Articles in Category: Ferrous Metals

U.S. M3 grain-oriented electrical steel prices dropped slightly with the M3 index moving from 200 to 197.

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Though U.S. prices dipped slightly, China’s Baosteel announced a price hike for GOES close to $40 per metric ton, according to a recent TEX Report. Although the Chinese have led recent GOES and other steel product price hikes, others have not necessarily followed. Nevertheless, Chinese steel prices set the floor for global steel prices.

GOES MMI

Now that the Trump administration has begun to settle in, market observers have paid close attention to trade actions within the metals industry, particularly the cold-rolled coil circumvention case and most recently a case filed by the Aluminum Association against China involving aluminum foil. Both the domestic steel and aluminum industries have pursued trade cases to address overcapacity concerns.

GOES Prices and NAFTA

GOES markets follow some of these same patterns. Back in 2013, GOES from China accounted for about 10% of total U.S. GOES imports (by tonnage). Clearly, the trade cases filed by the domestic producers at the time limited Chinese imports, but that trade case sought to stop other countries’ imports as much as China’s.

Herein lies a big difference between the GOES case and the aluminum case as well as the prior flat-rolled product steel cases. The GOES trade case did not result in any finding of injury, so no anti-dumping and countervailing duties were assessed. Instead, domestic power equipment manufacturers shifted their global supply chains to source GOES globally and purchase transformer parts and wound cores from NAFTA countries.

Some have speculated that two years ago, the addition of two new harmonized tariff codes for both transformer parts (8504.90.9546) and wound cores (8504.90.9542) would set the stage for future trade cases brought by the lone domestic GOES producer. We think this looks like a “stretch” and, legally, we’re not even sure there is a case to be had as AK Steel currently does not manufacture transformer parts or wound cores.

Import volumes for wound cores have modestly increased, but imports for transformer parts have actually declined:

GOES imports from 2015 to today

GOES imports from 2015 to today. Source: Lisa Reisman/MetalMiner.

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President Trump’s budget proposal this week would cut the federal government to its core if enacted, culling back numerous programs and expediting a historic contraction of the federal workforce, according to economists who spoke to the Washington Post and saw the draft plans.

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This would be the first time the government has executed cuts of this magnitude — and all at once — since the drawdown following World War II, economists and budget analysts told the Post.

Chinese Rebar Jumps

Shanghai rebar steel futures rose nearly 3% on Monday, supported by a pickup in seasonal demand in top consumer China that also lifted Chinese iron ore off of a one-month low.

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But bloated stockpiles of iron ore at China’s ports — holding near their highest in at least 13 years — capped price gains in the steelmaking raw material.

The most-active rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange was up 2.7% at 3,496 yuan ($506) a metric ton by the midday break.

U.S. construction spending unexpectedly fell in January as the biggest drop in public outlays since 2002 offset gains in investment in private projects, pointing to moderate economic growth in the first quarter.

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The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that construction spending declined 1% to $1.18 trillion. Construction spending in December was revised to show a 0.1% increase rather than the previously reported 0.2% decline.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending gaining 0.6% in January rather than the loss that was booked.

Construction MMI

Our Construction MMI held steady this month despite the falling spending. The component metals of the sub-index still have bulls behind them, despite the flat performance. Steel construction materials such as rebar and h-beams are still posting big gains but scrap and others saw a loss.

It’s almost as if construction products are still in demand, particularly in China’s construction sector, even as U.S. construction experiences a pullback.

In January, public construction spending in the U.S. tumbled 5%, the largest drop since March 2002. That followed a 1.4% decline in December. Public construction spending has now decreased for three straight months.

Outlays on state and local government construction projects dropped 4.8%, also the biggest drop since March 2002. This could be an ominous sign for construction spending this year, provided, of course, that a major infrastructure plan, such as the $1 trillion plan President Trump continues to promise, doesn’t pass quickly enough to boost construction prices. The longer that it takes to pass an infrastructure plan, the less likely it is to boost contractors’ bottom lines this year.

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That boost is needed for our aging infrastructure, too. Spending on state and local government construction projects has now dropped for three straight months. Federal government construction spending plummeted 7.4% in January, the largest decline since May 2014. The drop snapped three consecutive months of gains.

Spending on private construction projects actually rose 0.2% in January, but could not make up for the loses in government projects.

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CME Group and Thomson Reuters will step down from providing the LBMA silver price benchmark auction, the London Bullion Market Association said on Friday, less than three years after they successfully bid to provide the process.

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“In consultation with the LBMA, CME Group and Thomson Reuters have decided to step down from their respective roles in relation to the LBMA Silver Price auction,” the LBMA said in a members update seen by Reuters.

The two will continue to operate and administer the silver auction until a new provider is appointed, the LBMA said. It will launch a new tender to appoint an alternative provider to operate the process “shortly”, it said.

“We would be looking to identify a new provider in the summer, and have the new platform up and running in the autumn,” an LBMA spokesman said.

The two companies launched the LBMA silver price in August 2014 to replace the telephone-based London silver “fix,” which had been in operation for more than a century, with an electronic, auction-based and auditable alternative.

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CME Group provides the electronic auction platform for the benchmark, while Thomson Reuters is responsible for administration and governance. The LBMA owns the intellectual property rights.

Philippines Might Consider Indonesia-Style Ore Export Ban

The Philippines may consider banning exports of raw minerals to encourage domestic processing and boost the value of shipments, an environment official said on Friday, as the government looks to extract more from its mining sector after a crackdown.

Steel prices have been on a tear since November. However, prices came under pressure in early February.

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After having lost some ground over the past month, U.S. steel companies now seem to be pushing for another round of price hikes. But, can U.S. steel prices rise from current levels?

Production Rises

In February, new findings by Greenpeace East Asia and Chinese consultancy Custeel stated that despite China’s high-profile efforts to tackle overcapacity, China’s operating steel capacity increased in 2016. The report suggests that 73% of the announced cuts in capacity were already idle — in other words the plants were not operating. Only 23 million metric tons of cut capacity involved shutting down production plants that were operating. For 2016, China saw a net increase of 37 mmt of operating capacity.

Raw Steels MMI

According to the data released by the World Steel Association, China’s January steel production rose 7.4% to 67 mmt while global steel production rose 7% from a year ago.

These numbers give us reason to doubt that China can deliver this year in terms of capacity caps. Given the country’s pollution issues, China is now under pressure to demonstrate progress on capacity cuts, but financial and legal incentives to keep marginal firms running will cause regulators to struggle to enforce capacity cuts. Can the steel price rally continue just on promises of supply cuts?

Will Demand Growth Support Prices?

Despite resilient output, investors have focused on China’s increased appetite for steel. Thanks to the country’s stimulus measures, demand for metals rose there. As a result, Chinese steel exports have fallen double digits for five consecutive months.

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China exported 7.4 mmt of steel products in January, down 23.8% from the same period last year. In addition, January steel exports were at their lowest level since June 2014.

Iron Ore Prices Surge

Steelmakers are using the argument of rising iron ore, coal and other raw material prices to press steel buyers to pay more for their steel products. Iron ore is currently trading in the ballpark of $90 per dry mt, the highest since mid-August 2014. After an 85% rise in 2016, the price of iron ore has improved by more than 16% so far this year and has more than doubled in value since hitting near-decade lows at the end of 2015.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

It might not be prudent to draw a conclusion based on January’s steel data alone. But given current trends, China may need to intensify its efforts to curtail excess steel capacity. Demand growth alone might not be a strong argument for U.S. mills to continue to hike prices at the pace the did over the past few months.

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Automakers sold 1.33 million vehicles in the U.S. in February, down 1.1% from the same month a year ago, as consumers continued to shift away from buying cars in favor of trucks and SUVs.

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Our Automotive MMI fell 4.3% as well, due in part to a pull back this month in steel prices, particularly the hot-dipped galvanized variety. There’s been plenty of analysis on our site about whether the steel price fall is merely a pause in an overall up trend or a sign of deeper issues in the individual North American product markets.

Automotive MMI

If major automotive products such as cold-rolled coil and HDG are, indeed, being squeezed then prices could increase quickly in the coming months as mills take advantage of short supply, even if more capacity comes online later in the year.

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The other products that make up the index are still firmly in bull market territory with copper leading the way.

The other major automotive consumer market that creates supplier demand is China’s, the world’s largest automotive market. It saw auto sales decline by 1.1% year-on-year in January to 2.2 million units. Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, however, came in 0.2% higher year-on-year to 2.5 million units. Some of these numbers could be affected by the Lunar New Year holiday. China is also entering the planned final year of a major government automotive purchase rebate which could affect sales as the incentive winds down.

Actual Automotive Metal Prices

U.S. Hot-dipped galvanized steel fell 1.5% from $841 a short ton in February to $828/st this month. U.S. Platinum bars increased 2.92% from $993 an ounce in February to $1,022 an ounce this month. Primary three-month LME copper increased .08% from $5,930 per metric ton in February to $5.935/mt this month.

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The Department of Commerce announced placed preliminary anti-dumping duties on imports of steel concrete reinforcing bar (rebar) from Japan, Taiwan, and Turkey yesterday.

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“Dumping” is determined to occur when a foreign company sells a product in the U.S. at less than its fair value.

Japan Hit Hardest

In the Japan investigation, mandatory respondents Jonan Steel Corporation and Kyoei Steel Ltd. both received preliminary dumping margins of 209.46%. Commerce assigned the preliminary margin of 209.46% to all other producers/exporters of steel concrete rebar from Japan.

In the Taiwan investigation, mandatory respondents Power Steel Co., Ltd. and Lo-Toun Steel and Iron Works Co., Ltd. received preliminary dumping margins of 3.48% and 29.47%, respectively. Commerce assigned the preliminary margin of 5.49% to all other producers/exporters of steel concrete reinforcing bar from Taiwan. As a country, Taiwan got off relatively easy in this dumping case, considering the margins we just saw for Japan.

Rebar foundation pour in Wrigley Field parking lot.

With rebar a coveted product for large construction projects, it was only a matter of time until dumping was investigated. Source: Jeff Yoders/MetalMiner.

In the Turkey investigation, mandatory respondents Habas Sinai ve Tibbi Gazlar Istihsal Endustrisi A.S. and Icdas Celik Enerji Tersane ve Ulasim Sanayi A.S. received preliminary dumping margins of 5.29% and 7.07%, respectively. Commerce assigned the preliminary margin of 6.20% to all other producers/exporters of steel concrete reinforcing bar from Turkey.

Tariffs for Turkey and Taiwan

This dumping investigation is a separate one from the Turkish rebar countervailing duties investigation we wrote about last week. Countervailing duties are for government-subsidized products, “injurious dumping” is importing and “dumping” products regardless of cost of production. Got that? Good.

Rebar is now a traded steel product on several international exchanges so it was only a matter of time before dumping of it became a hot-button issue for governments with strong infrastructure markets. In 2015, imports of steel concrete rebar from Japan, Taiwan, and Turkey, were valued at an estimated $108.69 million, $17.57 million, and $674.40 million, respectively.

Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits based on these preliminary rates. The petitioners for this investigation are the Rebar Trade Action Coalition and its individual members: Byer Steel Group, Inc. of Ohio, Commercial Metals Company in Texas, Gerdau Ameristeel U.S. Inc. down in Florida, Nucor Corporation in Charlotte, N.C., and Steel Dynamics, Inc. of Indiana.

As mentioned above, the merchandise subject to these investigations is steel concrete rebar imported in either straight length or coil form regardless of metallurgy, length, diameter, or grade or lack thereof. Subject merchandise includes deformed steel wire with bar markings (e.g., mill mark, size, or grade) and which has been subjected to an elongation test.

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The subject merchandise includes rebar that has been further processed in the subject country or a third country, including but not limited to cutting, grinding, galvanizing, painting, coating, or any other processing that would not otherwise remove the merchandise from the scope of the investigations if performed in the country of manufacture of the rebar.

Commerce is scheduled to announce its final determinations on or about May 16, 2017, for Japan and Turkey, and July 6, 2017, for Taiwan.

The operating cost of rolling cold-rolled coil from hot-rolled coil is around $30-50 per metric ton depending on how efficient the steel mill is. Internal (or external) logistics cost to shift the coil between the HRC mill and a CRC mill could be as much as $40/mt but a single-site mill won’t have that cost.

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Add in capital costs that are amortized over the mill life of up to $15/mt and it is no surprise that the long-term price of CRC has been around $100/mt above the price of HRC.

Right now, spot HRC prices are a minimum of $820/mt while HRC is $620/mt. That is a spread of $200/mt.

That makes CRC one of the most profitable products in the steel industry. Why is that the case?

Spread of CRC over HRC ($ per metric ton)

Source: Steel-Insight

First of all, we need to look at the way that the U.S. steel industry is structured and realize that CRC is a niche. Read more

We are used to steel producers and their trade bodies raising objections to steel imports from China here in Europe, even from Russia and Ukraine but here’s a new one: Iran.

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Reuters reported last week that Steel lobby group Eurofer said Iranian exports to Europe had leapt to just over 1 million metric tons annually, putting the country just behind India at 1.9 mmt, and third to China at 5.7 mmt last year. Read more

A glut of idled river barges is clogging Mississippi River shorelines from St. Louis to New Orleans is leaving U.S. barge companies that haul grain, coal, steel and other bulk goods counting their losses.

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Even with record-large exports of corn and soybeans, typically a boon for shippers that haul grain to Gulf Coast export terminals, the collapse of coal shipments to the lowest levels in decades has left the dry bulk barge fleet chasing too little cargo.

In pursuit of rising grain volumes since 2014, many shippers expanded their fleets too quickly.

Barge lease rates paid to companies like Archer Daniels Midland Co.’s American River Transportation Company, privately held Ingram Barge and a handful of smaller operators are at 1-1/2-month lows and more than 30 percent below the five-year average for February.

Trump Proposes $54 Billion Defense Spending Increase

President Trump will propose a federal budget that dramatically increases defense-related spending by $54 billion while cutting other federal agencies by the same amount, according to an administration official.

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The proposal represents a massive increase in federal spending related to national security, while other priorities, especially foreign aid, will see significant reductions. How quickly that increase will turn into downstream metals purchases for defense contractors remains to be seen.