Exports

The US Steel industry has long said that a wave of cheap and illegally subsidized imports is crushing its ability to compete.

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While not turning a blind eye to the situation, Washington has not been as responsive to the situation as many in the domestic steel industry would like. The lobbying efforts of domestic steel have largely fallen on deaf ears when it comes to enforcing existing trade laws and placing tariffs that would be punitive enough to stop foreign nations such as China from overproducing.

Yet, today, a key bill supporting tougher anti-dumping enforcement has passed the House, has a path to passing the Senate and even more customs protections could be passed as early as next week. All from a Congress known more for not passing legislation than passing it. How did this happen? First, let’s see how we got here.

WTO Claims Chinese Imports Aren’t Subsidized

Some relatively modest tariffs were revoked a year ago when the World Trade Organization said the US broke the rules for imposing duties on Chinese steel products, solar panels and other goods.

The WTO’s judges said that under the 1964 Marrakesh accords (which also set up the WTO) countervailing duties can only be levied when there is clear evidence that state-owned or partially state-owned enterprises passing on the subsidies are “public bodies.”

The panel found that Washington had produced insufficient evidence to prove subsidization, and was also at fault in its calculations of the value of the subsidies to Chinese firms. This was a very novel reading for the WTO as there is…

Actual Proof That Chinese Steel is Subsidized

Last year, and now, evidence exists that Chinese steel is subsidized on the state and national level and exports are sold below cost.

This history of ignoring evidence is why we didn’t expect big things for steel this week. Maybe more ambiguous language about actually enforcing existing law as a sweetener in the Trade Promotion Authority bill that both the president the republican congress support, but nothing more.

How, then, did steel become the big winner?

TPA Goes Down in Flames

When democrats in the House refused to approve TPA it looked like the bill, that would ensure an up or down vote for future trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, wouldn’t move forward.

When TPA was separated from a worker aid package for those displaced by future trade deals known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, we still didn’t think it would result in help for domestic steel, yet competing interests that put free-trade Republicans and the Obama administration on one side and more liberal democrats on the other worked in the industry’s favor.

Long Live TPA

TPA, once separated from TAA, passed the House and then the Senate. It still looked like more trade deals and no help for steel or US manufacturing. But with TAA still stuck in the House, guess what the perfect sweetener to get democrats on board become? Support for the US steel industry. The Congressional Steel Caucus is a bipartisan group that spans several key states. Senators and congressmen and women from the midwest, south and southwest coalesced around their support for local steel.

TAA Passes With Stronger Steel Support

Not only did the House leadership promise new safeguards for the steel industry as part of the revamped TAA bill that passed yesterday, but a customs enforcement bill that would force US Customs and Border Protection to enforce anti-dumping laws as written also passed both houses earlier in the week. It awaits a conference committee negotiation, one that the American Iron and Steel Institute favors the Senate version of the bill in. Everything’s suddenly coming up steel.

TPA passed both houses by midweek and TAA passed the Senate and, after being sweetened with support for the steel industry, the House yesterday. Even more customs enforcement protections are still waiting in the conference committee.

“We commend the House for passing legislation today that will improve the effectiveness of our anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws to combat unfairly traded imports,” said Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the AISI. “These modifications to the trade laws come at a critical time for the steel industry, as we are currently faced with a surge in steel imports that are causing injury to the domestic industry, including significant reductions in domestic steel production and job losses. We look forward to President Obama quickly signing this bill into law.”

It’s about time.

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The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Senate Republicans are offering a new incentive to support legislation giving the president expanded trade-negotiating power: help for the beleaguered US steel industry.

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As we reported last week, a companion measure to the Trade Promotion Authority bill has passed both the House and Senate and it would strengthen the enforcement of countervailing and anti-dumping duties by US Customs and Border Protection.

New Aid Package

The bills must go to a conference committee now to reconcile their differences, chief of which is that the House version does not have the robust trade remedies that the Senate version features, so the customs bill will not be voted on in the near future. Instead, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.) is instead offering new language broadening the ways steel companies could win trade complaints. The customs enforcement provision will still likely find its way to the President’s desk, but not until much later.

Packaging Aid With Easier Trade Complaints

The legislative strategy, though, is complex. A number of Senate Democrats would have to cast a procedural vote today on a bill to give Obama and the next president fast-track trade promotion authority. After the fast-track bill passes the Senate, the chamber would then vote on a bill that would renew an expiring program to aid workers who suffer from production shifts overseas or import competition. McConnell’s new addition is that looser rules for making trade complaints for steel companies would be paired with the worker-aid bill. This bill is known as trade adjustment assistance (TAA).

Packaging the bills together is designed to keep the votes of republican senators, who have favored TAA and TPA since the Bush Administration championed them in 2003, even though they generally would not vote for continuing a large government worker aid package. McConnell is attempting to simultaneously bring in the votes of 11 democrat senators who favor the aid package for displaced workers, but have been skeptical of TPA and TAA, and free trade in general, so far.

The TAA vote is scheduled for today. If both TAA and the customs bill eventually pass, the US steel industry would likely enjoy protections not seen since 2003 when tariffs of 30% on most foreign steel imports lapsed.

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Steel production fell worldwide last month as Russia’s top oil producer, Rosneft, expanded exploration to Venezuela and ArcelorMittal USA has lost nearly $300 million since it was created via a merger in 2006.

WSA: Steel Production Fell Last Month

Global crude steel production fell 2.1% in May from the same month a year ago, as output declined in most major producer regions including China, figures from the World Steel Association (Worldsteel) showed on Monday.

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Global crude steel output fell to 139 million metric tons in the month while output in China, which produces half the world’s steel, fell 1.7% to 70 million mt.

Russia’s Rosneft Signs Exploration Deal With Venezuela

Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA said this week it has signed investment agreements with top Russian oil producer Rosneft, including a plan to create a joint venture to produce natural gas in the South American country.The venture would include the fields of Mejillones, Patao and Rio Caribe – all part of the large offshore Mariscal Sucre gas project.

ArcelorMittal USA Lost $1.5 Billion

ArcelorMittal – forged through an international merger of steel companies in 2006 – has pumped a huge amount of money into its US operations, but hasn’t seen a profit from it, ArcelorMital USA Flat Carbon President and CEO Andrew Harshaw told the Times of Northwest Indiana.

“Our USA business is not getting a return on its investment,” he wrote in a blog post. “Since 2010, the company has invested an average $1.5 billion per year into our USA facilities in both capital investment and the long-term maintenance of our assets. During those same five years, our USA business lost nearly $1.5 billion dollars, an average loss of $293.8 million per year.”

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The iron ore price recovery looks like it’ll be short-lived and half of the board of an Australian uranium miner quit after their partner company refused to expand.

Chinese Steel Slump

A slump in Chinese demand for steel has poured cold water on a rally in iron ore, with prices for the raw material likely to drop over the rest of the year, traders and analysts said.

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Dwindling stocks at China’s ports suggested tighter supply in a market that had been hit hard by plentiful or, but Goldman Sachs is predicting prices will fall back below $50 a metric ton as lack of demand persists in China.

Half of ERA Board Quits

Half of the board members of Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), the operator of Northern Australia’s Ranger uranium mine, have announced their resignations amid uncertainty over the mine’s future.

Three members remain on the board after ERA chairman Peter McMahon and independent non-executive directors Helen Garnett and David Smith stepped down over the weekend. The board members said majority owner Rio Tinto Group‘s decision to abandon work on the mine’s expansion. They said the cancellation made it difficult for the company to pursue its goals. ERA’s stock has plunged more than 70% since it said, June 12, that it would not proceed with the final development study for the Ranger 3 Deeps uranium project due to low prices.

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At the Metalminer Week-In-Review, we promise to report accurate prices every day through our Indx. But what if that’s not enough? What about the add-ons, over-and-aboves and shipping charges? Buying steel? We’ve got bar fuel surcharges for eight US regions. Eight!

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We’ve been covering that pesky Midwest aluminum premium like Richard Sherman on a wideout, too. Want to know about anti-dumping and countervailing duties. You’ve come to the right place! All of these non-price inputs made our homepage this week as the gulf between the price and what you actually pay reared its head again this week.

Who Polices the Midwest Premium?

With falling London Metal Exchange aluminum prices and much-reduced physical delivery premiums even the combined, all-in price of aluminum is below cost for many smelters these days.

Pile of aluminium bricks waiting for transport to the factory

I’m aluminum, get me out of this warehouse!

That’s enough reason for smelters such as Alcoa, Inc., to question the involvement of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in discussions with the LME on how best to reform their warehouse network and cut down the one-year-plus wait to get ingots out of the operations in Detroit (Metro International) and Vlissingen, Netherlands (Pacorini).

Higher premiums benefit producers such as Alcoa and UC Rusal, after all. Is it any wonder that producers want the CFTC to butt out? Yet, the CFTC still wants to butt in.

Don’t Let Your Profitability Drown in the VAT!

Meanwhile, over in China, rampant speculation is going on over how Beijing will replace its current business tax system with a new system of value-added taxes. A VAT taxes the difference between the sale price charged to a customer, minus the cost of materials and other taxable inputs.

container-ship-night-MMslider

Better pay the VAT or this is going to be a short trip!

The best estimates we have seen show that the new VAT will considerably increase what US buyers pay for metals from China and likely from nearby markets trying to compete with Chinese steel. China’s VAT is just one of many ways that imports could become more expensive later this year as…

Tariffs On Foreign Steel Could Increase This Fall

Coiledsteel_585

At least export me for as much as it cost to produce me. I feel I deserve at least that much.

We already know some Chinese producers are exporting steel and other metals at below their production cost. So, the anti-dumping action against coated/anti-corrosion steel filed by six US producers last week against China and four other nations has a really good chance of turning into anti-dumping duties this Fall when the Commerce Department makes a ruling on the petition.

We’d say it’s kind of a slam dunk, but even slam dunks can be hilariously missed. The tariffs the US producers are asking for are in a range that would significantly increase the overall cost of steel from the five nations.

That was the wild week in non-prices. Next week we hope to write more about, you know, actual prices.

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Molycorp missed another payment this week and the House passed fast-track trade approval which now moves on to the debate in the Senate.

Molycorp Restructuring

Molycorp Inc., the Greenwood Village Colo.-based miner of rare earth elements is skipping its second loan payment in two weeks.

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Molycorp officials on Monday said they would take advantage of a 30-day grace period on a $3.36 million semi-annual interest payment related to 3.25% senior unsecured convertible notes that are due in 2016. The move, company officials say, will not trigger any cross-defaults on its other loans.

The company will use the grace period to continue evaluating debt restructuring options, the company said in a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Fast-Track Trade Bill Advances

The House on Thursday took the first step toward reviving the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats voting for it. This is the second time in a week the House has voted to approve a fast-track bill. On Friday, the House voted 219-211 in favor of fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.

In last week’s vote, though, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.

House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups. The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama’s desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would move the two bills separately.

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Sources told Reuters that steelmakers in China were selling their products below cost and President Obama hosted a picnic at the White House with members of Congress ahead of a key trade vote.

Confirming What We Already Knew

Some Chinese steelmakers are selling their products abroad at a loss, traders and a producer told Reuters, as a group of global industry bodies urged governments to take action over rising shipments from China.

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Chinese mills had sold steel overseas at a loss of up to 200 CNY ($32) a metric ton and cut the export price of hot-rolled coil by 5% to $340-$350 per mt, free-on-board basis, this week compared to last week, traders and a producer in Hebei, China’s top steel-producing province told the news service.

These mills were also selling at a loss to the domestic market, the sources said.

“The domestic market is too weak to consume high output and our prices are competitive, so some mills are still keen to step up exports, hoping to ease high inventories and maintain market share,” said a senior official at a privately owned mill in Hebei.

Preesident Has Picnic With Lawmakers Ahead of Trade Re-Vote

President Obama hosted members of Congress yesterday for the congressional picnic amid a fierce trade debate on Capitol Hill.

This year’s gathering took place before the House was expected to hold a vote today to revive the president’s stalled trade agenda, and less than one week after Democrats killed a key part of the legislative package.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was in attendance at the picnic. The president has not spoken with her personally since she led the Democratic revolt against the trade bills.

The event is seen as an opportunity for the president to get face time with lawmakers in a low-pressure setting. That could prove to be important for Obama with the House set for a re-vote on fast-track trade authority and a measure to provide aid to US workers displaced by international trade.

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India’s BJP-led government, more precisely its finance ministry, recently announced that it would impose, for a period of five years, anti-dumping duties ranging between $180 and $316 per metric ton for some industrial-grades of stainless steel imported from China, Malaysia and South Korea. The idea, obviously, is to stop the tide of surging steel imports.

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Subsidized imports, or “dumping,” of steel into a country by producers from other nations can be a vexing issue. Steelmakers from the US, India and Europe have been facing mounting pressure from cheap imports.

US Anti-Dumping Accusations

Earlier this month, for example, MetalMiner reported that six steelmakers with major US operations had filed a trade complaint seeking punitive tariffs for alleged unfair pricing of imported steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan.

The move by the Indian government came after persistent efforts by steel producers to place tariffs on the foreign products for nearly two years. The cheap imports, claimed the Indian steel industry, were damaging its business prospects.

India consumes about one million mt of industrial steel stainless steel, of which, around 40% is imported, largely from China.

Indian Tariffs

The anti-dumping tax obviously was welcomed by domestic steelmakers. N.C. Mathur, president of the Indian Stainless Steel Development Association (ISSDA) was quoted in a news report as saying the move was long overdue. According to Mathur, the duty has been imposed on hot-rolled flat products stainless steel with all its variants originating from China at $309 per mt, $316 per mt from Malaysia and from Korea at $180 per mt. He added the move would give a respite to the domestic industry.

The ISSDA also complained to the government about of abuse of the India–Malaysia comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA). Stainless cold-rolled flat products from Malaysia are being imported to India through a preferential tariff benefit, the association had claimed in its statement. ISSDA demanded that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia, investigate the cold-rolled imports.

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The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

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The imposition of anti-dumping duties by the Indian government should encourage US authorities who have been asked to enforce a similar move. The suit filed by six US companies concerns corrosion-resistant steel, a type of coated steel used in automobile and construction industries. The US has been witnessing an unprecedented flood of imports in the last one year or so.

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As reported by MetalMiner last month, the US steel industry is suffering because the imports hit a record 34% of market share, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

The US slapped duties on imports of steel used in the energy industry from South Korea and five other countries last year but, evidently, those tariffs did not have the desired effect. The AISI in its press briefing last month, asked the US Government to first enforce existing trade laws which would be an immense help to the steel industry.

In India, steel imports had increased to 0.91 million metric tons this May, an increase of 58% as compared to the same month’s figure last year. As compared to April 2015, the import rate was up by about 20 mt, according to a report by the Ministry of Steel.

Many analysts said the Indian stainless steel industry started resembling a sick industry, as cheap imports were leading to a situation of under-utilization of installed capacities. The local industry hopes the anti-dumping duties will send out a clear signal to those sending in cheap imports, and lead to a resurgence in India’s steel sector.

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The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

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There is a close linkage between emerging markets and commodity prices. This connection becomes stronger for net commodity exporters. The two most notable examples are Russia and Brazil, both of which are commodity and energy exporters. These two countries have been two of the hardest hit among emerging markets.

Russia market vectors (Black). Brazil iShares (Orange)

Russian market vectors (Black). Brazilian iShares (Orange) since 2012. MetalMiner analysis with data from Stockcharts.com.

These markets have historically moved with commodity prices. When commodities fall, exporters of commodities make less money which is bad for their economy. In many cases, the movement of these markets helps to give clues to future moves in commodities.

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As we can see in the chart above, Russian (in black) and Brazilian (in orange) stock markets have been in bearish mode since 2011. Both, however, rallied this year but we can see that the rally is falling short of their previous peaks. The recent drop also coincided with falling commodity prices worldwide since April.

What This Mean For Metal Buyers

Weakness in emerging markets validates weakness in commodity prices. The dollar is still strong while commodities and emerging markets fall. It’s hard to become bullish on commodities until we start seeing some divergences.

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