Articles in Category: Best of MetalMiner

As the new year dawns, we turn our eyes toward the metal markets of 2017. Will the bull run of 2016 continue? What will be the standout performer of the metals we track? Will New Coke finally make a comeback as Even Newer Coke? Only to re-reintroduce Coke Classic in all its aluminum-encased glory? We have predictions. Lots of them.

Steel on Wheels

That’s right, the North American steel market is picking up steam and chugging toward expanded production and renewed profitability for many of the companies we track. Contributor James May said this week that flat products will enjoy higher demand while hot-rolled coil capacity will expand thanks to a combination of new capacity going online (Big River Steel‘s plant is set to open) and the trade policies of the incoming Trump Administration.

Iron Ore Overseas

China consumes over 70% of the world’s seaborne iron ore and a strong year for the Chinese economy bolstered the steelmaking raw material from from $40 per metric ton to $70/mt in global markets last year, an increase that helped re-energize the bottom lines of mining majors Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group.

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This week, Sohrab Darabshaw pointed out that that was cold comfort to smaller miners in India who are still hamstrung by high export taxes and can’t get their ore into China or other lucrative world markets. That could change soon, but MetalMiner Co-Founder Stuart Burns was even more cautious, reminding us that physical iron ore prices were influenced by a rampant futures market last year.

Source: Adobe Stock/Geargodz

“The interplay of the futures market, physical demand from steel mills, and seaborne iron ore supply has too many variables to predict 2017 and ’18 with any certainty,” he said.

Trumping Trade

While some of the markets are still murky, one thing we all agreed on this week was, once Donald Trump is installed as President of the United States, 2017 certainly won’t be boring when it comes to international trade. Read more

We look forward to providing you with metal prices, forecasting and market intelligence in 2017!

Source: Adobe Stock/Geargodz

US Steel plant in Granite City wide

The U.S. Steel Granite City Works captured by Google Street View in September, 2014 — a year and two months before the latest idling of the mill.

See the latest multimedia version of this story here.

This is our final top-rated post of 2016. Chinese market economy status was a huge issue for the entire year and this interactive package, originally published in May, put all facets of the problem into one package. How China will change its economy to compete with the rest of the world without overproduction for export is still an open question and a major threat to market stability. — Jeff Yoders, editor

Dan Simmons has seen a lot during the 38 years he’s worked at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works in Illinois, just outside St. Louis.

From starting out as a general laborer, to swinging hammers on the track gang, to “feeling like Mr. Haney from Green Acres” while trucking around the mill, Simmons took it all in. There were days “you were whistling when you came in, and whistling when you left,” he said.

But nothing compares to what he’s seeing now.

“I have grown men coming into my office, crying,” said Simmons. “You see the pain, the ‘what ifs,’ the blank stares…”

Simmons, who just turned 56, is now the president of the United Steelworkers Local 1899, and some of the grown men coming to him are pipefitters just like he had become during his long tenure, which began in 1978.

However, those men and women aren’t coming to him because they’ve been hurt on the job. They are coming to plead for help, because they have lost their jobs, and in many cases still don’t know when they’ll land their next one.

Cyclicality in steel production is nothing new, but it wasn’t until 2008 — when the global markets began crashing — that USS Granite City Works endured its first indefinite idling in its history.

“We had the unemployment office cycling 400 people through at a time,” Simmons told MetalMiner. “The biggest fear is not knowing. If I could have given them a definitive timeframe, they would’ve said, ‘OK, I can handle that.’ But after two to three months, people come to me and don’t know what to do with themselves.”

And now, after the mill went idle a second time in December 2015, some of those workers have been without a job for nearly half a year. Last December, 1,500 people were laid off — 75% of the mill’s total workforce. Across the country, a total of 13,500 steel workers have been laid off over the past year.

Simmons knows what it’s like to feel that fear firsthand. “I got a brother that works here, a brother-in-law that works here, so it’s personal. You worry about where your whole family will be.”

So what’s different today, compared to 2008?

For Simmons and scores of others in the country’s steel sector and other manufacturing industries, much of the pain can be traced back to one main source: China.

A History of Unfair Trade?

The world may have never encountered a more crucial Year of the Monkey than 2016.

That is, at least as far as global trade between China and the Western world is concerned. At the end of this year, China believes it ought to receive Market Economy Status (MES). This would allow China to enjoy the same market status as the U.S. and European Union when it comes to anti-dumping investigations before the World Trade Organization.

In its quest to grow its economy over the past two decades, China has become the leading producer — by far — of steel, aluminum, cement and other industrial materials. Read more

As we continue to look back at our highest-rated posts of 2016, it’s no surprise that another price predictions article was among the most-read. Contributor James May of Steel-Insight gave us his price outlook for the second half of 2016 and, yes, 2017. Enjoy this best of metalminer post with an eye toward next year. — Jeff Yoders, editor.

U.S. flat-rolled steel prices appear to abhor a vacuum — they seem to either go up or down.

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JamesMayheadshot_150

James May

Moves this month, therefore, have to be perceived as efforts to hold pricing, even though they are pitched as price increases. For now, the moves appear to have worked; hot-rolled coil is steady at $620 a short ton out of minimills and $640/st from integrated mills with cold-rolled coil at $820-840/st.

Amid lower scrap prices, the minimills certainly have room to negotiate. Meanwhile, buying tends to slow over the summer. Import deals are also firming up given the spread. As such, it is our view that the bias is to the downside, but discounting — at least initially — will be limited. Hot-rolled coil lead times remain at around six weeks, although some minimills are closer to four to five weeks. Cold-rolled coil and hot-dipped galvanized remain in the eight to 10 week range — down from their peak, but not long enough to allow distributors much leeway in negotiation. Moreover, with some mills having downtime in August, there is no incentive to cut prices to fill schedules.

US Hot-Rolled Coil Prices ($/metric ton ex-works Midwest) Margins Widen

Steel_Insight_Coil_prices_550_071116

Source: Steel-Insight

Falling scrap prices and high steel prices are leading to rising spreads for minimills, a further reason to maximize output. Slab re-rollers are still seeing their spreads widening as well. At around $350/mt free-on-board Black Sea, the spread to U.S. domestic steel is around $300/mt over landed slab, an enormously profitable spread. It is, perhaps, no wonder that provisional semi imports in May were over 700,000 mt. We would expect them to move higher as buyers take advantage of the arbitrage. However, we caution that this could be another contributory reason for U.S. prices to drop later in the year as rising supply of coil hits the market. Read more

As we continue to spotlight and republish our top posts of 2016, we travel way back to New Year’s Day 2016 for another metal price story. This one by our Editor-at-Large and MetalMiner Co-Founder, Stuart Burns noting an aluminum price increase from almost exactly one year ago today. — Jeff Yoders, editor.

Aluminum has since taken off with the rest of the base metals and we’re in a full bull market. It’s quite a contrast from situation just one year ago.

The London Metal Exchange (LME) aluminum price has risen from the low $1,400s per metric ton in October to the mid $1,550s this week.

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At the same time, the Japanese have started settling first quarter 2016 physical delivery premiums at $110 per mt, 22% higher than the previous quarter, the first time they have risen in a year.

rolled aluminum on table with worker

What is behind the increase in the aluminum prices? Adobe Stock/uwimages.

Meanwhile, probably not unconnected, Japanese port stocks have fallen at the country’s three major ports. Stockpiles fell in November by 7.5% to 401,000 mt according to Reuters. Over the in US, the Midwest transaction price, which includes the LME price and premium that buyers pay to take delivery of the metal, has risen steadily this month to $1,736 per metric ton by December 24, up from $1,599/mt on 28 October, which was its lowest point since May 2009. Read more

No greater debate has ever roiled our virtual pages than the one about Ford Motor Company and its use of the term “military-grade aluminum.” This post from last May is just one of several posts we have written about Ford’s ad campaign for the aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup and all not only rank high in our site stats but also seem to draw the most commenters willing to lend their expertise that, mostly, rejects Ford’s use of the term.

Enjoy this look back and feel free to post if you have any strong feelings about “military-grade” yourself as we look back at the year that was. — Jeff Yoders, editor

No term has brought up more discussion in the pages of MetalMiner than Ford Motor Company‘s insistence that the F-150 pickup truck is made of “military grade” aluminum.

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On this Memorial Day, we thought we’d revisit whether military grade was actually a specification or a simple marketing ploy on Ford’s part. Since the aluminum-bodied F-150 was introduced in the 2015 model year, more information about its actual construction has been shared by Ford.

Individual dealers are now touting the strength and research that went into the cab and other body parts of the F-150. “Military grade” is still sprinkled throughout the the video, but they also concede the alloy is also part magnesium and silicon. Ford also mentions that a large portion of the F-150 is, in fact, high-strength steel.

Ford has also admitted that the F-150 is primarily built from 6,000 series aluminum alloy, the strength of which is increased by heat-treating after it is formed.

The “military grade” refers to the specs that military applications of 6,000 series alloy is used in. In fairness to Ford, manufacturers and fabricators have been promoting their products as “military grade” for decades, and that’s really no different than Ford’s use of the term.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

We certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone take an aluminum-bodied F-150 into a war zone to test just how “military grade” it really is, but, from a specification standpoint, Ford seems to have good reason to be proud of the rigor of the processes it uses to produce the F-150.

Over the holidays, we will be republishing our top posts of 2016 over the next few days. This was our single most-read post of 2016 from way back in January. Many of Soros’ predictions for the year we’re about to leave behind never came to fruition (a “hard landing” in China) while others were spot on (the Federal Reserve left interest rates, mostly, alone this year). Looking back on it now, much of what Soros spoke of has not changed. China is still exporting deflation even though metal prices recovered this year.

You would be a brave investor to bet against George Soros. The billionaire investor has shown a canny knack of making the right calls over the decades. As an article in Bloomberg says he rose to fame as the hedge fund manager who broke the Bank of England in 1992, netting $1 billion with a bet that the UK would be forced to devalue the pound.

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He also successfully bet that Germany’s deutsche mark would rise after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and that Japanese stocks would start to fall in the same year. Between 1969 and 2011, Soros led his hedge fund to average annual gains of about 20% before returning money back to investors in 2011. Read more

Over the holidays, we are republishing and revisiting some of our most well-read posts of 2016. While this one technically doesn’t fall into the 2016 (it was initially published December 14, 2015) but we are still looking back at it anyway since it deals with predictions about metal prices for the year we’re about to leave behind. It also gathered the second-most traffic of any post we published in 2016 despite predating the year by a few weeks.

At the time, my colleague Raul de Frutos wrote “Currently, some key Chinese indicators we are tracking are giving us no reason to expect higher metal prices in 2016.”

Yet, we have seen higher metal prices in 2016 and we are now in a full metals bull market. The reason we are is because of everything Raul cited in his post. He was 100% right that “the longer it takes China to clean up its mess, the later metal prices will hit bottom.”

China cleaned up its mess, hit bottom early in 2016 and turned global commodities demand around remarkably fast, all things considered. This reminds us that markets can make a turn around quickly. The future is unpredictable and we need to take the market day by day. Just four months after this post, we went from bearish to completely bullish on industrial metals.  Enjoy the second of our Best of MetalMiner in 2016 series. -Jeff Yoders

As you well know, the main cause of the commodities meltdown has been China’s slowdown. Since China makes up half of the world’s demand for commodities, the economic slowdown means lower demand which has led to a situation where a glut of materials can’t find a home.

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The role that China plays in commodity prices is so big that the future of metal prices is totally dependent on China. The longer it takes China to clean up its mess, the later metal prices will hit bottom. Currently, some key Chinese indicators we are tracking are giving us no reason to expect higher metal prices in 2016.

Trade Surplus

Imports to China dropped 8.7% to $143.14 billion in November from a year earlier, extending a slump in imports to a record 13 months, suggesting that government stimulus measures are failing to boost growth.

China Imports (millions $) Source: trading economics.com

China Imports (millions $) Source: TradingEconomics.com from Customs Administration Data.

Meanwhile, Chinese exports declined 6.8% to $197.24 billion in November from a year earlier, marking the fifth straight falling month. The fact that China is struggling to increase its exports demonstrates that global demand is weak and that China will have to find a more painful solution to balance its surplus. The trade surplus and the inability to find a home for the excess of materials flow will continue to keep a lid on China’s growth, depressing commodity prices.

China Exports (millions $). Source: tradingeconomics.com

China Exports (millions of dollars). Source: TradingEconomics.com

 Yuan Falls To Four-Year Low Against The Dollar

Chinese authorities want to see a smooth depreciation of the yuan/renminbi as China faces external pressure not to devalue its currency too quickly. A sharp depreciation would probably hurt the country’s credibility at the same time China wants to attract more foreign capital. In addition, it would raise criticisms that China is keeping its currency artificially low to encourage more exports.

Yuan versus dollar. Source: yahoo finance

Yuan versus dollar. Source: Yahoo Finance.

Recently, China’s central bank cut its reference rate to the lowest level since 2011. The yuan fell against the dollar to the lowest level since 2011. Although China has said that it has not allowed the yuan to slide to boost the economy or increase exports, it seems that the market is taking these developments as desperate actions from China’s government to help the economy, raising concerns among investors that the country’s slowdown might worsen.

China’s Equity Markets’ Slump Continues

We believe that equity markets are the best benchmark for the performance of China’s economy, or at least investors’ sentiment about China. We’ve analyzed before the link between China’s stock market and commodity prices. Currently, this link is even more noticeable.

China FXI ishares

China FXI shares continue to fall. Source: @StockCharts.com.

After the huge slump this summer, equity prices mildly recovered, but since October we see that equities are heading south again. The poor performance of Chinese stocks demonstrates that investors are still worried about the future of the country and not lured by its government actions.

New! Free Download: The December MMI Report

Contrary to what others are saying, we suspect that the slump in China’s stock market could continue, resulting in more fears and more sell-offs in commodities/metals markets.

Thank you for using our services to inform your metals purchases and trades. We take seriously the trust you place in our benchmarking, forecasting and metal price services.

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This Thanksgiving holiday we promise to continue to provide you with the best information to inform your purchases.

Happy Thanksgiving from MetalMiner!

Happy Thanksgiving from MetalMiner!

Have a happy Thanksgiving with your families and all those that you hold dear.

We are republishing our best-read posts of 2016 during the holidays as we look forward to 2016. This is the most-recent of our Best-of-MetalMiner posts, having only been published a few weeks ago on November 15. It continues the trend of highlighting the predictions of our lead forecasting analyst, Raul de Frutos. — Jeff Yoders, editor

Since their peak in the summer, domestic prices of flat steel products have fallen in the range of 20-30%. However, we have some reasons to believe U.S. steel prices are set to rebound:

Trump Wins: Investors Bet On Steel Companies

What changes in the steel industry Donald Trump will make are still unknown. What’s clear is that the new president-elect made trade, manufacturing and the steel industry a cornerstone of his agenda.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

Stocks of American steel companies soared last week as investors hope that a Trump-led government will boost domestic infrastructure, which could be a boom for steel demand. In addition he has stated he would institute more measures to protect domestic steel producers.

Dow Jones US Steel Index hits a 2-year high. Source:MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data

Dow Jones U.S. Steel Index hits a two-year high. Source:MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

A good benchmark for steel prices is the Dow Jones US Steel Index, which tracks major steel producers around the globe. Following the election, the index rose sharply to the highest levels in two years. The stocks of US steel companies are linked to domestic steel prices. This powerful price increase hints to a rebound in steel prices. Read more