Articles in Category: Global Trade

Following Russia’s military success in their support the Syrian regime, you could be excused for thinking Western sanctions, applied in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, have had little or no effect on the country.

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Certainly, they seem to have had little impact in altering or encouraging a change in behavior but there are examples in which the sanctions have had quite a profound effect on the economy and particularly on certain industries.

A recent article in the Financial Times explores the challenges Gazprom Neft is facing in trying to exploit Russia’s vast shale gas reserves without the benefit of Western partners. Following the imposition of sanctions Western oil and gas companies withdrew support from any projects to exploit shale reserves requiring fracking technology, and as a result firms like Gazprom Neft, the oil division of state-controlled Gazprom, have been forced to go it alone in developing the technologies and practices necessary to exploit shale rock containing oil and gas resources.

Source: Financial Times

Progress has been slow, in spite of the huge potential. As Russia’s hydrocarbon resources dwindle from their peak in Soviet days, the country is sitting on vast shale resources rivaling the U.S. Read more

China’s Caixin manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose to 51.9 in December from 50.9 in November and beat market expectations.

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The figure marks the sixth straight month of growth and the strongest upturn in Chinese manufacturing conditions since January 2013.

China Caixin Manufacturing PMI. Source: Tradingeconomics..com.

By now it’s pretty clear that this growth has been the main driver of higher metal prices in 2016. Industrial production in China has been on an upswing for most of the year, mainly because of the surge in infrastructure spending.

China PMI Up

However, there are concerns that the country’s demand growth rates could slow next year. The real estate and automotive sectors are the engine propelling this rapid growth. If the demand growth from these sectors slows, this could have strong repercussions on China’s demand for industrial metals. Read more

President-elect Donald Trump named Robert Lighthizer, a former trade official in the Reagan administration and a harsh critic of China’s trade practices, to be his U.S. Trade Representative today, the chief trade negotiator responsible for better deals aimed at reducing U.S. trade deficits.

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Trump, who promised during his presidential campaign to renegotiate international trade deals like NAFTA and punish companies that ship work overseas, said in announcing his choice that Lighthizer would help “fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first.”

Lighthizer is a former deputy U.S. trade representative under former Republican President Ronald Reagan who helped to stem the tide of imports from Japan in the 1980s with threats of quotas and punitive tariffs. His return to the agency follows nearly three decades as a lawyer representing U.S. steelmakers and other companies in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases.

“The American Iron and Steel Institute welcomes the president-elect’s nomination of Robert Lighthizer as the U.S. Trade Representative,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the AISI. “Bob’s nomination sends a strong signal regarding the incoming administration’s commitment to address the injury that the steel industry has suffered from unfairly traded imports.”

Gibson went on to say Bob Lighthizer is eminently qualified to serve in this position and his dedication not only to the steel industry — but to the manufacturing sector as a whole — will enable him to have a strong and prominent role in addressing the critical issues that face our companies and workers. He also said AISI looks forward to working with Lighthizer and the new administration on trade enforcement issues in the new year.

All good things come to an end and so, according to CRU, it is with Chinese steel producers, at least as far as export prices are concerned.

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A recent article by the firm suggests rising steel prices have hit demand from overseas clients. Rising trade barriers have had an impact but more significantly for sales into the Asian market, CRU reports Chinese exporters are also facing increasing competition from keenly priced exports from Indian, Russian and Korean competitors, eroding Chinese exporters’ market share.

As the graph shows, export premiums were strong in the Fall but collapsed in late November and early December before recovering as the year ended, but recent price movements have shown a softening of export prices and a rise in domestic prices suggesting the market is responding to greater competition on exports and an inability, due to input costs, to compete as effectively on exports.

Chinese mills have benefited from the fall of the yuan renminbi relative to the U.S. dollar but input costs have risen sharply as the principal input products —iron ore and coking coal are dollar-priced commodities — which have risen strongly in 2016 on the back of robust demand before dollar strength is factored in. Read more

US Steel plant in Granite City wide

The U.S. Steel Granite City Works captured by Google Street View in September, 2014 — a year and two months before the latest idling of the mill.

See the latest multimedia version of this story here.

This is our final top-rated post of 2016. Chinese market economy status was a huge issue for the entire year and this interactive package, originally published in May, put all facets of the problem into one package. How China will change its economy to compete with the rest of the world without overproduction for export is still an open question and a major threat to market stability. — Jeff Yoders, editor

Dan Simmons has seen a lot during the 38 years he’s worked at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works in Illinois, just outside St. Louis.

From starting out as a general laborer, to swinging hammers on the track gang, to “feeling like Mr. Haney from Green Acres” while trucking around the mill, Simmons took it all in. There were days “you were whistling when you came in, and whistling when you left,” he said.

But nothing compares to what he’s seeing now.

“I have grown men coming into my office, crying,” said Simmons. “You see the pain, the ‘what ifs,’ the blank stares…”

Simmons, who just turned 56, is now the president of the United Steelworkers Local 1899, and some of the grown men coming to him are pipefitters just like he had become during his long tenure, which began in 1978.

However, those men and women aren’t coming to him because they’ve been hurt on the job. They are coming to plead for help, because they have lost their jobs, and in many cases still don’t know when they’ll land their next one.

Cyclicality in steel production is nothing new, but it wasn’t until 2008 — when the global markets began crashing — that USS Granite City Works endured its first indefinite idling in its history.

“We had the unemployment office cycling 400 people through at a time,” Simmons told MetalMiner. “The biggest fear is not knowing. If I could have given them a definitive timeframe, they would’ve said, ‘OK, I can handle that.’ But after two to three months, people come to me and don’t know what to do with themselves.”

And now, after the mill went idle a second time in December 2015, some of those workers have been without a job for nearly half a year. Last December, 1,500 people were laid off — 75% of the mill’s total workforce. Across the country, a total of 13,500 steel workers have been laid off over the past year.

Simmons knows what it’s like to feel that fear firsthand. “I got a brother that works here, a brother-in-law that works here, so it’s personal. You worry about where your whole family will be.”

So what’s different today, compared to 2008?

For Simmons and scores of others in the country’s steel sector and other manufacturing industries, much of the pain can be traced back to one main source: China.

A History of Unfair Trade?

The world may have never encountered a more crucial Year of the Monkey than 2016.

That is, at least as far as global trade between China and the Western world is concerned. At the end of this year, China believes it ought to receive Market Economy Status (MES). This would allow China to enjoy the same market status as the U.S. and European Union when it comes to anti-dumping investigations before the World Trade Organization.

In its quest to grow its economy over the past two decades, China has become the leading producer — by far — of steel, aluminum, cement and other industrial materials. Read more

As we continue to look back at our highest-rated posts of 2016, it’s no surprise that another price predictions article was among the most-read. Contributor James May of Steel-Insight gave us his price outlook for the second half of 2016 and, yes, 2017. Enjoy this best of metalminer post with an eye toward next year. — Jeff Yoders, editor.

U.S. flat-rolled steel prices appear to abhor a vacuum — they seem to either go up or down.

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JamesMayheadshot_150

James May

Moves this month, therefore, have to be perceived as efforts to hold pricing, even though they are pitched as price increases. For now, the moves appear to have worked; hot-rolled coil is steady at $620 a short ton out of minimills and $640/st from integrated mills with cold-rolled coil at $820-840/st.

Amid lower scrap prices, the minimills certainly have room to negotiate. Meanwhile, buying tends to slow over the summer. Import deals are also firming up given the spread. As such, it is our view that the bias is to the downside, but discounting — at least initially — will be limited. Hot-rolled coil lead times remain at around six weeks, although some minimills are closer to four to five weeks. Cold-rolled coil and hot-dipped galvanized remain in the eight to 10 week range — down from their peak, but not long enough to allow distributors much leeway in negotiation. Moreover, with some mills having downtime in August, there is no incentive to cut prices to fill schedules.

US Hot-Rolled Coil Prices ($/metric ton ex-works Midwest) Margins Widen

Steel_Insight_Coil_prices_550_071116

Source: Steel-Insight

Falling scrap prices and high steel prices are leading to rising spreads for minimills, a further reason to maximize output. Slab re-rollers are still seeing their spreads widening as well. At around $350/mt free-on-board Black Sea, the spread to U.S. domestic steel is around $300/mt over landed slab, an enormously profitable spread. It is, perhaps, no wonder that provisional semi imports in May were over 700,000 mt. We would expect them to move higher as buyers take advantage of the arbitrage. However, we caution that this could be another contributory reason for U.S. prices to drop later in the year as rising supply of coil hits the market. Read more

“Trump puts pressure on Lockheed Martin over cost of F-35” says the Financial Times.

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Well, we don’t have a problem with that. These defense contracts are notorious for overrunning budgets and, although to be fair to the contractors, the overruns are as often due to the buyer changing specifications as they are to the manufacturer mismanaging the project. At least that’s the case here in the U.K., and I don’t doubt it’s the same in the U.S.

Poor Lockheed Martin. The president-elect doesn’t love its F-35 Lightning II. I guess no one appreciates air superiority anymore. Even five generations in. Source: Adobe Stock/Spacekris.

But — and this is the big but — whoever is to blame, the fact is it is you and me, the taxpayer, that picks up the tab for these overruns and we aren’t talking a few dollars. It’s billions. Billions that could be spent on other defense equipment or roads, schools, research and development, etc. So, if the new president-to-be is intent on reducing this waste, then good for him. The issue is how you achieve that. Read more

Over the holidays, we are republishing and revisiting some of our most well-read posts of 2016. While this one technically doesn’t fall into the 2016 (it was initially published December 14, 2015) but we are still looking back at it anyway since it deals with predictions about metal prices for the year we’re about to leave behind. It also gathered the second-most traffic of any post we published in 2016 despite predating the year by a few weeks.

At the time, my colleague Raul de Frutos wrote “Currently, some key Chinese indicators we are tracking are giving us no reason to expect higher metal prices in 2016.”

Yet, we have seen higher metal prices in 2016 and we are now in a full metals bull market. The reason we are is because of everything Raul cited in his post. He was 100% right that “the longer it takes China to clean up its mess, the later metal prices will hit bottom.”

China cleaned up its mess, hit bottom early in 2016 and turned global commodities demand around remarkably fast, all things considered. This reminds us that markets can make a turn around quickly. The future is unpredictable and we need to take the market day by day. Just four months after this post, we went from bearish to completely bullish on industrial metals.  Enjoy the second of our Best of MetalMiner in 2016 series. -Jeff Yoders

As you well know, the main cause of the commodities meltdown has been China’s slowdown. Since China makes up half of the world’s demand for commodities, the economic slowdown means lower demand which has led to a situation where a glut of materials can’t find a home.

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The role that China plays in commodity prices is so big that the future of metal prices is totally dependent on China. The longer it takes China to clean up its mess, the later metal prices will hit bottom. Currently, some key Chinese indicators we are tracking are giving us no reason to expect higher metal prices in 2016.

Trade Surplus

Imports to China dropped 8.7% to $143.14 billion in November from a year earlier, extending a slump in imports to a record 13 months, suggesting that government stimulus measures are failing to boost growth.

China Imports (millions $) Source: trading economics.com

China Imports (millions $) Source: TradingEconomics.com from Customs Administration Data.

Meanwhile, Chinese exports declined 6.8% to $197.24 billion in November from a year earlier, marking the fifth straight falling month. The fact that China is struggling to increase its exports demonstrates that global demand is weak and that China will have to find a more painful solution to balance its surplus. The trade surplus and the inability to find a home for the excess of materials flow will continue to keep a lid on China’s growth, depressing commodity prices.

China Exports (millions $). Source: tradingeconomics.com

China Exports (millions of dollars). Source: TradingEconomics.com

 Yuan Falls To Four-Year Low Against The Dollar

Chinese authorities want to see a smooth depreciation of the yuan/renminbi as China faces external pressure not to devalue its currency too quickly. A sharp depreciation would probably hurt the country’s credibility at the same time China wants to attract more foreign capital. In addition, it would raise criticisms that China is keeping its currency artificially low to encourage more exports.

Yuan versus dollar. Source: yahoo finance

Yuan versus dollar. Source: Yahoo Finance.

Recently, China’s central bank cut its reference rate to the lowest level since 2011. The yuan fell against the dollar to the lowest level since 2011. Although China has said that it has not allowed the yuan to slide to boost the economy or increase exports, it seems that the market is taking these developments as desperate actions from China’s government to help the economy, raising concerns among investors that the country’s slowdown might worsen.

China’s Equity Markets’ Slump Continues

We believe that equity markets are the best benchmark for the performance of China’s economy, or at least investors’ sentiment about China. We’ve analyzed before the link between China’s stock market and commodity prices. Currently, this link is even more noticeable.

China FXI ishares

China FXI shares continue to fall. Source: @StockCharts.com.

After the huge slump this summer, equity prices mildly recovered, but since October we see that equities are heading south again. The poor performance of Chinese stocks demonstrates that investors are still worried about the future of the country and not lured by its government actions.

New! Free Download: The December MMI Report

Contrary to what others are saying, we suspect that the slump in China’s stock market could continue, resulting in more fears and more sell-offs in commodities/metals markets.

Dr. Nicholas Garrett is a Director of RCS Global and an internationally recognized expert in the company’s six core work areas: supply chain due diligence and conflict minerals compliance, transparency, artisanal and small-scale mining, responsible supply chains, human rights and public policy and institutional reform. He has worked on more than 50 projects for over 10 years and regularly advises a range of clients, including AngloGold Ashanti, AVX, the EITI, Nokia, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Trafigura, the World Bank, and the World Gold Council, the British, German, Japanese and U.S. governments, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and World Vision. MetalMiner welcomes his perspective on conflict minerals compliance.

A lack of clarity on how and when key provisions of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will be fully implemented is leaving downstream businesses in limbo — many of whom are looking to enhance their minerals sourcing compliance.

Conflict Minerals Flowchart

RCS Global’s simple IPSA flowchart. Source: RCS Global.

When passed, the implications of Dodd-Frank 1502 looked game-changing, significantly increasing the obligations on downstream companies using “conflict minerals,” but following an upheld appeal, the requirement to undertake an audit under Dodd-Frank 1502 is in stasis, leaving many companies either unsure as to how to validate their compliance obligations linked to the bill, or whether they should even attempt to validate at all.

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Nevertheless, at some point in the not too distant future, more than 6,000 Securities and Exchange Commission issuers producing products containing tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold — better known as the 3TG — will be forced to make significant efforts to improve transparency, monitoring and oversight of their supply chains, and ultimately determine the source of the materials in a vast range of everyday products. Read more

In recent weeks the Dalian and Zhengzhou commodity exchanges and the Shanghai Futures Exchange have all toughened trading requirements several times.

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The measures imposed include raising trading margins, hiking transaction fees and imposing trading limits in attempt to tamp down speculative trading. Reuters’ Clyde Russell referred to the situation as China having “thrown the world’s commodity producers and traders a massive party.”

HRC and CRC prices in China continue to rise. Source: MetalMinerIndex

HRC and CRC prices in China rising through November. Source: MetalMinerIndX.

This year saw most analysts surprised by the strength of both China’s coal and iron ore imports, which led to rallies in the prices of both commodities. Chinese imports of iron ore jumped to the third-highest on record in November with 91.98 million metric tons up 13.8% from the previous month, taking the year-to-date gain to 9.2% compared with the same period in 2015, according to Reuters. Read more