Articles in Category: Commodities

After a recovery late last year, the oil market seems to have settled with a price around $55 a barrel… at least for now. That level is not likely to dissuade consumption but most Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members seem to feel it justifies their oil output cut agreed to late last year.

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A few producers, such as Venezuela, that are running massive budget deficits have targeted $70 or more, but most analysts would agree that if oil can hang onto recent price gains for the next six months it will be doing well. Read more

An Indonesian Finance Ministry official said the government may not be done tinkering with export tax rules involving raw ore just yet. The island nation’s Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry partially lifted a ban on raw ore exports late last week.

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“We want the export duties to push domestic processing. That’s the principle,” Suahasil Nazara, head of the Fiscal Policy Office at the Finance Ministry, told reporters, adding that the taxes were “not just for increasing state revenues. There’s a high possibility we will continue with a scheme that has layers, depending on completion of smelters.”

Outokumpu Adds to North American Stainless Rebar Line

Outokumpu recently unveiled a new stainless rebar offering for the North American market at the World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas.

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Following an expansion of its stainless rebar capabilities at its facilities in Richburg, S.C., Outokumpu will now sell stainless rebar in coil, cut-to-length or in bent shapes. The Richburg facility has capabilities to cover a full range of rebar dimensions between sizes #3 and #8 (from .375 inches to 1 inch) and lengths up to 60 feet, and will offer short lead times for customers in North America.

A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that companies in the top quartile of inventory turnover tend to have no more than three to four days of raw materials on hand. For metals suppliers this could lead to shortages and disrupt customers’ supply chains.

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Supply chain financing, though, can help buyers and sellers work to manage supply and cost issues. The role of supply chain finance is to optimize both the availability and cost of capital within a given supply chain by aggregating, packaging, and utilizing information generated during supply chain activities and matching this information with the physical control of goods.

If you’re buying metals for product manufacturing, for example, it can be beneficial to have the cash-flow flexibility of supply chain financing, especially if you’re a smaller manufacturer. In supply chain finance, an agreement is made between the buyer and supplier to use credit facilities or other financial instruments to bring down costs and risks for both parties.

Buyers can utilize “buy now, pay later” open account transactions which can be counted as regular payments for a continuing flow of goods rather than specific transactions or set prices and quantities. Buyers can extend payment terms with their suppliers. Suppliers, such as metals service centers, can use their credit ratings to bring in customers who, without support from banks, might otherwise not be able to do business with them. Other third-party financiers can also join in the agreements and assist either side with loans or other financing instruments.

In aerospace and defense, this could mean optimizing purchasing across a global supply chain. SCF provider Taulia recently announced a partnership with Exostar, which provides cloud-based solutions to the sector, as well as to the life sciences and health care sectors. There are more than 100,000 aerospace and defense corporate buyers using Exostar’s solutions that now have access to Taulia’s supply chain finance offerings. Taulia’s SaaS product is being integrated directly into the Exostar interface so if you’re a small manufacturer providing electronics or metal parts, you could have the same buying advantages of a larger organization.

Earlier last year, TradeRocket and Hitachi Capital America entered a similar agreement. TradeRocket provided Hitachi Capital with a pool of mid-market buyers (companies with annual revenues of $25 million to $500 million) who, once underwritten, would be able to use TradeRocket’s early pay invoice option to its entire supplier network.

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Giving buyers payment flexibility and suppliers access to new markets is a win-win for both bottom lines.

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

After more than four years of languishing, some hope’s been rekindled in India’s iron ore mining sector.

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Ore production jumped 22% between April and October, according to figures released by the government. Iron ore production stood at 100 million metric tons during the resurgence, against 81 mmt during the same April to October period a year ago. What’s brought even more cheer is the news that exports, too, jumped 9 times their previous level, to 9 mmt from last April to September, as compared to 1 mmt, the same period last year.

Export Taxes

With a steep price hike in global markets aided by protectionist measures for the domestic steel industry, will India see a resurgence in iron ore exports? Not so fast.

India has plentiful iron ore stockpiled but taxes are holding up exports. Source: Adobe Stock/nikitos77.

The protectionist measures imposed by India’s government previously included an export duty tax of 30% on high-grade iron ore. Many within the mining sector are of the opinion that the export tax must go, or at the very least be reduced, to boost exports. Read more

By anyone’s reckoning, iron ore and coking coal had a stellar year in 2016. Driven by infrastructure investment and a robust construction market, Chinese imports of our iron ore could top 1 billion metric tons for the first time in 2016. Prices more than doubled in the space of 12 months and the supply-demand situation seemed to be largely in balance for much of the year.

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After topping $80 per mt in early December, prices eased back a little toward the end of the year prompting many to ask “have we seen the peak in iron ore prices?” Mills typically cut output during the quieter winter months when construction demand slows. Many steel mills have already curbed output due to chronic smog alerts across northern China.

Chinese Demand

Seasonally, it would not be unusual if iron ore prices remained subdued up to the Chinese New Year and then picked up in preparation for the peak production months of late spring and summer. But, while Chinese demand defied many expectations of a slowdown in 2016, the recent softening of both iron ore and coking coal raw material prices, and the price of some finished steel products over the last week or 10 days, has lent support to some analysts’ predictions that we could be seeing markedly lower Iron ore prices throughout this year and next. Read more

Rising raw material surcharges are driving up U.S. steel prices, particularly stainless surcharges. The Allegheny Ludlum304 and 316 stainless surcharges rose 34% and 25%, respectively, on the MetalMiner IndX from December to January.

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The chrome portion of our prices jumped month on month and Platts reported that the same thing happened to its stainless benchmarks.

Turner Construction Index Posts Strong 4Q

Turner Construction Company reported recently that its Fourth Quarter 2016 Turner Building Cost Index — which measures costs in the nonresidential building construction market in the U.S. — has increased to a value of 1006. This represents a 1.11% quarterly increase from the Third Quarter 2016 and a 4.90% yearly increase from the Fourth Quarter 2015.

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The U.S. construction market continues to experience broad growth, with the West and Southeast regions seeing more significant gains, and the Northeast and Central regions seeing more moderate gains. While raw material prices have remained flat, they have experienced an overall gain this year and fabricated material prices have seen a continuous growth this quarter.

The Chinese yuan weakened on Monday afternoon after its midpoint was set at its lowest level in half a year.

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China’s authorities sets the mark 0.87% or 594 points lower than last Friday, the biggest daily decline since late June in 2016. Traders are allowed to trade up to 2% either side of the reference point for the day.

The Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate for offshore yuan, known as the CNH Hibor, plummeted to 14.05% from last Friday’s 61.33%, down 4,728 points.

The People’s Bank of China set the yuan midpoint at 6.9262, a sharp drop for the renminbi compared with Friday’s fixing at 6.8668.

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China’s central bank does not allow the currency to move more than 2% from its daily fixing in onshore trade. While policymakers cannot closely control offshore trade of the currency, it usually remains relatively close to its onshore counterpart.
Onshore, the dollar was fetching as little as 6.8679 yuan last week, compared with 6.9318 yuan at 9:54 a.m. today.

It looks as if European Union tariffs on Chinese solar materials will last a little longer.

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In a presentation of the preliminary results of its anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into the import of Chinese solar modules and photovoltaic cells into the E.U., the European Commission has proposed an extension of the current tariffs on Chinese solar panel raw materials for two more years once the current tariffs expire in March.

Based on confidential documents Reuters reviewed, the Commission said ending the measures would likely lead to a continuation of Chinese subsidies for the solar sector and a significant increase in dumped imports of solar cells and modules.

So, no lucrative European markets without tariffs for China, but some in the European solar industry are also blanching at a continuing lack of competition for solar projects.

SolarPower Europe president Oliver Schaefer told PV Magazine that the Commission’s recommendation to maintain the trade measures for another two years is the wrong decision, stressing that the organization will look to E.U. member nations to redress some of what it calls the “inaccuracies reported.”

“Opening ex-officio interim reviews on the minimum import price mechanism is simply tinkering at the edges of a profound issue of European-wide importance,” Schaefer said.

European manufacturers of the panels, however, were all for continuing the tariffs. EU ProSun, a manufacturers’ group that includes Germany’s SolarWorld said there is no shortage of competitively priced cells and modules in Europe and that the depressed E.U. market was due to political decisions, such as to reduce payments for green energy, not the import measures.

The EC report, itself, said turning back the tariff measures would only have a limited effect on demand and that comparisons between the 50,000 people working in importing and installation and the 5,000 to 10,000 in manufacturing were not appropriate. Job gains in the former could be outweighed by losses in the latter, the report stated.

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Demand for solar panels in Europe is certainly stronger than North America right now, but both industries still rely heavily on government subsidies and prices, as a result, have stabilized at the low level we’ve observed for over three years now. The Renewables MMI was up one point this month.

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Ed. note: Jonas Divine currently serves business intelligence leader at Atlas Holdings, a private investment firm based in Greenwich, Conn., that recently acquired Atlanta-based Merchants Metals. He has contributed before to our sister site, Spend Matters, on the topic of blockchain and P2P networks, and we just published Part 1 of his most recent article on SM, titled: Bleeding on the Bayou: Procurement Near-Misses in Times of Price Volatility.

Here is an excerpt:

Fred Farmer’s interminably slow drawl echoed off the rickety galvanized siding of his Louisiana-based hot-rolled steel tube factory, unfortunately located on the banks of a bayou threatened by frequent floods and the occasional alligator infestation.

“2-3/8 pipe…4-1/8 pipe…6-3/8 aluminized…6-3/8 anodized…6-3/8 black vinyl coated…6-3/8 green vinyl coated…”

Farmer’s proud and emphatic articulation of his exhaustive product catalog called to mind a veritable Bubba Gump of the steel tube industry. He was born and raised in a rural Louisiana town called Ponchatoula about 50 miles outside of New Orleans, and rose up the ranks from maintenance to line supervisor and ultimately CEO after his uncle Willy succumbed prematurely to a heart condition (most likely brought on by decades of fried alligator and beignets consumption).

In his second-quarter-of-2008 earnings conference, Farmer introduced his third-generation family business to its new owners, an investment company represented by a team of Boston-based former management consultants with a strong affinity for 2×2 matrixes, Porter’s Five Forces diagrams and Starwood rewards points. The acquisition had barely closed a month before this distressed middle-market enterprise with flagging sales experienced a precipitous rise in raw material costs, driven largely by China’s insatiable appetite for iron ore.

After Farmer finally exhausted all possible combinations of product sizes and features, he “saw a 4% decline of topline year over year combined with rising operating costs leading to a 15% decline in EBITDA.” The tone and content landed as nothing short of a death knell to those of us responsible for turning this ship around, and one of the most critical concerns for the remainder of the year was when to purchase raw materials given that rising commodity costs had contributed significantly to Farmer’s margin compression.

Over the course of my time spent advising on supply chain matters at this new acquisition, I learned how important it is to resolve questions on how to purchase as much as or more than those dealing with when to purchase.

Read the full article on Spend Matters here.

Before joining Atlas Holdings, Jonas managed supply chain and procurement departments at some of the largest mining and metals processing companies in the world, and led business transformation projects involving technology upgrades, new ERPs, and procurement platforms. He holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and a BA from Columbia University. Contact him at jonas[dot]divine[at]alum[dot]mit[dot]edu