Articles in Category: Ferro Alloys

Our Raw Steels MMI rose 8% in January. Flat products achieved or came close to multiyear highs across the sub-index. In this post we will lay out some of the factors driving this price rally. A rally that we predicted three months ago.

Rising International Steel Spreads

In late January, President Donald Trump took executive action to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. This will significantly increase U.S. steel demand from the energy sector.

The new president also issued another executive order that required them, and all pipeline projects, to use only American-made steel. There is no language in Trump’s memo that indicates any waivers for American-made steel would exist for trade-agreement countries. If this policy is adopted, for at least the next four years even by only the executive branch, it is, by far, the most stringent definition of “American-made” we have seen in federal steel procurement.

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With the expected increase in U.S. demand for steel and new “Buy American Steel” policies, the spread between U.S. and international prices could widen this year. Spreads bottomed at the end of November and it looks like there have room to rise again.

Strong Chinese Steel Prices

China shut at least 45 million metric tons of steel production capacity last year, meeting its target, in a drive to address a glut through 2020. In January, China unleashed its boldest reform plan so far for its bloated steel sector, saying it will eliminate all production of low-quality steel products by the end of June.

Coal burning is the biggest contributor to air pollution in China. One of the principal users of coal, and therefore most polluting, is its steel industry. This is another reason to believe Beijing will strengthen its supply-side reforms this year.

Meanwhile, demand indicators from China, by far the largest consumer of steel, continue to look strong. This combination of lower-than-expected supply and stronger-than-expected demand has translated into rising steel prices in China, which continue to look strong. In addition, iron ore prices have held above $80 per mt. Chinese steel mills rely heavily on seaborne iron ore.

Falling China Steel Exports

Chinese steel exports have fallen in double digits for four consecutive months. The E.U. has slapped anti-dumping duties on some Chinese steel products. India has set a minimum import price for steel products to fend off cheap Chinese steel from its borders. The U.S., no slouch when it comes to anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese steel already, now favors a more aggressive trade policy, regularly citing job losses as a result of imports from foreign countries, especially China.

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As more countries act against the menace of Chinese steel products, we could see further moderation in Chinese steel exports in 2017, and this would bode well for global steel markets.

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U.S. construction spending unexpectedly fell in December as investment in private projects rose marginally and public outlays tumbled, which could have an impact on the economic growth estimate for the fourth quarter.

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The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that construction spending slipped 0.2% to $1.18 trillion. Construction spending in November increased by an unrevised 0.9%.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending gaining 0.2% in December.

Construction spending still increased 4.5% in 2016, but the rate of increase was less than half of its 10.6% surge in 2015. The government reported last week that GDP increased at a 1.9% annualized rate in the fourth quarter after accelerating at a 3.5% pace in the July-September period.

Our Construction MMI increased nearly 3% in February, as prices of both steel and aluminum products increased and buoyed the index. 73% Of construction firms said they expect to expand their payroll this year, according to survey results released Tuesday by the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate.

Increased prices and general optimism about the infrastructure plans of the incoming Trump administration are contributing the overall bullish environment for construction metals. The steel sector, in particular, is suddenly a hot investment sector. Michael Tomera, head of PricewaterhouseCoopers‘ U.S. steel analysis arm, recently told me in an interview that, “There are momentum drivers here. If you look at liquidity, market conditions, infrastructure development in the U.S. with the new infrastructure and trade plans, all of those are good indicators for the metals industries and growth going from 2016 into 2017.”

Equipment manufacturers are also investing heavily in new technologies to apply to construction site safety, inspections and other fields. Equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, Inc. has invested in San Francisco drone tech startup Airware. Rather than make its own unmanned aerial vehicles, Airware has focused its efforts around providing software and services that help large enterprises use drones throughout their operations. Airware’s cloud-based software helps companies plan flights, automate them as much as possible, then analyze all the data their drones collect.

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Drones have been used on construction sites for the last five to ten years, but the fact that a key player like Cat is investing in the technology is a sign of a maturing market. Site technology doesn’t directly affect construction metal prices but it is part of a trend in lean project delivery that has delivered better results, and better projects, for general contractors and construction managers over the last decade. In other words, the increase in construction projects in the U.S. is directly proportional to better project management.

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Yesterday, the Department of Commerce placed final, affirmative anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports of stainless steel sheet and strip from China.

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Commerce found that dumping  occurred by mandatory respondents Shanxi Taigang Stainless Steel Co., Ltd. and Tianjin Taigang Daming Metal Product Co., Ltd. Commerce also determined that the mandatory respondents are not eligible for a separate rate and, therefore, part of the China-wide entity.

Commerce calculated a final dumping margin of 63.86% for the non-China-wide respondents eligible for a separate rate. Commerce assigned a dumping margin of 76.64% based on adverse facts available for all other producers/exporters in China that are part of the China-wide entity due to their failure to respond to Commerce’s requests for information. Read more

Based on preliminary Census Bureau data, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported that the U.S. imported a total of 2,686,000 net tons of steel in December 2016, including 2,146,000 net tons nt of finished steel (down 4.3% and up 0.6%, respectively, vs. November final data).

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For the full year of 2016, total and finished steel imports are 33,009,000 and 26,327,000 nt, down 14.9% and 16.4%, respectively, compared to full year 2015. Finished steel import market share was an estimated 26% in December and is estimated at 26% for full year 2016.

Key finished steel products with significant import increases in December compared to November include oil country goods (up 55%), line pipe (up 38%), sheets and strip all other metallic-coated products (up 27%), tin plate (up 24%), sheets and strip hot-dipped galvanized (up 14%) and hot-rolled bars (up 11%). Tin plate (up 15%) had a significant increase in 2016 vs. the prior year.

Trump Signs Order Mandating Regulations Be Cut

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday morning requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded.

“This will be the biggest such act that our country has ever seen,” Trump declared moments before signing it in the Oval Office. “There will be regulation, there will be control, but it will be a normalized control where you can open your business and expand your business very easily. And that’s what our country has been all about.”

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The executive order signing, which fulfills a campaign pledge, comes after the president held a listening session with small-business leaders.

Two global steel giants, India and Japan, are headed toward a trade war. For once, one participant in the trade row isn’t the U.S… not directly, at least.

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Japan, the world’s second-largest producer of steel, has threatened to take India to the World Trade Organization over import restrictions asserted by India. If incoming reports are true, Japan may soon be joined by Taiwan and even Russia.

Despite the excellent trade relations the two nations enjoy, Japan is unhappy with India’s decisions to place a minimum import price and other assorted duties to protect its domestic steel industry. Japan claims this has halved its steel exports to India in the last year.

Working quietly on the sidelines, Indian government officials having been trying to iron out differences with their Japanese counterparts and settle the dispute in consultation but, so far, the sides have not had much luck. According to a news report, India’s Director-General of Safeguards and the Ministry of Steel were assessing points raised by Japan against the calculation of safeguard duties so that they could counter Japan and defend the duties before the WTO. India, obviously, does not want Japan — for that matter any other nation — to escalate this matter into a full-fledged dispute at the WTO.

But why is Japan reacting now, especially since some of the restrictions have been in place in India for almost two years? Analysts say that with U.S. President Donald Trump raising the cry of “America, First,” Japan is now concerned that it could lose a large chunk of its steel export market, and thus, is making an open stand for what it considers free and fair international trade. India is just the proxy country used to fight a larger war against MIPs and other border taxes.

A Japanese industry ministry official, explaining a Dec. 20 request for WTO dispute consultations with India over steel safeguard duties and the MIP for iron and steel products, said it needed to stop unfair trade actions from “spreading.”

India imposed duties of up to 20% on some hot-rolled flat steel products in September 2015, and set a floor price in February 2016 for steel product imports. India’s anti-dumping duty amounts to $474-557 a metric ton on hot-rolled flat products of alloy and non-alloy steel imported from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia in August. These nations account for almost 90% of India’s steel imports.

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Russia and Taiwan, too, may join Japan in requesting consultations at the WTO over India’s use of a MIP regime. Proceedings could start as early as February.

China will impose higher power costs for steel mills operating outdated production equipment, the country’s economic planner said in a statement on Tuesday.

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The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) ordered utilities to raise power prices by 0.5 yuan ($0.0719) per kilowatt-hour on top of current prices for steel mills preserving equipment that ought to be eliminated.

AISI Hires Tax and Trade Policy Director

The American Iron and Steel Institute today announced the appointment of Raphael Goodstein as director of tax and trade policy.

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Goodstein has 15 years of Congressional and government affairs experience, including 10 years representing the common policy interests of the domestic auto industry as legislative director with the American Automotive Policy Council. He has also worked on Capitol Hill, for Senator Debbie Stabenow, and for a number of political and public affairs organizations.

Anti-dumping actions were once again a hot topic this year. Back in February India imposed a minimum import price for nearly all foreign steel entering the country. This was only one of many anti-dumping actions taken this year with both the U.S. and European Union tightening tariffs this year. — Jeff Yoders, editor

It’s a problem that’s dogged almost all the major economies as well as developing nations – the dilemma of steel cheap imports. Steelmakers in the U.S. have, in the past, not only cried foul at the World Trade Organization but also imposed steep anti-dumping duties on cheap imports from China, Korea and India making their way into the U.S. market, thus further depriving an already-stressed out market.

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A few days ago, as reported by MetalMiner, seven EU nations asked the European Commission to intervene to stop cheap imports of steel, particularly from China and Russia.

India has imposed a minimum import price on most steel products. Source Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

India has imposed a minimum import price on most steel products. Source Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

In India, a market where steel consumption continues to grow bucking global trends, the situation is no different. So, finally giving in to the loud protests by domestic steel companies against cheap imports, the Indian government recently imposed a minimum import price (MIP) ranging from $341 to $752 per metric ton on 173 steel products as a “temporary” measure.

Minimum Import Prices

The MIP conditions are valid for six months from the date of the notification or until further orders, whichever is earlier. The MIP, though, will not be applicable on imports under the advance authorization scheme and high-grade pipes used for pipeline transportation systems in the petroleum and natural gas industry are exempt.

The move seems to have gone down well with a majority of the steel trade bodies and a large section of India’s steel industry, but some have called it simply a band-aid for the hemorrhaging steel sector.

India’s domestic steel production between April-January 2016 dropped 1.8 % to 75.66 million mt, while imports rose 24.1% to 9.3 mmt. Consumption grew 4.2% to 65.91 mmt. For domestic steelmakers, apart from the MIP, the import duty has also been raised to 10% for flat products and 7.5% for long products.

The rationale behind the MIP was explained by Steel Secretary Aruna Sundararajan, in an interview with The Economic Times. She said the move would give India’s steel industry much-needed breathing space to get healthy.

Emergency Measure

Over the last couple of years, India had seen a spurt in steel imports, leading to a decline in prices. According to the Steel Secretary, India had over 400 mmt of surplus steel. All that surplus has put the domestic steel industry into distress.

While imposing the MIP, the Indian government also took care to ensure that downstream users were not affected. That’s why certain categories of steel — required by end-user industries — not manufactured in India, were exempted.

The government’s decision to impose MIP will, however, reduce the benefit of lower commodity prices for automobile companies, according to many experts. Also, according to the engineering goods exporters’ body, EEPC India, the MIP will lead to further erosion in engineering exports. It has thus sought from the government a compensatory mechanism to make up for the increased raw material price (about 10%) for the distressed exporters, mostly in the small and medium-sized enterprises segments.

The Indian government has dubbed the MIP an “emergency provision.” In the next six months, it will be looking at anti-dumping duties  and moving toward more stable, longer-term measures. It will also be keeping a close watch on imports after the MIP, as well as the response of domestic steel companies and consumers.

Price stories continue to dominate our look back at the most-read posts of 2016. Katie Benchina Olsen’s missive on why North American Stainless should hike prices was first published in late January. Stainless prices have taken off with the rest of the industrial metals since but this look back shows just how precarious the situation was for producers, who were afraid of scaring off customers with higher prices, back then. — Jeff Yoders, editor

North American Stainless (NAS), the US flat-rolled stainless market leader and the lowest cost producer, has a decision to make.

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Will NAS implement another base price increase effective in March or April? Last month, NAS, never known to be a follower, announced a base price increase which was half that of its competitors Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (ATI), AK Steel and Outokumpu Coil Americas. This meant that the only increase buyers would be paying was the less aggressive 2-discount point adjustment (approximately $0.04 per lb. increase on 304 base gauge).

Will NAS increase base prices in March or April? Source: Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

Will NAS increase base prices in March or April? Source: Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

Stainless base prices may have gone up since January 1, but buyers should still be paying a lower net price for standard 304 2B this month than they did in December. The increase on base gauge 304 was offset by the over $0.05 per lb. decline in the 304 alloy surcharge. 304 Base gauge net prices should decline in February since NAS’ February 304 alloy surcharge will be $0.3321 per lb., which is $0.0031 per lb. less than the January surcharge.

North American Stainless’ Market Position

NAS is in the best position to endure depressed stainless prices longer than any of its North American competitors, but now they are losing money, too. Acerinox, NAS’ parent company from Spain, posted a loss of over €8 million in Q3 2015, after being in the black the previous three quarters. Acerinox’s 2015 results will not be announced until February 29, but I would expect the results to be worse as alloy surcharges continued to decline through the end of 2015.

Price Hike?

I believe NAS will announce another base price increase once its March production is filled, which should be in the next week. The base prices in Q4 2015 were unsustainably low as a result of Outokumpu Coil Americas’ push to fill its Calvert mill with lower prices than NAS.

As long as mill lead times remain in check, service centers will support the domestic mills so that they can keep inventory as lean as possible while still being able to provide for the manufacturer’s requirements. My experience has been that when alloy surcharges are still declining, price increases are easier for the market to accept. Another base price increase is not only feasible for March or April, it is necessary to realign base prices to manageable levels for producer, service center and manufacturers. NAS needs to lead the next price increase and act like the market leader.

As we continue to republish our highest-rated posts of the year during the holidays, we look back at the February announcement that Allegheny Technologies, Inc., exited the commodity stainless steel business.

Knowing what we now know, and considering that stainless prices have recovered and entered a bull market, you do have to wonder if ATI made the right call. Our Katie Benchina Olsen will continue to cover the latest developments for both ATI and the stainless market in the new year. — Jeff Yoders, editor

For the foreseeable future, Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (ATI) is out of the flat-rolled stainless commodity business as well as the grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) market.

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ATI will be focusing on global markets with high barriers to entry. As we reported last month, ATI is reducing its exposure in commodity products by idling its Midland, Pa., plant, a commodity stainless facility, and its Bagdad GOES production facility in Gilpin Township, Pa.

ATI's Brackenridge facility is the future and commodity stainless is its past. Source: ATI

ATI’s Brackenridge facility is the future and commodity stainless is its past. Source: ATI

Earlier this week, ATI reported in its earnings call a net loss of $378 million for 2015 as compared to a net loss of $2.6 million in 2014. ATI’s flat-rolled products business segment is to blame for the staggering losses. Operating losses for flat-rolled products were $242 million for 2015. For this reason, Rich Harshman — ATI’s chairman, president, and CEO — stated that ATI is taking “rightsizing actions” to return the segment to profitability as quickly as possible and “execute our strategy for sustainable long-term profitable growth.”

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As we continue to republish our top posts of 2016, we look back to April when cold-rolled coil prices hit a one-year high, an event that turned out to be a harbinger of higher steel prices later in the year.

We’ll continue to keep you informed of all movements in the steel markets in 2017. — Jeff Yoders, editor

Steel is being a different animal this year. While metals such as aluminum, copper and nickel are trading barely above multiyear lows, we are witnessing strong price momentum in domestic steel prices.

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Cold-rolled coil is a good example. Prices last week climbed above $600 per standard ton, the metal’s highest price level since April 2015.

US CRC hits 1-year high. Source: MetalMiner index

U.S. Cold-rolled coal hits one-year high. Source: MetalMiner index.

Why, in an Oversupplied Market, Did Steel Prices Get a Boost?

The duties imposed on steel products caused steel imports to taper down in a big way over the last three of months and U.S. steel mills now have the power to raise their base selling prices. U.S. aluminum markets didn’t enjoy this kind of protection. However, even if they did, which they might, aluminum prices wouldn’t get the same boost.

The reason is that aluminum (like the rest of base metals) is more global in nature than steel. U.S. steel prices can be much higher than in the rest of the world because prices are not decided on exchange-based trading unlike aluminum which is linked to London Metal Exchange reference prices. So, even if duties were imposed on aluminum products, aluminum producers couldn’t arbitrarily hike their selling prices.

Is This Rally Backed Up by Fundamentals?

In the short-to-medium term it is, whereas long-term it really isn’t since steel demand in China keeps contracting. The recent positive sentiment might help U.S. steel mills increase their spot offers even further, but we could see a revision later this year. Although there seems to be short-term scarcity of steel in U.S. markets, there is still plenty of steel overhanging in global markets. We’ll have to wait to see how much further mills can raise steel prices in Q2 before buyers turn to international suppliers for cheaper prices.

Chinese Exports Rise Sharply in March

Another factor driving global steel prices this year has been expectations of a decline in Chinese steel exports as earlier this year China committed to curtail its excess steel capacity. However, the latest data doesn’t seem to suggest that. In March, Chinese steel exports surged 30% compared to the same period last year. In Q1, Chinese steel exports are up 8% compared to the same quarter last year. That seems to suggest that rising steel prices have only ensured that Chinese steel mills produce more of the metal.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Market dynamics are quite different for steel markets than to the rest of base metals. U.S. mills now have the power to increase their spot prices. Buyers should have, by now, locked in prices for the next one or two quarters.

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Longer-term, there are still plenty of events that could change market sentiment later this year, limiting domestic mills’ ability to raise prices. We’ll have to keep monitoring markets to watch for more clues.