Articles in Category: Ferrous Metals

A small 3% price bump in the monthly GOES M3 index doesn’t tell us a whole lot, however, it suggests that prices may have found a floor back in the November/December 2015 time frame.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook
Part of finding that floor may have come from good, old-fashioned supply and demand. Consider that the comments from Allegheny Technologies, Inc., Chairman, President and CEO Rich Harshman recently indicated that he would be taking “rightsizing actions” to return ATI’s flat products group to profitability as quickly as possible.

GOES_Chart_February_2016_FNL

Furthermore, speaking of two recent closures he said, “The future restart of the Midland and GOES operations respectively will depend on future business conditions and ATI’s ability to earn an acceptable return on invested capital on products produced at these operations.”

This type of action, particularly the shutdown of the ATI GOES line, helps to bring some additional balance to the market. The rest of the steel industry will need to follow suit to support HRC prices, but that’s another story.

Free Download: The January 2016 MMI Report

In addition, TEX Reports suggests that one of the big Chinese mills will suspend two of its commodity grain-oriented sheet lines. MetalMiner could not identify any corroborating source as of press time.

Meanwhile, the most recent import trade data shows a 19% decline in transformer part imports:

Source: Zepol

Source: Zepol

While wound cores held steady:

Source: Zepol.

Source: Zepol.

Actual GOES Prices and Trends

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The Stainless MMI fell by one point to 51 in February. Although nickel prices didn’t decline sharply in January, prices made a new 12-year low.

Free Sample Report: Our New February Metal Buying Outlook

Nickel was the worst performer among industrial metals in 2015. Interestingly, now analysts see nickel as having the greatest recovery potential. On average, analysts expect nickel prices to rise 20% this year and by almost 40% next year.

Stainless_Chart_February-2016_FNL

The main reason why analysts expect such a recovery is because nickel has fallen harder than any of its peers, being the only metal trading below the price lows of the 2008 financial crisis. However, to us, the fact that a metal has fallen in price is not reason enough to expect higher prices any time soon.

Shutdowns

Another factor making analysts turn bullish on nickel is that they believe nickel is likely to see immediate cutbacks. Brazilian miner Votorantim Metals announced in January its intentions to suspend two nickel operations, which would mark the first meaningful shutdown in the West.

Also, in Australia, Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel said it would lay off 240 workers near Townsville. These announcements are definitely a sign that mining companies are starting to struggle on low prices, but companies can struggle for a long time before shutdowns actually occur. The nickel market is facing the same issue as any other industrial metal: supply is doing anything it can before shutting down.

Believing that a wave of shutdowns is about to come among nickel producers seems like too much to expect from producers. Shuttering capacity remains challenging from both financial and social perspectives. In addition, non-China producers keep convincing themselves that Chinese nickel pig-iron producers will close first, partly because of the nickel ore constrains after Indonesia’s export ban and partly because of the perception that NPI makers are at the top of the global cost curve.

The issue with that prediction is that NPI producers have managed to cut costs and find a substitute to Indonesian ore — supply from the Philippines.

Compare Prices With the January 2016 MMI Report

We believe that shutdowns will probably come gradually since any individual closure will give hopes of survival to the rest of the market participants as they face less competition, encouraging those left over to keep running.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Some people might see nickel as an attractive asset just because it looks “cheap” compared to historical levels. That could be true in the long term, but the timing could be way off. Right now, we don’t see any signs of a bottom. Nickel prices will likely turn around with the rest of the base metal complex, but that time hasn’t come yet. Stainless buyers should stay disciplined to their buying strategy.

Exact Stainless MMI and Nickel Prices, Trends

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Seven EU nations asked the European Commission to intervene to stop cheap imports of steel, particularly from China and Russia and the London Metal Exchange is giving its warehouses the chance to cut rent prices.

Help From Cheap Steel Imports

Seven countries including France, the UK and Germany, in a letter, urged the European Union to step up action to relieve an ailing steel industry suffering from tumbling prices and cheap imports from China and Russia.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

Ministers from the three countries, along with Italy, Poland, Belgium and Luxembourg, sent the joint letter on Friday to the European Commission.

The letter also argued that in order to safeguard the competitiveness of sectors such as steel, the most efficient plants should not be subject to what it called undue carbon costs.

LME Gives Warehouses Option to Cut Rent

The London Metal Exchange is giving its approved warehouses the chance to cut rent and free-on-truck levels for the year starting April 1, after saying last year it would look at capping charges due to plans for large increases.

Last Week for The January 2016 MMI Report

Those that want to submit lower rates should do so before February 19 and the LME will publish the revisions by March 1.

This week, the Bank of Japan introduced negative interest rates in the latest attempt to goose the Pacific nation’s stalled economy.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

Essentially penalizing people for saving money seems like a curious thing to do to try to turn around a struggling economy, but it’s not the first time banks have gotten a push to force them to lend. The European Union has done it, too, in recent memory.

Shorter supply chains for in-demand products could benefit retailers around the holidays. Source: Adobe Stock/cacaroot.

Boy does Toyota Motor Corp. ever wish it had a bigger supply chain this week. Source: Adobe Stock/cacaroot.

My colleague and metal price analyst Raul de Frutos wrote that, “negative interest rates mean that depositors must pay regularly to keep their money in the bank. This measure encourages people and businesses to spend, invest and lend money rather than pay a fee to save it and keep it safe.” Read more

Our Renewables MMI regained some of the ground it lost last year and climbed back up to 52 this month.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

However, renewables are still a market stuck in a low-price rut with little prospect of breaking out of the low range they’ve been settling into over the last four years. Seemingly paradoxically, renewable energy was the biggest source of new power added to U.S. electricity grids last year as falling prices and government incentives made wind and solar increasingly viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Renewables Lead New Energy Capacity

Developers installed 16 gigawatts of clean energy in 2015, or 68% of all new capacity, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in its Sustainable Energy in America Factbook released Thursday. U.S. clean-energy investments rose to $56 billion last year, up 7.5% from 2014. The majority, $30.2 billion, went to solar. Investors pumped $11.6 billion into wind energy and $11.1 billion into technology to improve grids, boost efficiency, develop storage systems and other ways to better manage power usage.

Renewables_Chart_February-2016_FNL

With so much investment in the technology, why such a gloomy outlook for the metal products, such as grain-oriented electrical steel and silicon, that go into them? Most are oversupplied and their individual markets have not yet hit bottom in this bearish commodities cycle. We’ve also often lamented that the recently extended tax credits for products that contain these metals actually help keep prices low and discourage any real price inflation based on value.

Low prices for both gasoline in cars and natural gas for electrical power generation will also discourage further adoption as those fossil fuels will look more attractive to investors.

Adoption Keeps Climbing

The good news is that with more adoption, green technologies are getting into the hands of more homeowners, in the case of solar, and more utilities in the case of wind. Some lesser-subsidized technologies such as biomass are also taking a bite out of the electrical power generation market where natural gas is now the dominant player.

Power from natural gas-fired plants accounted for 25% of capacity added to grids last year. Nearly one-third of all electricity in the U.S. is now generated by gas, putting it nearly on par with a declining provider, coal.

Compare Prices With The January 2016 MMI Report

The future is certainly bright for the metal inputs of wind turbines and solar panels. We just wouldn’t advise anyone to invest in these metals right now expecting a turnaround and an escalating market such as nickel’s 2014 climb. Slow, steady and subsidized will win this race.

Actual Renewables Prices

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The Raw Steels MMI held steady at 47 this month. Although international steel prices remained depressed in January, domestic prices drew a different picture.

US Mills Increase Prices

US steel mills began raising prices in December, leading to higher domestic prices in January. Domestic supply had declined significantly in 2015, with capacity utilization close to 60%.

Raw-Steels_Chart_February-2016_FNL

At the same time, with the uncertainty regarding anti-dumping actions, finished steel imports have slowed.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

Finally, steel companies’ shipments were impacted over the past few months as service centers focused on destocking and now that inventory has finally come down, service centers will finally need to start restocking activity. This combination of factors left US mills in a sweet spot in 2016 to increase prices.

Sustainable Increase?

Domestic prices might continue to rise in the coming weeks. After the huge price slump in 2016, domestic prices deserve a bounce in Q1. However, mills won’t likely succeed in raising prices for too long.

The world remains oversupplied and demand is weak. Due to the political backlash from job losses spurred by mill closures, China wants to keep its mills running. With the ongoing Chinese yuan devaluation, Beijing has made its intention clear. China wants its exports even more competitive in global markets, especially in the steel industry as China continues to seek a home for its excess steel.

Compare With The January 2016 MMI Report

If domestic prices stayed higher, that would attract more imports, resulting in more material coming into the US and depressing prices as a result. In addition, it’s hard to imagine steel prices bucking the falling trend across the industrial metal sector. It will be hard for US mills to convince buyers to pay higher prices while commodities nearly universally fall.

Falling Raw Material Costs

Another important factor that will keep a lid on steel prices is the slump in input costs. In January, oil prices fell below $30/barrel. Falling energy prices will cause companies in the energy sector to reserve capital to keep on their balance sheets, rather than spending money on new exploration. This will continue to hurt steel demand from the energy sector. At the same time, while raw material prices keep falling, it will be difficult for US steel mills to justify their price increases for long.

Actual Raw Steel Prices

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China vowed to cut its steel production over the next five years and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is now officially signed.

TPP Signed, Legislative Fights Ahead

Trade ministers for the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership nations formally signed the massive accord on Wednesday in New Zealand and vowed to throw their weight behind surpassing the various legislative hurdles necessary to actually put the deal into place.

Free Download: The January 2016 MMI Report

The 12 nations account for some 40% of the world’s economy. They now have two years to ratify or reject the pact.

China Vows to Cut Steel Production

China will cut crude steel capacity by 100 million to 150 million metric tons within the next five years in a bid to tackle a crippling glut that has dragged prices down to multiyear lows and saddled firms with huge debts, the nation’s cabinet said recently.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

The State Council also said it would ban new steel projects and work to eliminate so-called stricken “zombie” mills, which have stopped producing steel but have not formally shut down.

Real gross domestic product expanded by just 0.7% (seasonally adjusted annual rate) during the fourth quarter of 2015. This follows a 2% increase during the year’s third quarter and a 3.9% increase during the second quarter. For the year, GDP expanded by just 2.4%, matching the slow rate of growth seen in 2014. Without any support from real GDP growth, our Construction MMI keeps falling.

Free Download: Compare with January 2016 MMI Report

With no GDP growth it shouldn’t come as a surprise that prices of construction materials are still falling. Low prices are always the solution to low prices… except when they’re not.

Construction_Chart_February_2016_FNL

In the fourth quarter, overall inflation came in at just 0.8% with sharp declines in both import and export prices. The Federal Reserve’s benchmark Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (commonly known as the PCE deflator) came in at just 0.1% with both durable and non-durable goods’ prices registering a decline.

“The economy did not end the year well,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Today’s GDP data adds weight to the argument that the US is in a corporate profits recession, an industrial recession, and was experiencing a softening of investments. With the exception of the residential building sector, business capital outlays have declined as corporations deal with a combination of sagging exports, competitive imports, declining energy-related investments, rising wage pressures and healthcare costs.”

All Construction-Sector Metals, Materials Down?

With the exception of scrap, no single product tracked in our Construction MMI showed much of an increase this month, a worrisome trend that’s carried on since the beginning of last year, except for a small increase in June.

New tariffs by the European Union on Chinese rebar might help producers there recover some market share, but won’t likely move prices on international exchanges. Globally, the deflationary environment is worse than it is for US producers.

Free Sample Report: Our January Metal Buying Outlook

Steel and aluminum markets are still not seeing anything close to a bottom and that’s being felt acutely in construction.

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Toyota Motor Corp. said on Saturday it may halt production at its domestic plants early next month due to a steel shortage, following an explosion at a steel plant operated by one of its affiliates.

Free Download: The January 2016 MMI Report

The blast at an Aichi Steel plant has curbed production of steel parts, which may impact output at the world’s best-selling automaker which produces around 40% of its global output in Japan.

“At the moment, there is enough supply inventory to keep our domestic plants running until Feb. 6,” a Toyota spokesman told Reuters, adding that overtime and weekend shifts for next week had been canceled.

“After that, we will be monitoring our supply situation on a day-by-day basis and decide accordingly.”
Free Sample Report: Our January Metal Buying Outlook

Aichi Steel said that the Jan. 8 explosion at its Chita plant in central Japan dented production of specialty steel parts. It added that it aimed to resume operations in March.

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.

Free Download: The January 2016 MMI Report

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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