Macroeconomics

MetalCrawler crawls the web for the latest metal news. Today in metals, Molycorp reports another loss, Detroit has gotten serious about stopping scrap metal theft and former Nucor CEO Dan DiMicco has a plan to get America working again.

Molycorp reported net revenues for the last quarter of 2014 were $116.2 million, a 6% decrease from the third quarter. Full year 2014 net revenues were $475.6 million, a 14% decrease as compared to 2013. The California-based rare earths producer reported a net loss of $1.43 per share for the quarter and a net loss of $0.39 per share for the quarter on an adjusted, non-GAAP basis.

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However, Molycorp did report higher production volumes in the fourth quarter at its Mountain Pass, Calif., rare earth facility, with 1,328 metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent production. That compares to 1,034 mt in the fourth quarter of 2013 and 691 mt in the third quarter of 2014. Full year 2014 production at Mountain Pass totaled approximately 4,769 mt, compared to 3,473 mt in 2013.

For generations, scavengers have prowled Detroit with impunity, pouncing on abandoned properties and light poles to pilfer steel, copper and other metals they could trade for cash at scrapyards. The practice left tens of thousands of buildings so damaged that they could not be restored, turning places like the North End into grim cityscapes straight out of a Tim Burton movie. In recent years, the city has become serious about fighting back. It razed dozens of rickety homes — lucrative scrapping targets — in that neighborhood alone in the past year. Residents have become increasingly vigilant about chasing scrappers away from their blocks, lawmakers have enacted rules making it more difficult to turn a quick profit from scrapping, and the police and private and public agencies have stepped up enforcement. The New York Times examines the effect on the city and the destitute scrappers, themselves.

Former Nucor Corp. CEO Dan DiMicco writes in his new book “American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness” that it’s high time to kick up the pace of US manufacturing. To do that, America must enforce its trade agreements to clamp down on cheating (particularly by China), invest trillions of dollars in US infrastructure and cut the corporate tax to bring corporate investment back to these shores. “American Made” was released March 3.

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During last decade it became a universal truth that copper was an indicator of the world economy.

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Copper and equity markets tightly correlated from 2003 until 2011 and everyone simply assumed that they would continue doing so and, even worse, they assumed that they also correlated prior to 2003.

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Rio Tinto can’t count on aluminum to help it turn a profit. India places tariffs on imports of stainless from China, South Korea and Malaysia. Tepid housing demand in China is what’s caused all of its steel exports in the first place and gold is showing some resiliency.

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MetalCrawler searches the globe far and wide for the latest in metal market news and trends.

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India’s annual budget may have brought some cheer to the steel industry but clarity on one of its crucial and long-pending demands – increasing the import duty to stop cheap steel from entering the domestic market – is still lacking, leaving many in the supply chain flummoxed. Indian steel tariffs are thought to be necessary to combat Chinese imports.

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The entire industry was hoping that the budget, presented on Feb. 28, would have addressed the issue but ambiguity has left even the most savvy insiders perplexed, and decidedly worried.

Shares of major steel companies on India’s top bourse, the Bombay Stock Exchange, dropped earlier this week due to the uncertainty, reflecting the mood of steel investors. As reported earlier by MetalMiner, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was expected to raise tariffs on steel products by at least 5% to stop the influx of cheap steel, especially from China, into Indian markets.

Instead, while announcing in the budget provisions that the tariff rate on steel imports would be increased to 15% from 10%, the minister also simultaneously said there would be “no change in the existing effective rates of basic customs duty on these goods.”

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The US Producer Price Index record its biggest decline in more than five years in January on plunging energy costs, pointing to benign inflation in the near term that could turn into very damaging inflation and provide an argument against raising interest rates.

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The Department of Labor said its Producer Price Index for final demand fell 0.8%, the biggest drop since the revamped series started in November 2009. It was the third straight month of decline in the index.

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The federal government spent $96 billion on infrastructure projects, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released on Monday.

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The figure, which includes water projects, is dwarfed by a total of $320 billion that was spent on infrastructure by state and local governments, according to the report.

The CBO said 57% of the money that was spent by governmental agencies was used for operating expenses and maintenance of existing infrastructure, while 43% was spent on new construction.

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The value of new construction starts climbed 9% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $621.0 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics.

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The increase in total construction was the result of especially strong performance in infrastructure starts, which benefited from a massive liquefied natural gas terminal facility in Texas. Nonresidential construction actually lost momentum for the second month in a row.

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China’s economy expanded at its worst pace in 24 years last year (7.4%). It’s been a rough 18 months for our friends in Beijing. They were happy to take the last week off and say goodbye to the year of the horse, which has left a big Charlie horse on their economy’s figurative leg. The weeklong Lunar New Year Celebration ushered in the year of the sheep. Or, if you prefer a different translation, the year of the goat.

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This is appropriate because China has been the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with our metal markets. China’s shadow banking sector was blamed for falling copper prices last year. China’s rare earths export quota policy was blamed by the World Trade Organization for protectionist pricing, scarcity of rare earths and increasing prices for years until China finally gave in and lifted the quotas at the end of last year.

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The Nonresidential Construction Index (NRCI) from FMI Management Consulting climbed two points in Q1 and matched the same period last year.

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This normally is good economic news for US construction, however, construction companies are facing the challenge of not having enough people to keep up with increasing backlogs, warns Phil Warner, head researcher for FMI. A downloadable version of the report is available from FMI.

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The Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI) for the fourth quarter of 2014 declined 0.1 months, or 1%. Despite the quarter-over-quarter decline, the backlog ended the year at 8.7 months, which is still 4.4% higher than 2013’s.

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“Inconsistent growth in the volume of public work continues to suppress the pace of nonresidential construction; however, private construction momentum continues to build,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “With hotel occupancy rising, office vacancy falling and demand for data climbing exponentially, a number of key private segments are positioned for rapid growth in construction spending this year. There are a number of factors that are likely to be beneficial to nonresidential contractors in 2015,” Basu said.

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