Global Trade

Occasionally it is interesting to step back and look at global trends over a longer term than one month to another or one quarter to the previous, and sometimes it is downright scary.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Today, we are all a little disappointed by a poor Q1 in the US. Europe is feeling a little better about a slight upturn and Japan, well Japan is struggling to gain traction in spite of repeated attempts to kick start its economy.

Several emerging markets are in outright recession, according to the Telegraph, namely Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela are all contracting sharply. So is this a temporary setback or are these aspects of a deeper malaise?

Growth Crawling

Global growth is slowing, and not just on a month-by-month or quarter-by-quarter basis. The UN has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8%. That’s still growth, of course, but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5% rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole, the paper says.

It would be easy to blame China but China, actually, is only part of the problem. All economies seem stuck in a global malaise of slow growth and falling productivity rates. An FT article illustrates the problem of productivity. As emerging markets are reaching the limits of easy growth based on catch-up technology, advanced economies are concentrating on services, which tend to have less scope for rapid efficiency gains.

New technology has centered on consumer products, which have made people better off and able to do more than in the past, but have not necessarily improved the quantity or efficiency of their work.

{ 0 comments }

That China uses overseas investment as a tool for political as well as economic advancement is no surprise to anyone.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Beijing has come under criticism in the past for investing in places like Zimbabwe and Sudan regardless of the human rights flavor of the regime in power, but such criticism is like water off a ducks back. China is in it for China’s gain and cares little for what others may say.

It will be intriguing looking back 10 years from now to see what some of these emerging markets have given away to China in return for much-needed investment. Beijing is not stupid and exacts a price for it’s infrastructure and development investments in in the form of ownership of mines and agricultural assets useful for their industry and food supplies.

A Tale of Two Centuries

Many would argue this is no different from western nations’ exploitation of African and South American countries in the last century, but you would certainly hope the recipients had learned from such experiences. One advantage China wrings from such deals is often the supply of materials and equipment in addition to expertise and finance.

In many cases even the workforce is supplied, too, in the construction of infrastructure projects. In the face of growing global alarm at rising Chinese steel and aluminum exports, recipients of direct investments can hardly complain about the provider supplying materials, so major road, rail and power projects provide an opportunity for substantial Chinese exports.

China in Brazil

This appears to be one of the major attractions in investment decisions made this month in Brazil following Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Brazil, Columbia, Peru and Chile. Li announced billions of dollars of investments while there last week, potentially up to some $50 billion to Brazil alone according to Reuters, on top of a similar amount in other South American countries.

In return, Brazil has gained not just desperately needed finance and investment but concessions for exports such as a lifting of the 2012 beef ban following an outbreak of mad cow among Brazil’s herds. According to the Guardian newspaper, trade between China and Latin America as a whole exploded from barely $10 billion in 2000 to $255.5 billion in 2012, while Chinese-Brazilian trade mushroomed from $6.5 billion in 2003 to $83.3 billion in 2012.

Although China is just the 12th-largest investor in Brazil, it is Brazil’s largest export market, mostly of raw materials, a situation Brazil would dearly like to change if it were only competitive when it comes to manufactured goods. One area of expertise is aircraft, part of the recent deal is a $1.3 billion sale of 22 Brazilian Embraer commercial jets to China’s Tianjin Airlines.

Anyone familiar with the trials Vale SA has been going through gaining agreement to use its fleet of new Valemax super ore carriers docking at Chinese ports, will not be surprised to hear the iron ore producer has finally caved in and sold four of the vessels to China Merchants Energy Shipping Co. Ltd. for an undisclosed sum. It was only ever about China having a role in that trade.

Construction has started on a 2,800-kilometer transmission line by China’s State Grid Corp., the world’s largest utility to link the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam under construction in the Amazon to the industrial state of Sao Paulo whilst much talk is being made of a possible railway from the southeastern Brazilian port of Santos more than 3,500 km (2,200 miles) to the Peruvian Pacific port of Ilo.

For Brazil, it offers the chance to avoid the Panama Canal and, for China, lower-cost access to Brazil’s markets via the Pacific in addition to the steel, rolling stock and associated equipment that would no doubt be part of the deal.

China has become adept at, as the Japanese before them, combining finance, expertise and material supply in their overseas investments. State driven and financed, they can afford to play the long game and maximize political and well as commercial aims. In that regard, cash-strapped but economically more developed South America has much more potential than Africa did. Expect more of the same in the years ahead as China seeks to both spread its influence and put those massive reserves to use abroad.

{ 0 comments }

The London Metal Exchange (LME) yesterday launched a month-long consultation on proposals designed to broaden access to its electronic trading platform, LMEselect. The changes put forward include opening up LMEselect access to category 3 and category 4 (non-clearing) members of the exchange as well as adding flexibility to the criteria required to apply for LME membership.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

“Today’s proposals are crucial to our overarching aim to maximize liquidity and participation on the LME,” said Garry Jones, LME CEO. “Opening up access to trading on LMEselect is beneficial to everyone trading on any one of our venues as it will bring more liquidity and price transparency to all.”

Adding flexibility to the application criteria for LME membership means that prospective members may, in some cases, benefit from exemptions from the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) authorization requirements, which represents a significant step in the LME’s Liquidity Roadmap. The changes would make the LME electronic market more attractive to non-UK based traders who want to take advantage of the Exchange’s enhanced liquidity initiatives but who are currently not eligible or are discouraged from applying by electronic access restrictions.

If the LME decides to proceed with the proposed changes after the consultation period ends, then full details of the category 4 membership requirements including fees and B share requirements will be published.

{ 0 comments }

As we pointed out last month, the US dollar is showing some weakness for the first time in almost a year. That dollar weakness has helped metal prices during the second quarter. However, the recent price movements aren’t reason enough to suddenly become bearish in the dollar.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The dollar increased in value very quickly in 2014, so it’s not weird to see the dollar taking a breath before it continues on its way up. Technically, this is called a “correction within an uptrend.”The question now is whether the dollar has weakened enough already or if it’s due for further declines.

{ 0 comments }

There is a lot of talk in the business press about trade agreements.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

Most of us skip such articles on our way to the sports pages as it’s that impacts on such a macro scale that it is of little relevance to us day to day, but that is to overlook the massive impact trade liberalization has had on our lives over the last twenty years.

Although the low-hanging fruit has already been plucked, further agreements could yet impact, for good and bad, in the years to come. Lawmakers are split on many lines over the issue. Some are intrinsically against liberalization on the basis that it can expose domestic industries to unfair competition from abroad, that by reducing trade barriers, it encourages off shoring and the export of jobs overseas.

What is Trade Liberalization?

Others say trade liberalization raises GDP for all and the rising tide lifts the boats of everyone’s income levels, in developed and developing markets. The experience of the last 20 years can be used to support both arguments and, in reality, both are true to a greater or lesser extent.

Currently considerable argument rages about the President’s two plurilateral (by which we mean between a limited number of partners) trade agreements known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Why Only Certain ‘Partners?’

The fact these agreements will be between a limited number of countries is itself a bone of contention. Many argue only multilateral agreements such as the failed Doha negotiations are the way to go because they encourage a universal set of rules and standards, but with the more readily agreed issues resolved further progress is proving increasingly difficult and acrimonious.

The FT did a quick idiot’s guide to the TPP and TTIP summarizing them as follows. The TPP is a negotiation with 11 countries, most importantly Japan. Its partners account for 36% of world output, 11% of population and about one-third of merchandise trade. The TTIP is between the US and the EU, which accounts for 46% of global output and 28% of merchandise trade.

The main partner not included in these negotiations is, of course, China. Import tariffs are only a part, arguably a small part of what these agreements are about. In the FT’s analysis, the agreements are more about making rules more compatible with one another and more transparent for business, particularly around intellectual property rights.

Not a Trade Booster, An IP Defender

They are an effort to shape the rules of international commerce, the FT argues and quotes Pascal Lamy, former director-general of the World Trade Organization, saying that “TPP is mostly, though not only, about classical protection-related market access issues . . . TTIP is mostly, though not only, about . . . .  regulatory convergence.”

The benefits of each to national incomes is small. Even supporters do not claim the level seen in earlier trade agreements. The FT quotes independent analysis suggesting between 0.4% and less than 1% rise in national incomes as a result, with the US-EU TTIP towards the upper end of the range and the US-Asia TPP towards the lower end. The most reliable guess is they will be positive but modest. That will make the President’s job correspondingly harder to get past a skeptical Congress.

{ 0 comments }

When the Tiger and the Dragon dine together the world sits up and takes note.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

Signing business agreements worth $22 billion is a big deal so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China made big, bold headlines here. Some of India’s old, and some not so old (Adani, Bhusan Power and Steel), players in the steel and power sectors, were signatories to the 26 deals.

Steel and Energy Deals

The notable contracts included the one between India’s IL&FS Energy Development Co. and China Huaneng Group for a 4,000-megawatt thermal power project, and India’s Bhushan Power and Steel sealing a pact with China National Technical Import and Export Corporation for an integrated steel project in Indian province of Gujarat.

So here were two Asian, nee global, giants, breaking bread and talking business at the same table, sending analysts scurrying to their laptops to chalk out spreadsheets and draw pie charts in an effort to understand the impact of all this in the long term.

While business leaders of both nations, including Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma, spoke of long-term interests, such talk brought the arclight swinging back to the present and short-term situation currently prevailing in the Asian region, especially in iron ore and coking coke, two crucial ingredients in making steel.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that steel is the mainstay of Asia’s infrastructure, a fact that has had iron ore and coal miners — and even steel majors in China, India and as so far as Australia — jockeying for a major piece of new market share. With demand from Europe and the US lacking, suppliers in all three countries are walking a thinly veiled tight rope to ensure their survival.

Wither Demand

Once a destination of hope, the Chinese dragon, for now, has lost some of its hunger. Some say next-door neighbor India is where one can find fresh action. The jury’s honestly still out on that one, though. But the slowdown in China’s economy means less need for steel, in turn, lowering the demand for ore and coking coal. Leaving miners re-tweaking their business plans.

Last year, for example, the Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton Ltd. in Australia, and Vale SA of Brazil, to stem the tide, had stepped up low-cost output to pump up volumes, leading to a glut. Now, everybody’s mantra seems to be – cut production costs faster than the falling prices.

{ 0 comments }

ast week UGI Energy Services announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas production facility in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The facility will draw Marcellus Shale gas from UGI’s Auburn gathering system, then chill it to produce up to 120,000 gallons per day in liquid form. While we have regularly reported the slowdown in both new shale oil and LNG projects in the US this year — and the subsequent cutbacks in oil country tubular goods production — investments are still being made, in the US and overseas, in drilling.

Plants, Projects Planned

Bloomberg Business reported this week that Anadarko Petroleum Corp. selected a group of developers including Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. for a potential $15 billion LNG project in Mozambique.

CBI’s joint venture with Japan-based Chiyoda Corp. and Saipem SpA, based in Italy, will work on the onshore project that includes two LNG units with 6 million metric tons of capacity each, Anadarko said Monday. Construction plans also include two LNG storage tanks, each with a capacity of 180,000 cubic meters, condensate storage, a multi-berth marine jetty and associated utilities and infrastructure, according to Texas-based Anadarko, which says it will make a final investment decision by the end of the year.

Last week, the Department of Energy gave Cheniere Energy Inc. final approval for the nation’s fifth major export terminal at Corpus Christi in Texas, which will ship the fuel from 2018.

What’s Driving Infrastructure Investment?

While oil prices have bounced back from lows seen earlier this year, it’s certainly not the market that’s driving these investments. While high-cost projects, such as those in Canada’s oil sands, have been canceled by oil exploration companies, relatively inexpensive projects with a quicker path to payback, such as these LNG projects, are still being funded.

The payback is diverse and not confined to domestic home heating. LNG has been priced at a fraction of diesel prices for the last four years. Domestic trucking (18-wheelers and other heavy consumers of diesel) have yet to make a large-scale commitment to LNG, and most places where fuel is dispensed have yet to put in expensive infrastructure to handle the product, but there has been enough success for UGI to justify committing resources to its adoption.

{ 0 comments }

OK, got over laughing yet?

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Yes, the European Union will impose anti-dumping duties of up to 35.9% on imports of a grade of electrical steel from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and, yes, the United States, which those countries are allegedly selling at below cost.

European Commission Acts

According to Reuters it is the EU’s second set of measures this year to protect European steel producers such as ArcelorMittal, Stalproduckt STP, ThyssenKrupp and Tata Steel UK. Apparently the European Commission has just set tariffs on imports of grain-oriented, flat-rolled electrical steel (GOES, for those of you that regularly read our MMI coverage) following a complaint lodged in June 2014 by the European steel producers association, Eurofer.

The duties are provisional, pending the outcome of an investigation due to end in November, but as we all know the moment a duty looks like a real possibility importers stop importing in case they get caught retroactively. Normally, such duties would then continue for five years, the paper reports.

More specifically duties of 28.7% will cover imports from Chinese companies, including Baosteel and Wuhan Iron and Steel Corp. and of 22.8% from South Korean producers such as POSCO. The rate for US producers including AK Steel is 22% and for Russian firms such as NLMK 21.6%.

Meanwhile, Japan’s JFE Steel Corp. will face duties of 34.2% and Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp., among others, 35.9%. Eurofer is quoted as saying the dumped imports have damaged the EU industry by driving prices to below the costs of production, causing substantial losses. It said the market share of dumped imports into the EU rose to 47% in 2012, with most from Japan and Russia.

2nd Anti-Dumping Action This Year

This action follows anti-dumping duties being applied in March to flat-rolled stainless steel from China and Taiwan, a new investigation into specific grades of steel rebar and attempts to prolong the existing duties on Chinese wire rod.

{ 0 comments }

As coil import arrivals drop off (the arbitrage for speculative tonnage disappeared in 2015, but it takes 3-4 months for physical arrivals to catch up), we expect that metal service centers will be back in the purchasing game over the next quarter.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Crucially however, they do not need to buy in big volume, but expect to see steadier business filling in holes in certain products rather than big blanket buys. That trend would be supported by a stronger economic environment than in Q1.

That will mean the initial going for a price increase in hot-rolled or cold-rolled coil will be tough sledding, but we expect prices in the short-term to hit the $470 per ton target by the end of this month.

Despite probable attempts by mills to increase the price again, we believe that coil will fluctuate around this price through the second quarter, as distributors have plentiful inventory and are well-stocked with lower-priced (import) coil that is competitive. Moreover, too aggressive a price move will bring imports back in as there is plenty of cheap coil around.

Once that inventory is cleared, however, thanks to lower imports and cuts in domestic production, we expect a moderate gain in pricing in the second half of the year – back over $500/ton.

One wild card that we would consider a trigger for further price gains is an anti-dumping filing against Chinese, Indian and potentially other sources on CRC and HDG. Chinese supply of CRC was 6% of the US market in 2014 while Chinese and Indian supply of HDG was a combined 8%.

This is not insignificant, but highlights that this will not be a cure-all for the sector, although we suspect that if the US mills do go for a filing, they will blanket the market and try to pick up other suppliers in their net, such as Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Russia that will account for a few more percentage points.

Our view remains that anti-dumping action is “whack-a-mole” to some extent with other non-named suppliers popping up as alternatives. Nevertheless, the removal of China, in particular, would result in some of the really low-priced coil exiting the market and the Chinese are looking to some extent to develop a long-term customer base of end-users that would be detrimental to US mills.

As such, we believe that a filing would help US mill volumes (at least initially), although we believe that the pricing impact would be short-term at best.

{ 0 comments }

An interesting post in the FT by a leading economist examines the growing concern that seven years after the financial crisis and the use of unprecedented stimulus measures and extended near-zero interest rates,the world may be stuck in a long-term trend of low growth.

Pool 4 Tool’s Automotive SRM Summit

The author, Gavin Davis, is not to be dismissed as just another academic, he was head of the global economics department at Goldman Sachs from 1987-2001, and served as an economic policy adviser to the British government in addition to being an external adviser to the British Treasury.

Chinese, Japanese Growth Down

Global growth is unquestionably slowing.

The three largest independent economies are all struggling to achieve strong growth. Chinese activity dipped sharply last month, and the estimated rate of growth is now 5.3%, well below the government’s 7% target for the 2015 calendar year leading many to hope yet another stimulus is on the way, but so far we have not seen much more than a relaxation in lending and reductions in interest rates.

Japanese growth remains weak in spite of Abenomics. Remarkably, after recessions in parts of the Eurozone the only major economy showing some resilience is the EU where overall growth could be approaching 1.8% in spite of excessive austerity measures.

Davis cites a colleague’s research that tracks two measures of US activity used to summarize the “state of the economic cycle.”

The Slow Normal

According to his models, the probability that the economy is now in a state of strong expansion has dropped from 70% in December 2014 to under 40% now. Over the same period, the probability that the economy is in recession has risen from zero to 14% – still low he admits, but not entirely negligible.

The expectation is that US growth will rebound in Q2 but will not be enough to raise 2015 growth as a whole and could well result in a downgrade for the year as a whole. It’s hard to see China, the engine of growth for the last ten years or more, suddenly creating the level of demand that will significantly lift global GDP in the next few years.

US Growth Nearly Halted

In the US, the official GDP growth rate in Q1 was only 0.2%, while Davis’ model of underlying activity is showing 1.8%. This may, as in some previous years, be more down to a weak first quarter due to weather but the real worry is that the rate of productivity growth is slowing and with it the potential for a long-term rise in living standards and, hence, growth. The long-term growth rate of the US economy has fallen from 3.3% in 2003 to 2.3% now.

{ 1 comment }