Articles in Category: MetalMiner IndX

Our September MMI report is in the books — overall, it was another strong month for metals.

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For our latest batch of readings, all 10 of the MMI sub-indexes posted upward movement.

It was a big month for aluminum, as the Aluminum MMI rose 8.2% and LME aluminum jumped 10.73% through the month. The Construction and Automotive MMIs also had solid months, while the Copper MMI shot up 7.7% in what was another good month for Dr. Copper.

Meanwhile, in policy news, last week the U.S. Department of Commerce launched an anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation into stainless steel flanges from China and India. As our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote in her Stainless MMI report, a preliminary determination in the case is coming Oct. 2.

In addition, today the DOC announced it had launched an investigation into imports of titanium sponge from Japan and Kazakhstan.

More broadly, the Section 232 investigations into aluminum and steel imports are still ongoing. It’s unclear when exactly a ruling will be made, but Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has January deadlines to meet, as he is required to present President Donald Trump with a report and policy recommendations vis-a-vis the probes.

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You can read about all of the aforementioned — and much more — by downloading the September MMI report below.

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Mining stocks took a hammering last week, prompting questions as to whether the recent bull run in metal prices has come to an end.

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As steel and iron futures in China slid, share prices in iron ore and base metal miners were sold off around the world in a bearish wave of sentiment sparked, according to mining.com, by the continued appreciation of the Chinese currency against the U.S. dollar.

The Renminbi hit 6.447 against the dollar, gaining nearly 7.8% so far this year and a 21-month peak that appears to be worrying policymakers concerned about China’s export competitiveness.

According to the MetalMiner index, the Dalian exchange 62% Iron Ore settlement price closed at Yuan 534 per metric ton last week, down nearly 7%. Yet, steel demand remains robust in China and iron ore stocks that China’s port dropped for a fifth straight week according to commodity news, to 133 million tons the lowest since May. Indeed, because the currency is still appreciating, it is reported traders like to buy future cargoes in dollars, stockpile them and sell in Renminbi.

Investors Wary of Environmental Measures

One fear weighing on investors of mining stocks is China’s drive for environmental improvements, which is widely expected to result in the closure of steel mills, power plants, aluminum smelters and other sources of pollution (such as zinc and copper smelting).

According to the article, China plans to conduct 15 rounds of inspections during its new campaign starting this month and continuing until March of next year. Any plants that do not meet tougher environmental standards face closure. The resulting loss of production capacity, it is feared, will hit import demand for raw materials such as iron ore and bauxite.

Not surprisingly, iron ore spot prices declined toward the end of the week, but some are seeing current weakness as a natural correction to months of bullish strength.

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Physical demand remains strong, suggesting local traders are to frightened by Beijing’s environmental program just yet. Most are waiting for November, when the heating season starts and enforced closures are expected.

Our August MMI report is in the books, and it paints a positive picture for a wide range of metals.

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In our June MMI, four sub-indexes posted no movement. The July MMI? Only one stood pat.

Our August MMI, meanwhile, painted a different picture.

Nine of the 10 sub-indexes posted positive movement, with the remaining sub-index (GOES) dropping.

It was a strong month for the Renewables MMI, which grew 6.9% to hit 77. The Raw Steel MMI rose 5.6% to hit 75.

As Irene Martinez Canorea wrote Friday, there’s a bullish outlook behind metals like aluminum, copper and zinc these days. Can they continue that momentum throughout the rest of the calendar year? That remains to be seen, but they’ve certainly been on an uptrend.

Speaking of aluminum, the U.S. Department of Commerce last week made a preliminary determination in a countervailing duty investigation of Chinese aluminum foil, declaring that the products are unfairly benefiting from Chinese government subsidies. The decision was met with applause from the U.S. aluminum industry, particularly the Aluminum Association.

“The association and its foil-producing members are very pleased with the Commerce Department’s finding and we greatly appreciate Secretary Ross’s leadership in enforcing U.S. trade laws to combat unfair practices,” said Heidi Brock, President and CEO of the Aluminum Association, in a prepared statement.

What could come of the investigation? Duties as high as 81% could be slapped on Chinese aluminum foil.

In other investigations, the Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigations of steel and aluminum imports remain pending. The investigations don’t appear to be at the forefront of the Trump administration’s agenda right now. Furthermore, the deadlines for Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to present President Donald Trump with policy recommendations don’t hit until January.

Of course, things can change quickly — but, for now, a final ruling on trade policy regarding steel and aluminum imports possibly won’t materialize for a while.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

You can read about all of the above and much more in our August MMI report, which you can download below.

The Aluminum MMI inched two points higher in July, returning to 2015 levels.

The Aluminum MMI increase was driven by a  5% increase in Chinese primary aluminum. The LME price inched up by 1%, contrary to other base metals that have experienced higher price increases this month.

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Analysis of supply and demand might suggest quite a bullish outlook for aluminum. According to a recent Hydro aluminum quarterly report, global primary aluminum production through Q2 of this year saw a .492 million metric ton deficit. However this deficit needs to be weighed against increased Chinese aluminum smelting capacity of up to 2.39 million metric tons this year, according to a recent article in Hellenic Shipping News.

Thus, we could see an oversupply situation.

However, going back to an earlier article on aluminum price direction, as expected prices have stayed between the two limits of what is called a wedge formation. Aluminum prices have traded  in a sideways trend since April. As stated above, aluminum prices, contrary to other base metals, have not jumped in July.

Aluminum prices tried to climb but instead, retraced back again with heavy selling volume, which commonly signals price weakness.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

We would expect to see aluminum prices climb and remain in a bullish market.

The Gasoline-Aluminum Correlation

Buying organizations have told MetalMiner gasoline prices are correlated with aluminum prices.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets and Trading Economics

Analysis of the two charts together suggest indeed the general trends move in tandem. Aluminum prices rose at the end of 2016, as did gasoline prices. It should not come as a surprise to MetalMiner readers that the two prices are correlated.

MetalMiner carefully considers overall commodity price trends for individual metal market analyses, of which oil is an important element for commodity analysis. When oil — and, therefore, gasoline — prices go down, aluminum prices tend to follow the same trend.

The longer-term analysis of gasoline prices reveals a sideways trend, which began during the spring of 2016.  What did the trend for aluminum look like compared to gasoline for the same time period? It looks the same!

The conclusion: Gasoline prices and aluminum prices are correlated.

However, when looking at shorter time periods, the degree of the price movements may be dissimilar. One can see that in the chart below. Gasoline looks like a good barometer for longer term correlation with aluminum but less so for short-term fluctuations:

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Though it’s tempting to assume that the two-point MMI increase suggests a bullish outlook, we would like to see aluminum ingot prices break out of a sideways trend with increased trading volumes before claiming a bullish market.

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Actual Aluminum Prices and Trends

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Before we dive into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week in metals news:

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  • Our Stuart Burns started out the week with a piece on confirmation bias and how those in the media and metal-buying communities can sometimes let bias affect their interpretation of data.
  • What’s the diagnosis for the ailing U.K. steel industry? According to Burns, it’s a product of a lack of government support and global oversupply. A recent report showed that the U.K. steel industry has declined in monetary output value by 30% from 1990 to 2013.
  • In case you missed it, our July MMI report has long been in the books. You can download it here.
  • What did the recent G20 summit in Germany mean for India? Our Sohrab Darabshaw touched on the subject this week.
  • What’s up with oil prices? Unsurprisingly, as with the metal markets, prices are so low because there is just so much of the stuff out there. Burns dug deeper into oil price trends in a piece earlier this week.
  • What’s a Section 332? In short, it’s a fact-finding investigation by the United States International Trade Commission, which recently conducted a large-scale look into the competitive factors affecting the U.S. aluminum industry.
  • Another big story, the ongoing debate regarding a potential renegotiation of NAFTA, got an update this week when it was announced that the U.S., Canada and Mexico will come together for talks beginning Aug. 16.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

After sustaining a one-point drop last month, the Automotive MMI regained lost ground during the one-month period ending July 1. The Automotive MMI — our sub-index of industrial metals and materials used by the automotive sector — increased by one point, from 86 to 87, via a 1.1% boost.

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Although the increase was small, the one-point jump is an encouraging sign, as it marked the first increase for the sub-index since early this year, when it jumped from 82 to the February reading of 92. After that 92 mark, the sub-index posted four straight months of decreases.

Overall, U.S. auto sales continue to drop after a record 2016. Auto sales to the midway point of the year were down 2.1% compared with the same point last year, according to Autodata Corp data released earlier this week. Standard passenger cars took a nosedive in the year to date, with an 11.4% drop in sales (from 3.64 million units to 3.22 million).

However, the news isn’t all bad. Consumers have taken a liking to trucks this year — trucks have seen a 4.6% increase in sales in the year to date (compared to the same point last year).

In the year to date, General Motors (GM) sales fell 1.8% (but leads the way with nearly 1.44 million units sold in the calendar year to date), Ford‘s fell by 3.8% and Fiat Chrysler fell by 6.7%.

On the positive end, Nissan sales were up 2.7%, Volkswagen sales were up 7.6% and Mitsubishi sales were up 5.1%. As for Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, sales were up 42.7% after a jump from 16,500 units sold to 23,550 units sold in 2017 to date.

Meanwhile, growth in Chinese auto sales is slowing, partially due to lower tax breaks for compact cars, according to the Nikkei Asian review.

GM, however, reported a strong June, according to a Reuters report Wednesday. After two consecutive months of sales drops, GM reported a 4.3% sales increase in June compared with June 2016, according to the report. However, GM’s year-to-date sales are down 2.5%.

Total vehicle sales from January-May are up 3.7%, according to Reuters, lower than the anticipated 5% growth predicted by the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The Political Backdrop: Section 232

The Trump administration was expected to announced the result of its Section 232 investigation of steel imports late last week. That announcement never came, but many in the U.S. steel industry expect the administration to introduce tariffs or quotas in an attempt to strike at Chinese excess capacity.

Those policies would lead to domestic steel producers to raise prices, which would, of course, have an effect on automobile prices.

President Trump is headed to Germany this week for a Group of 20 (G20) summit, where Section 232 is likely to come up.

Whatever the administration ultimately decides, the steel and aluminum industries — and by proxy, the automotive industry — are watching closely.

Actual Metal Prices

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The Rare Earths MMI inched one point higher, reaching 22 points in July. This sub-index increased almost 5% from the previous reading.

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Rare earth prices have continued their uptrend that began in March.

Samarium oxide rose by 8.5%, while terbium oxide increased by 5.9%. Meanwhile, the dysprosium oxide price continued to fall slightly, posting a price drop for the second straight month. 

What’s Going On in the Background?

China currently produces around 85% of rare earth metals. Supply is, therefore, restricted to Chinese production and environmental policies.

With growing demand due to the investment in renewable sectors, such as electric cars and wind turbines, investment in rare-earth metal production remains critical.  

South Africa could play a strategic role in rare-earth metals supply.  The Steenkampskraal mine claims to have the highest grades of rare-earth elements in the world. Moreover, the mine had previously been in operation between 1952-1963, according to its website, and appears to be putting in place all of the equipment and permits needed to bring the mine to production. Rising prices will help. Nevertheless, China remains the global price setter for rare earths. 

In addition to South African rare-earth production, Canada’s Mkango Resources confirmed its  plans to start mining from its Songwe Hill mine in Malawi within three years.

By 2021, the mine will produce about 3,000 tons per year of rare earths. The mine will produce  1,000 tons of praseodymium, neodymium, dysprosium and terbium, according to a recent Reuters article.

The Mountain Pass mine, located in California, is struggling to reopen due to a long-running fight between distressed debt investors. Since Molycorp filed for bankruptcy, due to spending on an experimental ore-processing system, its mine has been caught between the feuding creditors.

The court process remains in its early stages— depending on the outcome, Molycorp could lose its rights to run this mine.

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What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Rare-earth metals seems to show signs of a bullish narrative. However, dysprosium oxide finished June weaker than it finished May, which potentially points to a good opportunity to buy.

Actual Rare Earth Metals Prices and Trends

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An article this week in Bloomberg catches the eye with a title announcing “hard-to-believe” steel shortages in China.

After years of excess supply, over-capacity and atrocious levels of resulting pollution, it would be a bit much to hear the country was short of steel — but that is what Fortescue’s CEO Nev Power is quoted as saying in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Beijing on Monday.

The gist of his claims? Closures of induction furnaces are creating a shortage of rebar, not because market demand is strong but because supply has become constrained, Power explained.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Actually, the story is not a new one.

Read more

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Our Raw Steels sub-index score dropped by 10% from March to April, partially a result of slumping prices in China.

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That score experienced a bit of a comeback for our June reading, rising to 68 from the May reading of 66.

This time around, Chinese steels posted price increases, providing a boost after a tepid April. Chinese slab steel prices rose by 20.1% and billet steel also experienced a major bump, rising by 15.2%.

In the U.S., shredded scrap steel prices stabilized after a 7.1% drop the previous month. Shredded scrap’s June price point is the metal’s second-highest of 2017.

U.S. Steel Prices: Going Up or Down?

As we’ve previously reported, Chinese and U.S. steel price divergences usually mean one will have to move to close the gap.

So, what does that mean for U.S. steel prices?

As we noted previously, U.S. steel prices rose as Chinese prices dropped by 20%, leaving a widening price spread. Ultimately, the former may have to pull back price momentum.

And, given data in 2017 to date, a price drop for U.S. hot-rolled coil (HRC) and shredded scrap would not be surprising. The former has posted price drops every month this year, while the latter has shifted back and forth on either side of a $300/short ton baseline.

President Donald Trump and his administration’s ongoing national security probe into U.S. steel imports will continue to be something to monitor. The administration’s actions with respect to the investigation, if any, would have effects on steel prices and the interplay between U.S. and Chinese prices, in particular.

Actual Metal Prices

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The Construction MMI, tracking metals and raw materials used within the construction industry, bounced back up to 81 for our June reading after notching a 79 for May.

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Construction continues to trend positively, as evidenced by the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

For the most recently available statistics for the month of April, total construction spending dipped from March to April, but April spending exceeded the April 2016 total by 6.7%. The Census Bureau estimates approximately $1,218.5 billion in April spending, a 1.4% decline from $1,235.5 billion in March.

Total spending (public and private) through the first four months of 2017 outpaced that of the same time frame in 2016, with $359.5 billion in spending this year, a 5.8% increase from last year. Spending on residential construction in April 2017 was up by 15.6% from April 2016. Spending on commercial and office spaces was up by 12.4%, in each case, from April 2016.

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), put out by the American Institute of Architects, painted a similar picture. The most recent ABI report for April notes that architecture firm billings increased for the third month in a row.

With a score of 50 as a midpoint (meaning no decrease or increase), the South and Midwest regions of the U.S. came in strongest, with scores of 55.3 and 53.3, respectively. The West and Northeast regions also posted increases, with scores of 50.9 and 50.7, respectively.

U.S. Scrap Fights Way Over $300 Mark

In the United States, shredded scrap steel again surpassed $300/short ton after dipping under last month. The price for scrap saw a 1% increase. (For the exact prices in this story, log in or sign up below.)

On the bright side for buyers, steel bar fuel surcharges decreased across the U.S.

In the Gulf Coast, fuel surcharges dropped 2.8%. Midwest prices fell by 1.3%. Over in the Rocky Mountain region, prices settled in after a .07% drop on the month.

President Donald Trump’s administration’s investigation into U.S. steel imports — and any resulting policy effects of that investigation — will be something to monitor through the rest of the year and possibly into next year.

Chinese Steel Prices Get a Jolt

While many expect growth to slow in China in the second half of 2017, prices for rebar and H-beam steel increased significantly, bouncing back after a sharp drop in April.

Th rebar price spiked by about 9.5%. H-beam steel had a similarly large boost, rising by 7.6%.

Chinese aluminum bars dropped by 1.1%. Iron ore prices also rose by 1.1%.

European Aluminum Sheets in Neutral

In Europe, commercial 1050 aluminum sheets held steady, with prices ticking up by .02%.

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Here are the Exact Prices of Those Movers and Shakers

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