Commodities

When pharmaceutical manufacturer Biogen Idec planned a new headquarters building in Boston’s growing Kendall Square tech center, they knew the construction and program needs of the 325,000-square foot, five-story project would be a challenge for the architects, engineers and general contractor selected.

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Cambridge, the suburban Boston municipality Kendall Square is located in, had a zoning requirement that all projects stay under 75 feet. That meant architect Spagnolo, Gisness and Associates had to cut its original plan for a six-story building down to five stories.

Biogen had its own needs, too. The company wanted to break down barriers between its management and employees and encourage collaboration among its scientists and researchers through the architecture of the building.

Open Office Plan

The new global headquarters has no private offices, just individually designed workstations called “I spaces” and common “huddle rooms” for private phone calls or spontaneous meetings. The company scrapped telephone landlines for employees, who are issued laptops and headsets.

Panels in the ceilings and floors can be brought down to add soft walls and subdivide rooms for smaller group collaboration.

“The idea was to bring everyone together, no separate offices for executives or private areas for senior management, everyone has the same office in the open floor plan,” said Malisa Heiman, senior associate in the real estate and site planning for Biogen.

Construction Manager Consigli Construction co-located with SGA and several of the project’s subcontractors during the design stage of the project. All mechanical, electrical and plumbing subcontractors were on board during design meetings.

By using 3D building information modeling Consigli and SGA were able to design and deliver a composite slab system with steel trusses. All trusses were prefabricated, some smaller with penetrations and spaces for mechanical systems in beams.

One Less Floor

Consigli and SGA were able to shave the entire mechanical floor off the building and achieve the 75-foot zoning height required by putting the mechanical systems in the steel frame. With the utility floor squeezed into the building’s steel frame was completed seven months early and $2.3 million under budget. Biogen took occupation in late 2013. The artifact handed over for facility management was a 3D model.

“We demanded detail early one. The level of coordination allowed fabrication to start more quickly,” said Andy Deschenes, director of project services and innovation at Consigli.

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The London Metal Exchange (LME) yesterday launched a month-long consultation on proposals designed to broaden access to its electronic trading platform, LMEselect. The changes put forward include opening up LMEselect access to category 3 and category 4 (non-clearing) members of the exchange as well as adding flexibility to the criteria required to apply for LME membership.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

“Today’s proposals are crucial to our overarching aim to maximize liquidity and participation on the LME,” said Garry Jones, LME CEO. “Opening up access to trading on LMEselect is beneficial to everyone trading on any one of our venues as it will bring more liquidity and price transparency to all.”

Adding flexibility to the application criteria for LME membership means that prospective members may, in some cases, benefit from exemptions from the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) authorization requirements, which represents a significant step in the LME’s Liquidity Roadmap. The changes would make the LME electronic market more attractive to non-UK based traders who want to take advantage of the Exchange’s enhanced liquidity initiatives but who are currently not eligible or are discouraged from applying by electronic access restrictions.

If the LME decides to proceed with the proposed changes after the consultation period ends, then full details of the category 4 membership requirements including fees and B share requirements will be published.

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Today in metals, two steel majors joined forces in India and predictions differed for the US economic recovery.

ArcelorMittal and SAIL Team Up for Auto Plant

ArcelorMittal, and the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), India’s leading steel company, signed a memorandum of understanding to set up an automotive steel manufacturing facility under a joint venture arrangement in India.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The MoU was signed in London Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, and C.S. Verma, Chairman of SAIL. Rakesh Singh, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Steel and Aditya Mittal, ArcelorMittal CFO and CEO ArcelorMittal Europe, were also present.

The MoU is the first step of a process to establish a JV between the two companies. The proposed JV will construct a state-of-the-art cold rolling mill and other downstream finishing facilities in India that will offer technologically advanced steel products to India’s growing automotive sector.

MarketWatch: US Recovery Murky

It’s a mystery if the US economy will fire back up and grow at a significant rate this summer.

Not long ago, economists thought US growth could reach nearly 4% in the second quarter after a tepid 0.2% gain in the first three months of the year, a period marked by unusually harsh weather. That would be a carbon copy of the feast-or-famine growth pattern that occurred in 2014.

Many are so sure after an uneven batch of economic reports midway through the second quarter. A poll of analysts compiled by MarketWatch predicts the US will expand at a 3.2% annual rate from April through June — and some have chopped their forecasts to below 3%.

A cluster of fresh reports this week probably won’t give much inkling.

Orders for durable goods such as TVs and trucks that are meant to last a long time are expected to fall again in April. Business spending and investment have softened considerably since last fall.

Sales of new homes nationwide, meanwhile, might creep higher in April, but closings are still historically weak.

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ive thanks to all of the service men and women who served our nation and defended our freedom today, let us also remember the international trade pacts and enforcement bodies created to keep wars and conflicts from ever being fought again over such things as one nation illegally exporting millions of tons of its products into another nation. Which only happened at least nine times before.

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Here at the MetalMiner week-in-review, let’s give thanks that such wars are no longer fought in anything but the World Trade Organization and look back at some of the very, very cold trade wars looming and what can be done about them now.

China Now Admitting Dumping

The Chinese have previously taken the tack of apologizing for their domestic steel industry. Highly subsidized at the state and national level, Chinese steel companies have been accused of dumping in the US and EU. Previously, officials from Beijing have thrown their hands up and essentially said “we’re trying to get the situation under control.”

That all changed this week. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang said the rise in steel exports is due to higher global demand and is a result of Chinese steel products having strong “export competitiveness.”

Export Competitive US GOES

What a novel concept! Maybe if our government subsidized AK Steel and Allegheny Technologies at the state and national levels US grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) could be as “export competitive!”

The EU is already mad at us for, yes, dumping GOES there. Seriously. The European Commission has just set tariffs on imports of GOES following a complaint lodged in June 2014 by the European steel producers association, Eurofer. There are only about 16 manufacturers of GOES in the world, so, apparently everyone manufacturing it is dumping GOES in the EU.

The World’s Dumbest Trade ‘War’

Okay, so trade agreements may not have made the steel industry harmonious and happy. Surely most metals are okay, right? Hasn’t the green energy movement made the production of, say, solar panels seamless? Surely you jest.

The spat between the US and China over solar panels has been called by Slate and others the dumbest trade war in the world. And it is. A German company, SolarWorld, has secured duties against Chinese manufacturers of inexpensive silicon solar panels. And bulk silicon. The fight is threatening adoption of solar in the US and driving up the price of other silicon products.

Thanks a lot, Germany.

While we’re thankful that our trade wars aren’t real wars, anymore, our trade agreements haven’t exactly delivered on the promise of an even international playing field, either. The MetalMiner week-in-review suggests manufacturers do everything they can to stay “export competitive.”

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Minutes were recently released of the Federal Reserve Board’s most recent meeting and another rosy forecast for the US construction market was released.

Construction Starts About to Surge?

Construction starts for residential and nonresidential construction in the second quarter should improve after weak numbers in the first quarter, according to a forecast by consultancy CMD.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

However, construction starts overall in the US could rise 9.2% this year, even though both residential and nonresidential starts have been downgraded, CMD said. The CMD forecast is derived by combining proprietary data with macroeconomic factors.

No June Rate Hike

Federal Reserve officials believed it would be premature to hike interest rates in June even though most felt the US economy was set to rebound from a dismal start to the year, according to minutes from their April policy meeting released on Wednesday.

The central bank debated whether a slew of disappointing data, including weak consumer spending, signaled a temporary slump or evidence of a longer-lasting slowdown, with most participants agreeing economic growth would climb to a healthier pace and the labor market would strengthen.

The US economy grew an anemic 0.1% in the first quarter, according to the most recent government data.

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According to a report, crude-steel output in China dropped 1.3% to 270.07 million metric tons in the first four months of 2015 as compared to the same period in 2014. The World Steel Association has forecast that China will end up using far less steel this year and maybe even the next. Which again means more supply and far less demand.

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The report quoted Alan Chirgwin, BHP Billiton iron ore marketing vice president, as saying steel supply was expected to rise by about 110 million metric tons this year, exceeding demand growth by around 40 mmt.

Yet this has not fazed Rio Tinto Group, for example, which recently announced it would continue with its plan to produce iron ore at full capacity despite the fall in prices. While BHP and Brazil’s Vale SA have, for now, stepped on the brakes vis-à-vis their medium-term plans, team Rio, on the other hand, thinks reducing production costs will help it hang on to its lead…and profits.

Betting on a Comeback

Rio Tinto sees China coming back with renewed vigor and driving global iron ore demand through 2030.

Where does that leave India? So far as iron ore or even steel consumption is concerned, China is miles ahead of India, even in the fatigued condition it finds itself today. India, as reported by MetalMiner, drew a blank for about two years due to a court-imposed ban on ore mining, which left its steel companies at the mercy of imports, something that they continue to rely on even today.

That had also affected its iron ore exports, especially from the ore-rich provinces of Goa and Odisha. India’s iron ore imports went up dramatically to a record 6.76 million tons in the first 7 months of the 2014-15 fiscal year. Once, the country was the third-largest supplier of iron ore to the world, but, because of the export duty and a national mining ban, it had turned into an importer.

Analysts predict India was likely to remain a net importer of iron ore in 2015-16 as well, no thanks to the continued drop in falling international rates. The only silver lining, claimed analysts, could be that due to the resumption in the domestic production of iron ore, the quantity of imports may not be as high as the last fiscal year.

Captive Market

India’s steel companies do not have captive mines, so they have to get their average 95 mmt a year of iron ore from elsewhere. With international price of ore hovering today at about $50 per mt for high-grade ore, it is too attractive a deal for Indian steel mills to be passed on. As reference points, last year, iron ore imports happened when rates had touched $90 per mt.

In all this, Australia, a country that sells about 80% of its ore to China, sits in a happy position. While it hopes that the recent cuts in interest rates will revive the Chinese economy, and thus its demand for iron ore and coking coke, it is also looking increasingly to India to pick up its stock. Last year, for example, as reported by MetalMiner Australia had approved Adani Group’s approximate $15.5-billion (AUS $16.5 billion) Carmichael coal project in Queensland that could yield up to 60 million mt of coal per year. That was just the beginning. For the Aussies, if the dragon’s appetite for iron ore and coking coal is satiated, the hungry tiger is always lurking in the background.

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When the Tiger and the Dragon dine together the world sits up and takes note.

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Signing business agreements worth $22 billion is a big deal so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China made big, bold headlines here. Some of India’s old, and some not so old (Adani, Bhusan Power and Steel), players in the steel and power sectors, were signatories to the 26 deals.

Steel and Energy Deals

The notable contracts included the one between India’s IL&FS Energy Development Co. and China Huaneng Group for a 4,000-megawatt thermal power project, and India’s Bhushan Power and Steel sealing a pact with China National Technical Import and Export Corporation for an integrated steel project in Indian province of Gujarat.

So here were two Asian, nee global, giants, breaking bread and talking business at the same table, sending analysts scurrying to their laptops to chalk out spreadsheets and draw pie charts in an effort to understand the impact of all this in the long term.

While business leaders of both nations, including Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma, spoke of long-term interests, such talk brought the arclight swinging back to the present and short-term situation currently prevailing in the Asian region, especially in iron ore and coking coke, two crucial ingredients in making steel.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that steel is the mainstay of Asia’s infrastructure, a fact that has had iron ore and coal miners — and even steel majors in China, India and as so far as Australia — jockeying for a major piece of new market share. With demand from Europe and the US lacking, suppliers in all three countries are walking a thinly veiled tight rope to ensure their survival.

Wither Demand

Once a destination of hope, the Chinese dragon, for now, has lost some of its hunger. Some say next-door neighbor India is where one can find fresh action. The jury’s honestly still out on that one, though. But the slowdown in China’s economy means less need for steel, in turn, lowering the demand for ore and coking coal. Leaving miners re-tweaking their business plans.

Last year, for example, the Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton Ltd. in Australia, and Vale SA of Brazil, to stem the tide, had stepped up low-cost output to pump up volumes, leading to a glut. Now, everybody’s mantra seems to be – cut production costs faster than the falling prices.

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The US dollar index has declined 6% since its peak in mid-March.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

This decline gave a boost to commodities and, of course, precious metals were not left behind. However, their upside moves look anything but impressive. Despite the weaker dollar, it seems as if precious metals are having a hard time moving away from their lows.

Gold prices rose a shy 6% since mid-May. The yellow metal is still near record lows. A bit more encouraging is the move silver is making, up 12% since mid-May. The grey metal, however, is still near record lows as well. The metal is trading at $17.71/oz and we’ll see if it can break medium-term resistance at $18.5/oz.

A bit more encouraging is the move silver is making, up 12% since mid-May. The gray metal, however, is still near record lows as well. The metal is trading at $17.71/oz and we’ll see if it can break medium-term resistance at $18.5/oz.

Platinum is up 7%. A very small movement compared to its huge decline since summer last year. The metal has a long way up to reach last year’s levels.

Palladium rose 8% after making a 1-year low in March. Palladium is clearly the best performer among precious metals but since summer of last year is also being dragged down with the rest of precious metals.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Recent weakness in the dollar is giving a boost to precious metals. However, these price movements have been quite shy so far. It still makes sense to be long-term bullish on the dollar and bearish on precious metals.

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ast week UGI Energy Services announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas production facility in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The facility will draw Marcellus Shale gas from UGI’s Auburn gathering system, then chill it to produce up to 120,000 gallons per day in liquid form. While we have regularly reported the slowdown in both new shale oil and LNG projects in the US this year — and the subsequent cutbacks in oil country tubular goods production — investments are still being made, in the US and overseas, in drilling.

Plants, Projects Planned

Bloomberg Business reported this week that Anadarko Petroleum Corp. selected a group of developers including Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. for a potential $15 billion LNG project in Mozambique.

CBI’s joint venture with Japan-based Chiyoda Corp. and Saipem SpA, based in Italy, will work on the onshore project that includes two LNG units with 6 million metric tons of capacity each, Anadarko said Monday. Construction plans also include two LNG storage tanks, each with a capacity of 180,000 cubic meters, condensate storage, a multi-berth marine jetty and associated utilities and infrastructure, according to Texas-based Anadarko, which says it will make a final investment decision by the end of the year.

Last week, the Department of Energy gave Cheniere Energy Inc. final approval for the nation’s fifth major export terminal at Corpus Christi in Texas, which will ship the fuel from 2018.

What’s Driving Infrastructure Investment?

While oil prices have bounced back from lows seen earlier this year, it’s certainly not the market that’s driving these investments. While high-cost projects, such as those in Canada’s oil sands, have been canceled by oil exploration companies, relatively inexpensive projects with a quicker path to payback, such as these LNG projects, are still being funded.

The payback is diverse and not confined to domestic home heating. LNG has been priced at a fraction of diesel prices for the last four years. Domestic trucking (18-wheelers and other heavy consumers of diesel) have yet to make a large-scale commitment to LNG, and most places where fuel is dispensed have yet to put in expensive infrastructure to handle the product, but there has been enough success for UGI to justify committing resources to its adoption.

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An Indian steel major reports a loss and architecture billings slip in April.

ABI Down

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) dropped in April for the second month this year. As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects a nine to 12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

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The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the April ABI score was 48.8, down sharply from a mark of 51.7 in March. This score reflects a decrease in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

Tata Reports a Loss

Tata Steel Ltd. reported on Wednesday a consolidated quarterly loss of $888.8 million (56.74 billion rupees) for its fiscal fourth quarter ended March 31.

Consolidated net sales for the quarter fell about 21% from a year earlier to 333.4 billion rupees, hit by weak steel prices and international demand.

The results follow the company’s announcement last week of about $785 million non-cash charge in the fourth quarter, mainly related to its loss-making long products unit in the UK.

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