Commodities

Although stainless steel demand is expected to grow moderately this year, service centers are flush with inventory which is putting pressure on US mills.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Combined with successive months of declines in nickel prices, service centers are only purchasing what is absolutely necessary. Both domestic mills and Asian mills have robust North American inventories, a stark contrast from a year ago when lead times went beyond the standard 6-8 weeks, causing service centers to seek alternative sources.

Technical Issues Hurting Mills

Another exacerbating factor in last year’s supply was Outokumpu’s technical issues with its cold-rolling mills and a lack of alternative domestic supply led service centers to seek other sources. With lead times extended, the domestic mills were able to pass through several base price increases in 2014.

With higher US base prices and the strength of the US dollar, Asian imports did not subside. Asian producers need other markets for their surplus material as Chinese demand is weak and both Europe and India have taken anti-dumping actions against China.

End market demand is strong for automotive,​ residential​ appliance and food service/food processing equipment. The only market that appears to be suffering is energy which is due to the low price of oil. Stainless demand is decent according to many sources and stainless base prices will remain under pressure.

Inventory Backlog

The North American market​ ​is ​saturated with inventory​ ​so​ lowering the base price will not spur on demand. Until service centers reduce their inventory backlogs and nickel prices start to improve, service centers will not buy, regardless of price. Service centers need to focus on getting their inventories in check before they resume anything resembling regular buying patterns. ​​Unfortunately, the mills are under pressure to book capacity which oftentimes leads to acts of desperation.

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MetalCrawler is covering the labor issues beat today and they might affect your metal purchases.

Century Hints at Lockout

Century Aluminum will invoke a lockout of unionized workers at its Hawesville, Ky., smelter starting on May 11 if the union does not approve a final offer on a labor deal, according to a letter posted on Century’s website on Friday.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

United Steelworkers Local 9423 is set to vote on the proposed contract today, according to a post on the union website. If workers go on strike, it would be the first industrial action at a US aluminum smelter in more than a decade.

Train Drivers Strike in Germany

A seven-day strike by German train drivers could cost the German economy €500 million ($556.70 million), Germany’s DIHK Chambers of Commerce said on Monday.

The strike, the eighth in a dispute between the GDL train drivers union and state-owned Deutsche Bahn over work conditions, began today for freight trains and will be extended to passenger trains from Tuesday.

BP Refinery Strike Could Soon End

Workers and management at BP have reached a tentative agreement that would end a months-long strike at the multinational’s refinery in Whiting, Ind.

The United Steel Workers employees must still ratify the contract, and officials expect a vote to occur in the next few days.

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This week, our metals markets fell lower as they were buffeted by seemingly ever-increasing exports of steel, aluminum and other products from China.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Even though China’s economic growth has been falling, its government still gives producers strong incentives to produce steel and aluminum that eventually ends up exported elsewhere. My colleague Stuart Burns rightfully points out that if Chinese mills are “supported by plunging raw material costs and extensive local state support, gifting them a break-even price around the lowest in the world, then the intent to simply ‘dump’ metal into export markets has few barriers.”

Can Debt Fuel Long-Term Growth?

But what’s the eventual result of state support? In China or anywhere else? Can government debt actually lift these economies back into growth mode? Stuart was there again, with an assist from the Daily Telegraph, postulating that sluggish growth and low inflation is the new normal and “advanced economies — and perhaps emerging ones, too — seem to have run out of productivity-enhancing growth and, therefore, need constant infusions of financially destabilizing debt to keep them going.”

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Construction spending falling again was the big news in today’s MetalCrawler report. The race for world’s largest steelmaker by market value heated up, too.

Construction Spending Falls

Outlays for US construction projects fell 0.6% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $967 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Economists polled by MarketWatch expected a drop of 0.5%, compared with an originally reported decrease of 0.1% in February. On Friday, the government revised February’s result to show almost no change. Looking at private outlays in March, spending fell 1.6% for residential projects, and rose 1% for nonresidential projects. For overall public construction projects, spending fell 1.5%.

Baosteel Keeps Growing

Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., spurred by China’s stock-market rally and growing car market, is poised to overtake Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. as the world’s largest steelmaker by market value.

Baosteel, supplier of half of China’s automotive steel, had a market capitalization of $23.8 billion to Nippon Steel’s $25 billion on Thursday. The spread on Tuesday was only $52 million. Also tracked in the attached chart is South Korea’s Posco, which wrestled with the Japanese steelmaker for the crown from 2013 until last year.

Shares of Shanghai-based Baosteel more than doubled in local-currency terms since Oct. 30 as the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rallied 86% Nippon Steel’s stock rose 14% and Posco fell 18% in the same period.

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While India leads the world in Direct-Reduced Iron production, the domestic industry has been facing an uphill production battle for the last four years.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

India’s DRI sector is hoping for help from the government and clarity in the overall steel policy to see it through, what many have dubbed, its most critical phase ever.

Demand DRIs Up

What is worrisome is that the falling demand for steel, especially construction steel globally, could further, negatively impact the sector. Some are quick to note that India’s DRI units need not worry much on this front as the market in India has remained insulated from global trends owing to steadily increasing domestic steel consumption.

Two other risks facing the sector are imported scrap being used by steel companies in India, DRI is an excellent substitute for scrap in electric arc furnaces, and the reliance by medium-sized DRI producers on inferior technology. That means technological limitations stop the producers from exploiting inferior grades of iron ore and coal.

Further, the limited availability of coking coal only motivates steel production in the country through a combination of DRI and blast furnace. What has added to the misery is the recent round of coal auctions held by the federal government.

Unable to Bid in Coal Auction

DRI companies were unable to participate in the auction, and a hitherto discounted source of fuel was lost, pushing the cost of DRI production by an estimated 40%, some have said. The DRI segment has brought this to the government’s attention.

While many steel companies prefer to use DRI instead of scrap, the slowdown in the global steel industry has seen some amount of the steel melting scrap being imported into India because of lower import duties. What makes steel plants happy in such cases, besides the cheap duty, is the fact that the imported scrap percentage works out to be higher, which eventually negates the cost of imported scrap.

To many analysts, the DRI sector in India is poised on the cusp of a turnaround, but only if there is adequate government backing as well as support from domestic steel companies. Even then, it could easily take four years for the industry to come back to an even keel and ramp up production.

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When domestic markets weaken, most producers turn to export markets to sell excess capacity, but you don’t just break into export markets overnight. It’s not that easy. Sort of like one does not simply walk into Mordor.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The tried and trusted short-term approach is to sell cheap, making it hard for buyers to refuse the low-priced product being offered.

Sell Low, Buy Even Lower

If those mills are supported by plunging raw material costs and extensive local state support gifting them a break-even price around the lowest in the world, then the intent to simply “dump” metal into export markets has few barriers.

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Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

High costs and lower demand are just two of the problems plaguing India’s DRI sector. DRI is used by the steel industry in flat as well as long steel product segments, and is also used in infrastructure projects.

Low Steel Demand Hits DRI Producers, Too

According to figures put out by the World Steel Association, in the first quarter of 2015, India, with over 4,500 tons of DRI, headed the list of 14 nations that accounted for 87 % of the world’s total DRI production. The Sponge Iron Manufacturers Association has estimated India to have an installed capacity of 37 million metric tons, although it’s difficult to arrive at an accurate figure due to a general lack of proper research.

EAF and Induction Resources

India’s DRI industry has nurtured secondary steel producers who largely use electric arc or induction furnaces to make their steel, for which DRI comes as handy substitute for scrap.

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Zinc producers, along with investors, have been hoping for a supply crunch to materialize after repeated warning of mine closures and predictions of ore shortages, but supply has remained stubbornly robust.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

As recently as October, the International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) was predicting a zinc deficit for this year of 366,000 tons, a figure more than halved to 151,000 tons this month, and itself still higher than a recent Reuters poll predicting a 143,000-ton deficit for the year. Overall, about a million tons of supply will eventually be taken out, Robin Bhar of Societe Generale predicts, but one unknown is how much mothballed production could come back onstream.

New Mining Coming Online

At $2,200 per metric ton most miners are operating profitably, a 10% rise (we have seen this much already over the last two months) would probably seal the case for restarts, in addition to several smaller projects already in the pipeline.

Some point to falling London Metal Exchange inventory as a sign of deficit but to what extent this is metal coming off-warrant to be moved into lower rent non-LME storage is not clear. Zinc has suffered from the same distortion as aluminum in recent years, with the stock and finance trade soaking up a percentage of production and inflating the impression of apparent demand.

The current LME forward curve does not support that trade at present, but that doesn’t negate the fact a significant percentage is still locked up in those deals.

For now there is ample ore supply, Reuters reports, as evidenced by treatment charges that have risen to $245 an mt, a 10% gain, from last year. To clear up a misconception, treatment charges rise with supplies as mining groups compete to find smelters to process their material.

Everyone Gets a Surplus

This year, the Chinese domestic zinc market is expected to be in surplus as domestic output and imports rise, while demand for the metal weakens. A slowing manufacturing sector and tightening environmental standards could also trim zinc demand sapping expectations of a rise in demand.

Against such a backdrop the rally in prices seen in recent weeks could be said to be overly bullish, fueled as it is by falling inventory and expectations of a looming supply crunch, the current market realities don’t support a near-term supply shortfall, but markets are said to trade on expectation so maybe investors’ optimism about higher prices is right, just ill-timed.

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In part one of this series of posts we talked about what exponential technologies are and why we should keep and eye on them and be flexible, as they will completely change industries before most even notice.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

Before jumping into each exponential technology, in this post we’ll analyze three forces that are helping to speed up their growth:

The Do-It-Yourself Revolution

There have always been entrepreneurs out there. However, new breakthrough technologies are pushing a new breed of innovators, now more than ever, to solve problems that only big companies and governments were able to solve before. These innovators have free and instant access to information and the the capability to mass-share their progress. This allows an individual or a small group of people to create a new market and to disrupt an existing one within a matter years, sometimes even months.

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Yesterday’s post explained how the Short Range Outlook (SRO) report released by the World Steel Association for 2015-2016 predicted steel demand would grow by just about 0.5% to 1.544 million metric tons in 2015.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

The world’s steel sector looks on with hope to India to see it through this downturn. The country’s per capita consumption was still low, at about 60 kg as against the world average of 220 kg. With the government’s Make In India (manufacturing) plan slowly grinding into motion, it is hoped that this will lead to an increase in steel consumption.

The End of Annual Growth for Chinese Steel

So, the China steel story is over, at least for the short-term. The economic deceleration there, following low investment growth since 2008, is expected to adversely impact any steel growth there, and it has so far this year.

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