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.
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.
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: 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 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.
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 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.
Weakening steel demand is causing a slump in finished products and raw materials prices. Our Raw Steel MMI didn’t take a break in December, falling 4.2% to 46 points, yet another all-time low.
Early this year, many believed that the steel industry would recover during the second half of the year, even steel companies’ 2Q15 better-than-expected-earnings results raised optimism of a possible recovery. We didn’t subscribe to this view. The slump in steel prices continues and the fiscal 3Q15 financial results of most steel companies failed to cheer up investors.
The market has seriously underestimated the demand erosion that the economic rebalancing in China has created.
Overcapacity Still an Issue
Steel producers are still waiting for demand to meet the overcapacity built over the past few years. In addition, almost a decade with borrowing costs near zero has lead to a situation where there is still new capacity yet to be built and also existing capacity that doesn’t close. Low-cost credit has permitted even unprofitable production to be maintained, and while production levels are well off their peaks, there have been few permanent capacity closures.
The excess of production is still a concern in China, given the high levels of debt that producers there are dealing with. While many steel companies are able to cover debt costs out of operating profits, other companies are still borrowing from one bank to pay the older debt to another.
In November, Chinese steelmaker Tangshan Songting Iron and Steel, with an annual capacity of 5 million metric tons, said it would cut output due to debt pressures. Despite China cutting interest rates, as demand and prices collapse, banks are starting to tighten lending to the steel sector and losses are stacking up. Many mills are having a hard time extending their loans while they lower steel prices in competition to get contracts. The plunge in Chinese steel profits and and prolonged worries over weak demand might force more and more Chinese producers to close, removing exports from the global market before we see a recovery in prices.
Steel prices, like the rest of base metals, were impacted in November by a strong dollar and the bearish sentiment that this adds to commodity markets. There are few to no indicators pointing to a recovery in steel prices anytime soon.
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With the Federal Reserve hinting at an increase in interest rates soon and a few metals gaining at least a little bit of their lost values back, the search for a market bottom is on.
This month we saw some encouraging signs that the metals undergirding our MMIs, such as Copper and Stainless, were posting gains but the overall trend still pointed to historically low prices. The underlying prices comprising our steel, aluminum, construction and renewables indexes all fell again.
Even the strong performers in this bear market, such as copper and stainless, come with a caveat: that their gain — for copper, a 1.5% increase and a 1.4% increase for automotive — or simply steady performance could very well be mere pauses in a year of losses, rather than true market bottoms. The Stainless and Rare Earths MMIs managed to hold their low price levels from October. Certainly good news for producers in this market, but not indicative, yet, of any real potential for future increases.
The Global Precious MMI showed a genuine increase of 4.1% with strong price performance from all its individual metal components. This includes increases in gold and silver as hedges against what some investors perceive as a future move to weaken the US dollar’s continuing strength against commodities and other currencies, an increase in interest rates.
It’s still too early to tell but maybe, just maybe, some of these metals are poised to bottom out.
This is part two of a series on how 3D model-based design and materials quantity take-off enabled the restoration of Wrigley Field in Chicago. See part one if you missed it.
Steel Fabrication and Erection
The structural design of Wrigley Field’s bleachers maintains the historic nature of the ballpark and presents some unique challenges for fabrication and erection. The design’s connections, column sizes and thicknesses required a complex fabrication, welding and installation plan.
Lenex Steel of Indianapolis developed a 3D model for the fabrication, which took between 16,000 and 17,000 man-hours to complete the project. It required three different production foundries to supply the volume.
The historic restoration of Wrigley Field’s bleachers meant structural steel with many difficult installation angles and a veritable collision maze of supports, piping and electrical fixtures. Image: Jeff Yoders
Most of the steel came from supplier Steel Dynamics, Inc., which shipped its rough beams and long products from its facility in Jeffersonville, Ind., directly to Lenex for fabrication or to the site. Read more
The strong dollar continues to drag down all commodities, shunting investment dollars elsewhere and depressing prices of investment metals such as gold, which hit a six-year low last quarter, according to the World Gold Council. Guess what else hit a six-year low? Oil, of course! Read more
With the exception of the very specialized grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) market and the Renewables MMI®, all of our indexes lost ground in June and could not gain traction amid falling commodity prices and a strong US dollar.
The one index that was steady from last month, which tracks raw material inputs of the renewable energy sector, has been stagnant for two years and, until trends show otherwise, its steadiness is more a measure of a lack of market activity than anything close to a turnaround or a new trend toward increasing prices.
The Stainless MMI is flirting with two-year lows and our Raw Steels index is up against lows not seen in years as well. Weakness in the Chinese stock market has put additional pressure on metals that were already reeling from the effect of the strong dollar. This is bad news for steelmakers, miners, refiners and smelters by itself, but coupled with increased supply in most of the metals we track, it’s become a real deterrent to profitability.
Moreover, both Europe and the US have higher-than-normal inventories of semi-finished products at service centers. Mill lead times remain short suggesting weak demand. Weak demand will continue to place downward pressure on prices.
It’s been a wild ride, but after three months of adding, subtracting, nip/tucking and perfecting, we are finally at the July metal buying outlook – the third and final complimentary MetalMiner™ Monthly Metal Buying Outlook – the only July metal price forecast and market commentary you will ever need.
Lisa Reisman, CEO, Azul Partners and executive editor, MetalMiner, is back with her tool kit and expert insight into the industrial metals aluminum, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, tin and steel (HRC, CRC, HDG, Plate) so you can formulate your short- and long-term buying strategy.
A third-generation metals enthusiast, Lisa Reisman founded MetalMiner in 2007 – 13 years after she began trading semi-finished aluminum metals and 3 years after she was tasked by the CEO of a Tier 1 automotive company to save his company some money on their direct material spend. Lisa is an ex-big 5 consultant who built MetalMiner into the largest online publication for metal-buying organizations, and has the experience and depth of insight to produce this one-of-a-kind invaluable monthly report to impact your industrial metals purchasing strategy.
As we pointed out last month, the US dollar is showing some weakness for the first time in almost a year. That dollar weakness has helped metal prices during the second quarter. However, the recent price movements aren’t reason enough to suddenly become bearish in the dollar.
“Back when I started writing about BIM and VDC in 2005, I vowed that I would not rest until we revolutionized the way construction projects are procured and delivered,” Yoders said. “Well, at long last, that day is here. Well, bye!”