Author Archives: Taras Berezowsky

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What happens when an illegal business practice becomes so common and virtually accepted that it ultimately gets difficult to break?

Many U.S. manufacturers would argue that we’re in a period of global trade that features one such practice: trade circumvention. The most slippery aspect of ferreting out circumvention is first defining which segment of industry gets harmed the most, before even knowing what to do about it. Is it the upstream sector, including primary steel, textiles or plastics production? Or the downstream sector, such as the residential washing machine business?

MetalMiner Executive Editor Lisa Reisman makes the case that the lines between upstream and downstream manufacturing have blurred in this new report, Rules-Based Trade Remains Critical to Manufacturing Health.

But first we must understand the basics. Here’s an excerpt from that paper defining the landscape of trade circumvention in a short primer.

What is Trade Circumvention?

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, circumvention refers to “getting around commitments in the WTO such as commitments to limit agricultural export subsidies. It includes: avoiding quotas and other restrictions by altering the country of origin of a product; measures taken by exporters to evade anti-dumping or countervailing duties.”

Four steel producers filed a petition last September, charging China with circumventing anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders for corrosion-resistant carbon steel and cold-rolled carbon steel by sending substrate materials to Vietnam for processing and re-export. The claim appears to be supported by trade data (as shown by an spike in Vietnamese cold-rolled and CORE imports after November 2015 while the same Chinese imports drastically decreased after duties were imposed on the latter, for example). Read more

Looks like the tide has finally turned.

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

Extending that metaphor is easier now than it’s ever been for us writing on this topic: the reshoring of American manufacturing from abroad — and specifically, the net gains in jobs that we’ve been seeing in 2016 and early 2017 as compared with the trends in the early 2000s.

(I envision the emigrating jobs huddled together for warmth on a seaworthy vessel, with Shanghai getting smaller in the distance as the Pacific waves toss the boat ever closer toward Long Beach… if only it were that poetic.)

Back to reality. The Reshoring Initiative has just released its 2016 Data Report, and the numbers seem to tell a rosy story. According to the report press release, “in comparison to 2000-2003, when the United States lost, net, about 220,000 manufacturing jobs per year to offshoring, 2016 achieved a net gain of 27,000.”

“The numbers demonstrate that reshoring and FDI are important contributing factors to the country’s rebounding manufacturing sector,” the release concluded.

But of course, it’s not that easy. Major policy changes will have to be made or improved to continue the reshoring trend (which is still in its early stages), according to Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative.

In a way, the U.S. should aspire to host conditions like those in Germany, Moser told me, including a supportive government, VAT, low healthcare costs, and an appreciation of the benefit of local sourcing. Read more

Manufacturing activity in the U.S. continues to be strong, as ISM’s PMI reported expansion in April for the 95th straight month.

Economic growth in China is seemingly gangbusters — last quarter, the country’s annual GDP growth rate clocked in at 6.9%, its highest rate since Q3 2015.

And, the U.S. dollar recently fell to a five-year low — the dollar usually experiences an inverse relationship with commodity prices, but has bucked that trend over the last month.

But most industrial metal prices have fallen off — so what gives?

MetalMiner just released the May 2017 edition of our Monthly MMI Report, in which we analyze 10 baskets of metals by metal vertical and end-use industries — tracing a line through steel, grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES), stainless, base metals (aluminum, copper, nickel), and rare earths, to the automotive, renewables and construction sectors.

Within the report, we give metal buyers more insight into what’s happening with these price trends, and what’s going on behind the scenes.

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Source: Gildor Elendill. Licensed under CC-BY

Now that Black Sails has signed off and Long John Silver is on to new adventures, it’s time to turn our attention to a different type of silver — one type of material that Silver himself spent many of his buccaneer days trying to amass.

But whereas Silver and his crew may have preoccupied themselves with coins, bars and doubloons (the former two are still big in 2017; doubloons? not so sure), we here at MetalMiner like to see how the precious metal factors into industrial end-use sectors and applications.

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

Turns out that one of those applications — solar panel installations, specifically — made quite a splash in the Silver Institute’s World Silver Survey 2017, produced by the GFMS team at Thomson Reuters and released just this morning.

But first, a quick high-level overview.

Topline Takeaways

Global silver mine production declined by 0.6% in 2016 to a total of 885.8 million ounces — the first such decline since 2002, according to the report.

In addition, although primary silver production increased 1% last year, silver scrap supply, despite higher silver prices, fell to 139.7 million ounces in 2016. This is a level that has not been seen in 20 years, according to the Silver Institute’s press release for the report.

“If we look forward, we don’t think [this overall mine production drop] will be a one-off, either,” said Johann Wiebe, lead analyst of metals demand at the GFMS Team/Thomson Reuters in London, in an interview. “It’ll be a prolonged drop in supply until 2019-ish. Not large, but maybe a 2% drop annually. That’s quite a shift.”

It’s not surprising, Wiebe added, if one has seen the capital expenditures retreating over the past few years, with miners looking to protect their margins. Other non-precious metal production of base metals such as lead, zinc and copper, among others, affects the silver market — the link between precious metal and base metal commodities, in other words, is tighter than at first glance when it comes to production trends. Read more

Here’s What Happened

  • The Rare Earths MMI held steady for the month of May at a value of 19.
  • That makes two straight months at 19 for this sub-index, which has slowly crept up over the past quarter and now stands at its highest since August 2015 — back when the Dow had its worst month in 5 years.
  • Several Chinese rare earths price points fell over the month, with increases from neodymium oxide, europium oxide and dysprosium oxide doing their part to keep the ship steady overall.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • When was the last time you heard the term “stalking horse bidder?” Turns out someone loved Molycorp and its Mountain Pass mine in California, the only source of rare earths production in this hemisphere, enough to buy it. As MetalMiner reported, ERP Strategic Minerals, LLC, part of the ERP Group of companies, has agreed to purchase the salient assets and surface property rights.
  • As leading REE analyst Jack Lifton commented on our story, it would essentially be cheaper to build a new plant in Tanzania rather than reboot existing operations at Mountain Pass. (Check out the story and the comment thread here.)
  • As for rare earths end-use markets, the clean energy and other high-tech applications that rely on REEs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • According to this InvestorIntel article, buyers may need to keep a closer eye on dysprosium, used in high-tech industrial magnets, since Northern Minerals Ltd is well on its way to starting the largest dysprosium production operation outside China.

Key Price Movers and Shakers

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Here’s What Happened

  • The Construction MMI, tracking metals and raw materials used within the construction industry, slipped 1.3% to a value of 79 for May.
  • Chinese steel prices — for forms such as rebar and H-beam — dropped precipitously this month.
  • Based on the last few months’ values, the last time this sub-index has performed this well was the start of 2015 — back when California was the first state to pass a carbon tax and Bill Gates turned human waste into potable water.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • We’re in the salad days for the U.S. construction sector, at least as far as 2017 is concerned. According to the Associated General Contractors’ analysis, “Construction spending is at record levels for the second straight month in March [in spite of the month’s slip] and is up 4.9% for the first three months of year compared to the same period in 2016,” as quoted by com.
  • Better days for Chinese construction markets may be coming down the pike as well. Beijing recently announced plans to build a new megacity “the size of New England,” which should result in quite the appetite for industrial-grade steel, aluminum and other materials. For example, the government approved $36 billion to build 700 miles of rail within the next three years, according to this article. More salad days for the global construction industry to come, perhaps?

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • The latest drops in Chinese steel prices may have a knock-on effect on U.S. and other Western steel, which make the latter ‘pricier,’ comparatively. This could lead to lower prices on both sides of the ocean hanging around for a while.
  • We’ll see if President Trump’s 232 investigation begins to have any medium-term effect on steel once the determinations come down on whether imports constitute a threat to national security. In the meantime, “iron ore and Chinese steel prices could recover if China cuts overcapacity later this year,” as we write in our latest Monthly Outlook Report. (Free two-month trial here.)

Key Price Movers and Shakers

  • The China rebar price plummeted, the U.S. shredded scrap price fell below a key threshold to start the month for the third time this year, and weekly U.S. bar fuel surcharges for the Midwest, Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain regions all fell slightly from April to May. Exact numbers in the membership-only article:
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Liquid steel.

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This morning in metals, a big trade finding from last Friday is making the news.

The U.S International Trade Commission (ITC) found that imports of carbon and alloy cut-to-length steel plate from steelmakers in 8 different countries officially harms U.S. manufacturers, thereby “locking in” duties imposed by U.S. Commerce in March for five years, according to Reuters.

According to the ITC’s site and the Reuters report following shortly after the release, the finding applies to cut-to-length plate from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

The exact anti-dumping duties Commerce imposed on eight producers’ products in March range “from 3.62 percent to 148 percent…while imports from South Korea would also face a countervailing duty of 4.31 percent,” according to Reuters. Much more detail on those duties in this MetalMiner report.

What Does It Mean for Steel Plate Prices and Buyers?

“We anticipate the dumping order will help provide support to U.S. domestic prices, at least in the short term,” said Lisa Reisman, executive editor of MetalMiner, “as the case included a fairly broad number of both European and Asian suppliers.”

In many cases, Reisman mentioned, the duty rate appears significant, which will curtail imports from both specific countries and specific producers.

From a short-term pricing perspective, according to Reisman, steel prices have slid across the board this past week, but “certainly this trade case will help support plate prices,” she said.

“Interestingly enough,” she concluded, “according to analysis conducted by Steel Market Update, domestic cut to length plate exports are at their highest level since May 2015.”

Here’s What Happened

  • The Renewables MMI spiked upwards for the month of May (but not a terribly huge spike in the scheme of things; see the bullet below), ending at a value of 71.
  • * Editor’s note: We’ve recalibrated the index to better take into account cobalt price fluctuations, hence the spike from 54 in April to 71 in May.
  • However, the Big Heavy of our sub-index that tracks metals and materials going into the renewable energy industry is the U.S. steel plate price. That price point took a 4.8% dive.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • Several stories from the solar sector have been making waves lately. “Growth has slowed in the rooftop solar industry in the past year,” writes Jessica Goodheart in this piece, “but many see the evolution of battery storage technology and vehicle electrification as promising for the long-term health of the residential solar industry.”
  • And the policy picture? “Industry leaders have been cautiously optimistic that Republicans will leave be the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), a major policy driver of rooftop solar, in spite of Trump’s efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan,” Goodheart notes.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • Keep an eye out on steel plate’s raw material inputs — iron ore prices surged in April, as we reported in our May Monthly Buying Outlook, while coking coal prices swelled due to supply disruptions in Australia.

Key Price Movers and Shakers

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Here’s What Happened

  • The Automotive MMI, our sub-index of industrial metals and materials used by the automotive sector, dropped by one point for a May reading of 8, a 1.1% drop.
  • This is the third straight month of declines for this index. Back in February 2017, the Automotive MMI hit 92 — its highest level since November 2014. But now, flagging HDG steel, copper and shredded scrap prices are dragging on the rest of the index.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • The U.S. auto market is officially slowing. Car sales dropped 4.7% to 1.43 million units, according to Autodata Corp. That is a bigger drop than forecasted by both Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book, according to several news outlets.
  • Meanwhile in China, the first quarter of 2017 saw a 7% overall increase in car sales. As we reported in our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook (free trial here), that was the strongest showing since 2014. The Chinese government has extended tax cuts for small vehicles, which should keep citizens buying cars through the year.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • Many factors coming down the line — including increased construction projects in China — portend longer-term support for key automotive constituent metals such as HDG steel.
  • Even though HDG has slipped a bit this month, prices for that metal form in China could see room for improvement.

Key Price Movers and Shakers

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In preparing our new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook for May, we’ve seen that prices in both industrial metal markets and commodity markets have fallen over the past month.

What’s the deal?

Well, a few things are happening that stirred up that pot:

  • The U.S. dollar fell to a five-month low. The dollar’s movement usually has an inverse relationship with that of commodity prices, but not lately. Election season across the pond in France is heating up, and the outcome of the first round of presidential voting had eased concerns about the future of the euro, which rose against the dollar.
  • Interestingly, China’s annual GDP growth increased to 6.9% during Q1 2017, the fastest growth rate since the second half of 2015. Not only that, but the country also announced that it will build a “new megacity” — two things that would usually portend higher industrial metals prices. And yet…here’s what China’s economy has been doing since 2012 (the overall trend is pretty clear):

  • President Trump ordered two investigations, one for steel and one for aluminum, into whether imports of those metals threaten U.S. national security.

Check out how these types of events and trends are affecting six non-ferrous metal markets and four specific forms of steel — HRC, CRC, HDG and plate — in our detailed monthly analysis.

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