovation and research, steel remains the material of choice for automotive construction.

Auto materials through the years

Source: SMDI

This chart, from a recent SMDI presentation illustrates how even by the industry’s optimistic projections back in 2010 the uptake of these new grades of high-strength steel have been even more rapid than anticipated.

Why Aluminum?

Although there are a host of reasons why an automotive designer may choose AHSS over aluminum, the two principal drivers have been safety and light-waiting. Read more

China’s aluminum industry is under siege. You wouldn’t think so from the booming production figures, rising prices and howls of protest from aluminum producers in the rest of the world.

Benchmark Your Current Aluminum Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

But, arguably, China’s aluminum industry is the victim of its own success.

Liquid metal

The Chinese aluminum industry has been able to cut costs by essentially selling liquid metal to nearby product manufacturers. Source: Adobe Stock/Kybele.

On the one hand, the political heat is rising as China’s production capacity has exceeded 50% of global output even as a combination of low aluminum prices and the collapse of physical delivery premiums in recent years has forced producers in the rest of the world to rationalize production, mothball plants and shelve capital investment plans that do not seek to simply slash costs.

Rise of Semis Buoys Industry

The rise of Chinese semi-finished product exports has stimulated a wave of legal challenges around the world alleging unfair trade practices and causing considerable uncertainty for Chinese manufacturers with aspirations beyond their own shores. Read more

Unlike the U.S., which has retained a paper $1 bill, the U.K. did away with the venerable pound sterling banknote in 1983, replacing it with a round dual-metal, £1 coin much to the disgust of traditionalists.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Broadly speaking though, the £1 coin has been relatively successful in terms of longevity compared to the paper note. The former has lasted 40 years but the latter about nine months, but at a cost, the British one pound (£) coin has suffered from high levels of counterfeiting.

One pound coin

The new £1 coin, now with security features! Source: the Royal Mint.

There are thought to be more than 30 million fake £1 coins in circulation, adding up to 2.55% of coins according to a recent article in The Sun newspaper. The current pound coin is made up of 70% copper, 24.5% zinc and 5.5% nickel — weighing a mere 9.5 grams. The coin also has a diameter of 22.5 mm (7/8 inch) and a thickness of 3.15 mm (1/8 inch). The new pound coin is also constructed from two different colored metals like the old one, but the new version contains an iSIS security feature (a new high-security coinage currency system developed by The Royal Mint). Read more

Did you honestly think it had gone away? In the week that the U.K. government is set to announce article 50, formally notify its European partners that it plans to leave the E.U. within two years, we’re reminded of the ongoing political process which is likely to add significant volatility in the year ahead.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The U.K.’s (or at least Great Britain’s, Scotland is vowing to hold its own referendum on staying in the U.K.) decision to leave the E.U. will have far-reaching consequences but, realistically, does not look likely to signal a breakup of the E.U. itself. Recent elections in the Netherlands saw a swing back to liberal pro-E.U. political parties and a rejection of more xenophobic and anti-E.U. sentiments as espoused by Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom. Although she is likely to do well in the first round, the Dutch result does not bode well for Marine Le Pen in the upcoming French elections with pro-E.U. parties doing well in the polls. The E.U., politically, is currently showing a united front particularly in its pre-negotiating stance with the U.K.

Clean Break? Or Regulatory Cooperation?

Britain, on the other hand, is waging what can the politely be called an internal debate between those who are lobbying for a hard Brexit or clean break from all E.U. laws and institutions, and those on the other side taking a more pragmatic view that it could be in Britain’s interest (if it genuinely wants some form of open access to E.U. markets) to maintain compliance with many E.U. regulations and institutions. Read more

Following the fortunes of Boeing and Airbus, you could be forgiven for thinking that aircraft manufacturers always run late, over budget, and the resulting end product can struggle to meet initial expectations.

Emrbaer E2

The Embraer E2. Source: Embraer.

But Brazil’s Embraer, the world’s third-largest commercial jet maker, has shown with its next generation narrow body regional aircraft, the E-2 series, that it doesn’t have to be that way. Embraer introduced the aircraft at the Paris Airshow in 2013 and it was first displayed last summer at the Farnborough Airshow just 45 days after its maiden flight. The aircraft is set to be delivered on time, on budget, and even slightly underweight.

Segment Dominance

Embraer has been very successful with their current E-jet series and the new E-2 program looks set to maintain the company’s 55% market share dominance of the regional jet market. The E-2 will commence deliveries in the first half of 2018 and variants will be capable of carrying between 70 and 130 passengers. An FT article notes that Embraer has a backlog of commitments from airlines for 690 E2 aircraft, including firm orders of 275.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The company has struck a wide-ranging and exclusive arrangement with Alcoa Corp. for aluminum sheet and plate for the wings, skins and fuselages of the model, with other Alcoa products being used in key applications such as wing ribs, fuselage frames and other structural parts. The long-term collaboration is said by Aluminum Today to be worth $470 million to Alcoa. “PurePower” engines will be supplied by Pratt & Whitney. Read more

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have done the U.S. oil industry a massive favor, and they are probably ruing the day they tried to squeeze America’s shale industry out of existence.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The collapse in oil prices that ensued after Saudi Arabia-led OPEC opened the spigots two years ago forced American companies, and their many subcontractors, to innovate in a way that would never have happened so fast or gone so far without the imminent threat of survival forcing the pace.

Oil Prices Allow Reopening of Old Wells

Now, U.S. shale producers have achieved economies of scale that allow them to return to previously closed wells in fields like Eagle Ford and achieve 30% returns even at $40 a barrel. U.S. explorers may be making hay in the domestic market, but huge potential exists for these same firms to take their technology abroad. Read more

Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal’s audacious purchase of 13% of mining giant Anglo American PLC  took the stock markets by surprise last week. But Agarwal, chairman of London-listed Vedanta Resources is known for his bold and sometimes seemingly counter-intuitive acquisitions.

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Agarwal has bought the shares in the name of his family trust Volcan, saying it is just an investment in a “great company with excellent assets,” stating that he had no immediate plans to launch a takeover, according to the Financial Times.

No one believes him, of course, or at least not the part about it just being an investment in a great company with excellent assets. True, the prospect of Agarwal’s Vedanta with a market cap of $2.99 billion, being able to takeover Anglo-American with a market cap of  $20.84 billion (£16.7 billion) is verging on the absurd, but the truth is Agarwal is probably more interested in a seat on the board and the opportunity to influence Anglo-American’s future in South Africa than seriously taking over a group that is seven times the size of his own.

Source: Financial Times

Anglo-American has made no secret of its desire to divest some of its more troublesome South African investments.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The political instability and red tape in South Africa has caused the miner problems in recent years and Anglo has already sold two assets to Vedanta including the Gamsberg zinc project in the Northern Cape which Vedanta should bring to production next year. Read more

For an industry that has for decades been criticized by environmental groups as the root of all evil it is ironic that oil and gas producers are aligned in championing carbon capture with such enthusiasm.

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The fossil fuel industry is at the forefront of lobbying for radical changes in public policy into research to cut the costs of extracting CO2 from hydrocarbon energy. Industry leaders like Bob Dudley from BP are quoted in the Telegraph as saying, “we can’t just keep our heads in the sand”.

The reality is the hydrocarbon industry has seen the writing on the wall. Public attitudes are hardening, aided by worries about particulate emissions from diesel cars and air pollution in major cities from Beijing to Delhi and even in western capitals like London. The industry is under huge pressure from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and activist shareholders to find long-term solutions to the carbon question and thwart claims that hydrocarbons are our sunset energy source. Read more

We haven’t heard much of late about President Donald Trump’s border adjustment tax, but that doesn’t mean to say it has gone away.

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Indeed, the fact that it has a measure of support in the Republican Party suggests it could be on the agenda in the not-too-distant future. The idea is to transform the corporate tax landscape from a system that has prevailed for nearly 100 years, in which profits are taxed at the place of production, to a system in which profits are taxed at the place of sale.

A-destination based cash flow tax (DBCFT), as proposed by the House Republican tax plan, would include border adjustments that exempt exports but include imports in tax bills rather than raising federal income from a corporate income tax. As William Gale, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution explained in a recent article, all advanced countries except the U.S. already have a form of value-added tax (VAT), generally levied on top of corporate income taxes. All of those VAT systems are border adjusted, such that goods that are imported are taxed and those that are exported are not.

BAT or VAT

As part of the president’s pledge to bring jobs back to America, the border tax could have much to commend it. For example, if the U.S. introduces the system unilaterally, a factory in Ohio will pay no tax on the goods it exports to the E.U. while a factory in the E.U. will pay the border tax on its exports to the U.S. If you are a multinational corporation, suddenly it makes a ton more sense to have your new factory based in Ohio rather than some “lower cost” location. Read more