Articles in Category: Manufacturing

Macro photo of a piece of lead ore

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group released its initial lead findings for February, and found that in 2016, supply exceeded demand in the global market for the refined metal.

Furthermore, lead inventories reported by the London Metal Exchange, Shanghai Futures Exchange and consumers and producers during that same period of time increased, as well.

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The ILZSG report elaborated: “There was a sharp decrease in Australian lead mine output mainly as a consequence of the closure of the Century mine in 2015 and cutbacks in output at some Glencore operations. Production was also lower in India and Mexico. However, these reductions were partially balanced by a rise in China resulting in an overall global decline of 1.3%.”

However, world refined lead metal production actually increased 2.4% in 2016. This was mostly attributed to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) commissioning a new primary lead plant in 2015.

Lead Price Momentum on High in 2017

According to a recent piece from our own Raul de Frutos, after a strong run in 2016, lead prices pulled back to close the year. However, prices have since recovered and Raul predicts they will trade at $2,800 by the end of this year.

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“(Lead prices) are currently below $20 per metric ton, from $80 just three months ago. In this respect, lead is playing catch-up with its cousin zinc, in which the deficit for refined metal is more obvious. In 2017 investors will be closely monitoring China’s numbers. The slump in treatment charges and the fact that China must get serious about controlling industrial metals output to solve its pollution problem could result in lower lead refined output this year.”

How will lead and base metals fare this year? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

A lighted underground tunnel in a nickel mine

Nickel prices increased early in February with hedge funds and speculators hurrying to close bets against the metal with the Philippines moving ahead with regulations on its mining industry.

According to a recent report from the Financial Times, nickel’s climb was directly attributed to the closure of 21 mines along with the suspension of another six pits, including the nation’s largest gold mine.

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The Philippines is the world’s most significant source of unprocessed nickel ore, along with being a major supplier to China, the news source stated. A renewed emphasis on environmentalism led to Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte appointing a like-minded resource minister to investigate the nation’s mining industry.

“My issue here is not about mining, my issue here is about social justice,” Regina Lopez, natural resources secretary, said during a recent briefing. “Why is mining more important than people’s lives?”

Nickel Price Outlook for 2017

Lopez pointed at the mine closures, which account for nearly half of the nation’s nickel output.

“We are very pleased to see the Philippines taking this action while allowing proper mining companies which adhere to better environmental practice to continue,” analysts at SP Angel told the Financial Times, adding the whole nickel supply chain was an “environmental disaster”.

“The huge growth of ore exports into China for the production of nickel pig iron disrupted the nickel industry in recent years while causing massive environmental disruption in the mining areas and at the nickel pig-iron furnaces.”

How will nickel and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

 

Ezio Gutzemberg/Adobe Stock

The tin market in London remained tight last month and the underlying problem appears to be a lack of deliverable metal.

According to a recent Reuters report from Andy Home, a closer look at China reveals a significant supply of tin registered with the Shanghai Futures Exchange, but it previously was hiding behind the country’s 10% export duty.

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However, that doesn’t appear to be the case any longer as China evidently removed the barrier without notification, which could lead to serious consequences for the worldwide flow of tin and, more specifically, the London Metal Exchange market.

Home writes: “There is still a good deal of uncertainty as to what exactly may, or may not, have happened. But tin industry body ITRI has drawn attention to the fact that the tin export duty has not been referenced in China’s 2017 Exports Commodities Tax Rates table.”

Home adds the reason for China dropping the duty, a standard for nearly 10 years, can be attributed to the US-filed complaint last July to the World Trade Organization regarding their export duties on numerous metals and minerals, including tin.

Tin Price Update for February

Just last week our own Raul de Frutos wrote tin prices dropped 9% since the beginning of the year, reaching a 5-month low.

de Frutoes wrote: “There are two factors driving this decline:

  • Profit taking: Prices rallied near 70% in 2016 and prices need to digest those gains.
  • Speculation that China has removed it’s 10% export duty on refined tin exports.”

How will tin and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

The Trump administration is exploring the idea of classifying currency manipulation, such as when China sets the value of the yuan/renminbi deliberately low to promote exports, as an unfair trade government subsidy that U.S. manufacturers can then petition the Commerce Department for redress against.

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The Wall Street Journal reported that, under the plan, the Commerce Secretary (Trump has nominated Wilbur Ross for the job) would designate the practice of currency manipulation as an unfair subsidy when employed by any nation. This plan would not single out China, or any other country, but rather give U.S. companies the opportunity to pursue trade remedies such as countervailing duties on imports from nations that artificially set currency values low.

Dollar vs. RMB

The value of the renminbi against the US dollar has consistently fallen since China removed its peg. Chart: Jeff Yoders/MetalMiner.

Last year, we created an interactive narrative experience showing how China has changed its currency values since it joined the World Trade Organization. Many countries and the WTO, itself, have wrestled with how to deal with Chinese exports in recent years but no country has considered creating a currency manipulation category for dumping of foreign exports that would, presumably, be enforceable under current WTO rules.

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The currency plans, according to the WSJ, are part of a China strategy being put together by the White House’s National Trade Council, led by economist Peter Navarro. The policy seeks to balance the administration’s dual goals of challenging China on trade while still keeping relations  — and most trade — with the massive country on a fairly even keel. That’s why the policy does not single out China and would apply to all nations that reset the values of their currency without direction from an independent body such as the European Central Bank or Federal Reserve.

The difficulty in enforcing such a policy would be that nations such as China could cry foul at the WTO and say that the ECB or Fed are not really independent. A definition of what is an independent central bank might be challenged in the WTO.

You may feel it cynical to say anyone would engage in a blue sky thinking if someone else is going to pay for it, but you have to question whether Voestalpine AG and its partners would be embarking on a research program that appears to have little prospect of economic viability in the next 20 years if the European Union was not funding the lion’s share of €18 million.

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The Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine, Siemens of Germany and Austrian renewable energy company Verbund party are building an experimental facility to economically produce hydrogen from water, which would then be used in place of coking coal for steelmaking. You may remember that my colleague, Jeff Yoders, noted that Voestalpine touted research into using hydrogen to reduce iron ore at its new DRI facility in Texas when the facility opened last year.

Voestalpine Corpus Christi

Voestalpine’s $750 million direct-reduced iron ore facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, could one day be fueled by hydrogen and not natural gas. Image: Jeff Yoders.

By the consortium’s own admission, an economically viable hydrogen process could take 20 years but should it eventually prove successful the benefits in decarbonizing a range of energy intensive industries such as ceramics, aluminum, glass, and cement in addition to steel could dramatically reduce emissions from one of the largest sources of industrial CO2 emissions. Read more

SONY DSC

Copper prices have been on the rise and could continue their ascent if the world’s two biggest copper mines continue their strike.

According to a recent report from CNBC, copper futures contracts for March delivery grew by more than 1.5% this week following information that BHP Billiton is halting production at the world’s largest copper mine, Escondida, located in Chile.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

“It’s presenting the market with a bullish case for a little upside, Vivienne Lloyd, base metals analyst for Macquarie in London, told the news source.

Copper prices were already on the ascent, growing more than 30% last fall with the U.S. dollar weakening close to the election, combined with traders’ more optimistic views on China.

“Traders were already bullish into the strike, Dane Davis, commodities research analyst at Barclays, said. “People have watched the negotiations deteriorate.”

Copper Disruptions Bring Upside Potential

Our own Raul de Frutos wrote just this week on the factor the copper mine strikes will play in the metal’s recent bull run. He added:

“Base metals looked more bullish in January and strong Chinese data is no doubt driving that. China’s PMI was in growth territory for the seventh consecutive month.”

Raul concluded: “Copper prices might look expensive compared to what they were just three months ago. However, that rally might just be the beginning of a bigger move. Sentiment in the industrial metal complex remains quite bullish and there are factors currently playing out that could build the case for another rally in copper prices. Copper buyers should minimize their commodity price risk exposure accordingly.”

How will copper and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

The American Iron and Steel Institute reported that for the month of December 2016, U.S. steel mills shipped 7,173,245 net tons, a 6.7% increase from the 6,724,277 nt shipped in the previous month, November 2016, and a 9.4% increase from the 6,556,342 nt shipped in December 2015.  Shipments for full year 2016 are 86,533,341 nt – a slight change from shipments of 86,546,657 nt for full year 2015.

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A comparison of December 2016 shipments to the previous month shows the following changes: hot-rolled sheet, up 11%; cold-rolled sheet, up 4%, and hot-dipped galvanized sheet and strip, down 3%.

Manufacturing PMI Hits a 2-year High

The January 2017 Institute for Supply Management Purchasing Managers’ Index and Non-Manufacturing Index, released on February 1 and February 3, respectively, reveal a surging manufacturing sector in the U.S., with slowing growth in the services sector.

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The PMI® jumped 1.5 percentage points to 56.0, its highest level in more than two years. At 56.5, the NMI® declined by one-tenth of a percentage point, indicating slowing growth in the non-manufacturing portion of the economy.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering an executive order that would suspend the conflict minerals rule of the Dodd-Frank banking regulation bill.

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The conflict mineral rule requires reporting of supply chains to enforce a ban on tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s backed by human-rights groups but many businesses say the rule, as is, requires a swath of industries to investigate whether their products contain metals that could have been sold by armed groups so far down their supply chains that it’s impossible to tell where it came from. Reporting has been spotty even under the current rules.

The proposed executive action, drafted last week and reviewed Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, would suspend the conflict-minerals rule for two years. Business groups have fought the rule in court, saying its requirements are costly and burdensome.

US Sells Crude Oil From Strategic Reserve

10 million barrels of crude from the U.S.’s strategic reserve are scheduled to be sold later this month, the Department of Energy said.

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The shipment is part of a total 25 million barrels, to be sold over a period of three years, as per the 21st Century Cures Act, signed in December last year.

China is a top producer of aluminum, and its ongoing battle against pollution could lead to production cuts and, subsequently, skyrocketing aluminum prices.

According to a recent report from Reuters, the aluminum price rally could also potentially be offset by the oversupply situation. Any kind of extreme market fluctuation would be dependent on the Chinese government following through on the shutdown of aluminum-rich provinces during the winter months.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

“When the government in the past tried to implement measures to control production it wasn’t very successful,” Edgardo Gelsomino, research director at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said. “The only time production cuts really happened in China was when the economics of the smelters didn’t work.”

Aluminum Prices Begin Year on a Strong Note

Our own Raul de Frutos wrote recently on exactly how much US aluminum prices and premiums can rise in 2017. Well, they started off the year strong. “While robust demand has supported aluminum prices, investors’ eyes have recently turned to the supply side of the equation. In December, China’s share of global aluminum output was more than 56%. The giant producer’s share of supply is now facing some serious risks,” de Frutos wrote.

He concluded: “In addition to higher aluminum prices due to supply cuts, we could see higher aluminum premiums due to the ongoing trade tensions, just as we saw the spread between domestic and international steel prices widen.”

How will aluminum and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

The American Iron and Steel Institute Board of Directors has approved a public policy agenda outlining an aggressive, pro-manufacturing policy to guide advocacy for the upcoming year and highlight importance of the steel industry to the success of the American economy.

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“The impact public policies have on manufacturers must be carefully considered to ensure economic growth and our national security. Our 2017 Public Policy Agenda highlights a concerted effort on behalf of members of the North American steel industry to combat foreign unfair trade practices, create jobs, highlight our innovations and sustainability, and strengthen the manufacturing base,” said Thomas J. Gibson, AISI president and CEO. “We will be sharing our priorities with policymakers and government leaders, and look forward to working together to turn obstacles into opportunities.”

Highlights AISI priorities for 2017 include:

  1. Press China and other nations to eliminate their steel overcapacity and to end all subsidies;
    Enforce aggressively and expeditiously U.S. unfair trade laws.
  2. Defend the right to treat China as a Non Market Economy at the WTO.
  3. Improve the implementation of the ENFORCE Act against trade law evasion.
  4. Reduce the corporate tax rate to 15-20% while maintaining accelerated cost recovery.
  5. Revise the EPA Clean Power Plan and the New Source Performance Standard for utility greenhouse gas emissions.
  6. Ensure the approval and completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and  facilitate investment in our national energy infrastructure.
  7. Withdraw EPA’s final determination for the light-duty vehicle GHG standards for model years 2022-2025.
  8. Ensure infrastructure funding is accompanied by reforms that streamline permitting and approval of large projects to speed project delivery time and reduce added cost.
  9. Direct increased funding of infrastructure improvements towards long-term, multi-year projects.