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Happy Thanksgiving from MetalMiner!

Happy Thanksgiving from MetalMiner!

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

cubs win chicago tribune home page

I had to go through the contemporary equivalent of ritually collecting newspapers’ front pages, and here’s the local’s effort (all the more fitting due to their parent company’s past ownership of the Cubs). Note the time – 1:28 a.m. ET. A long, yet exhilarating, night. Go Cubs Go!

The entire city of Chicago, our company headquarters included, is still in shock.

The lovable, perennially losing NorthSiders overcame the Curse of the Goat and so many other obstacles to take it all: The Chicago Cubs are, at last, World Series champions after 108 years.

Jayson Stark of ESPN put it best when he quipped, “It was suddenly possible to type a sentence that no living human has ever typed: The Chicago Cubs are the champions of baseball.”

I’m still coming out of a wonderful coma-like aftermath of emotions, having watched every pitch and vacillating between several elements of superstition (standing near the TV for top halves of innings, sitting in armchair for bottom halves since Game 5, among several others…don’t ask) as the Cubs and Indians’ seesaw battle jacked my heart rate up and knotted my neck-and-shoulder muscles in the early morning hours.

The fearless leader of our sister site Spend Matters, Jason Busch, wrote this excellent post-mortem earlier today, so head over there to read a great personal story of the Cubs’ triumph.

But first, share in this #TBT to when my colleague, MetalMiner Editor Jeff Yoders, and I did our parts last season in helping lay the literal groundwork for this 2016 victory:

Music: “All Those Devils…” by Holy Pain (http://www.myspace.com/holypain)

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Kevin Dempsey

MetalMiner Managing Editor Taras Berezowsky recently sat down with Kevin Dempsey, Senior VP for public policy at the American Iron & Steel Institute. Dempsey leads the AISI public policy team representing the interests of North American steel producers and also serves as General Counsel to the Institute. Before that he was a practicing attorney who specialized in trade matters.

During his years on Capitol Hill and in the private sector, Dempsey has worked extensively on international trade negotiations, including the Doha Development Agenda and the original negotiations on the accession of China to the World Trade Organization. He also has considerable experience with U.S. and international law related to subsidies, trade remedies, market access, intellectual property rights, and product standards, as well as U.S. legislative procedures for authorizing and implementing trade agreements.

As such, he possesses a veritable wealth of knowledge about the issue of market economy status for China and how that would impact the U.S. steel industry.

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Taras Berezowsky: Just initially, I saw in your bio that you had worked on China’s original agreement of accession to the WTO. In what capacity did you work with them?

Kevin Dempsey: I was a lawyer, a trade lawyer, in private practice representing a number of U.S. industries that were interested in the question of China’s role in the WTO and making sure that the rules going forward were going to be fair ones that ensure fair competition with China.

A big issue at the time was the extensive state involvement in the Chinese economy and the need to make sure that we had effective laws, including the ability to continue to treat China as a non-market economy under the anti-dumping law.

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It was on one of those weeks when a non-metal commodity dominated metals coverage. We mean the one that factors into just about every metal price through either production or transportation costs. The black gold that sluices across prairie and canyon in tanker cars, pipelines and trucks. The input whose value and production fluctuates at the whim of both Sheikh and wildcatter.

So, honey, then, right?

Saudi Arabia and Russia promised to work together on a “task force” to try to right-size the oil overproduction we’ve become accustomed to over the past two years. MetalMiner Co-Founder Stuart Burns warns that the days of $100 per barrel are, indeed, long gone but something could still come of this latest effort to rein in production. Naturally, the markets ebbed and flowed on speculation of what, exactly, that might be like a small ocean of the stuff filling to the brim a tanker bound for China.

Negative on that Manufacturing Growth

The Institute of Supply Management‘s manufacturing index turned negative in July for the first time since February. And the services gauge fell last month to the lowest level since early 2010. Perhaps the economy’s not doing as great as we thought it was?

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The manufacturing index dropped to 49.4% from 52.6% in August and the ISM services gauge retreated to 51.4% from 55.5%. The combined reading of two indexes was also the weakest in six years.

Transshipment Trouble

Last week, we wrote about China Zhongwang and its billionaire owner, Chinese Communist Party member Liu Zhongtian, buying U.S-based extruder Aleris. Well, more trouble this week for Zhongwang as the Commerce Department launched a new investigation into transshipments related to nearly 1 million metric tons of aluminum stored in rural Mexico.

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Zhongtian says he and his company have nothing to do with it. The Wall Street Journal? Well, it says shipping documents and sales receipts related to the massive stockpile all lead back to Zhongwang.

Less Titanium Production in Utah

Instead of forming titanium sponge by passing titanium tetrachloride in a gaseous phase over molten magnesium or sodium at its Rowley, Utah, facility, Allegheny Technologies, Inc., is cutting out the middle man. The specialty metals producer will now buy its titanium sponge on the open market. By idling the Rowley titanium facility indefinitely, ATI is also cutting 140 jobs. Read more

This week, the Car Wars got hot again as General Motors, on behalf of its Chevy Silverado truck line, started running ads about how weak the rival Ford F-150’s aluminum bed really is.

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GM literally poked holes into the idea that aluminum could be a strong as steel.  They even had Howie Long rub it in.

GM-youtube_Ford_F150_550_060716

The advantage Ford holds, and the reason the automaker pursued aluminum for truck beds in the first place, is that their F-150 is still much lighter and conforms more easily to federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Perhaps Ford should break out the scales and do a fuel economy comparison to strike back at GM? Or should it just keep repeating “military grade aluminum?”

While the automakers were duking it out about who’s truck is tougher, actual steelmakers turned their attention to Beijing where the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue took place. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew called on China to, again, cut excess steel production capacity. China said they would. Again.

The steelmakers gave that a hearty “put or show up.” Well, the American Iron and Steel Institute used more words but that was, essentially, the gist. Our own Stuart Burns also noted that steel is just one of many things that China overproduces and there really might not be much that Beijing can actually do to rein in the wealth of tiny producers of steel and refiners of diesel fuel in its far-flung provinces.

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So, trade wars, car wars and tariffs. Just another week in steel.

MonthlyMetalBuyingOutlook_March2016_210Our Metal Price Outlook for the month of March is now available to subscribers.

The MPO offers medium- and short-term trend analysis covering: aluminum, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, tin, and several steel forms – HRC, CRC, HDG, and plate.

It also features commentary and graphs identifying all the technical and fundamental factors driving price movements and includes monthly industrial buying strategies tailored for the US manufacturer.

Visit MetalMiner Forecasting to learn how to subscribe or for more information.

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.

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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.

Spot iron ore prices hit a fresh 10-year low after falling below $40 per metric last week.

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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.

Raw-Steels_Chart_December-2015_FNL

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.

Chinese Producers

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.

Free Download: The November MMI Report

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.

MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_November-2015_FNL-TOPVALUE100This 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.

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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.

structural_wrigley_550

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