MetalMiner IndX

Weak demand, a flood of Chinese exports and robust Western supply, in spite of earlier smelter closures, have created a perfect storm of surplus in the aluminum market.

Aluminum_Chart_July-2015_FNL

Shares of Alcoa Inc. stock have been collapsing over the past few months, falling more than 20% in only 8 weeks.

Alcoa's Slide

The aluminum giant, with earnings ahead on Wednesday, has experienced powerful earnings growth over the past four quarters; however, lower aluminum prices are weighing on its stock price.

[caption id="attachment_71232" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Alcoa Inc (AA) Stock Price 2 years out Alcoa, Inc. (AA) Stock Price 2 years out. Chart: MetalMiner.[/caption]

It should come as no surprise that the monthly Aluminum MMI® registered a value of 83 in July, a decrease of 3.5% from 86 in June.

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World aluminum production in May is up almost 12% year-on-year. That is the fastest growth rate since 2011.

LME Price Falling

Aluminum on the London Metal Exchange is back again below $1,700 per metric ton. This level acted as a floor in March 2014 and Alcoa investors are wondering if aluminum prices will rebound again this time, which would give a boost to Alcoa's shares.

Unfortunately aluminum prices might need to fall further in order to cause further non-Chinese closures to balance the market. Furthermore, the Chinese stock market is having a rough go of it. The Shanghai index is off over 30% from highs reached in June. Finally, the fact that commodity prices keep falling across the board makes a rebound in aluminum prices more unlikely. Aluminum buyers and Alcoa investors might want to think twice before betting on a rebound in prices...

The Aluminum MMI® collects and weights 12 global aluminum price points to provide a unique view into aluminum price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Aluminum MMI®, how it's calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Through half of 2015, US auto sales are on track to hit record levels not seen in 15 years. After climbing more than 4% through July annual sales could approach the previous annual record of 17.4 million if they stay on this pace.

Yet, none of that demand seems to be helping automotive metal prices.

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As robust as the US automotive market is, it can't entirely make up for sluggish sales elsewhere that are depressing demand for metals such as steel, aluminum and copper and pushing our index further down. Even the exhaust system metals, platinum and palladium, saw a deep dive this month.

Chinese New Car Sales Barely Growing

New car sales grew just 1.2% in China this May. Further complicating matters, is the fact that the nation of 1.37 billion is starting to develop a used car market and it's looking very much like Chinese consumers like paying less for a used car, rather than paying more for a new one. What a shock?

This is, of course, bad news for raw materials suppliers as the massive Chinese auto market only recently transitioned to automobiles being the main form of transportation. Less-metals intensive bicycles and motorbikes had filled that role until recently.

Chinese steel and aluminum manufacturers had been counting on more robust growth from the domestic new car market and a strong used market could stunt the advances many were planning to reap from new car sales.

Bearish Market Hits Home

The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 82 in July, a decrease of 3.5% from 85 in June.

Automotive_Chart_July-2015_FNL

As we have documented liberally, the strong US dollar has created a bearish environment for all metals and automotive inputs are no exception. The steep fall observed this month in palladium, a metal that had previously held our automotive index up, was an example of just how much the bearish market is affecting even metals with strong demand. Palladium hit a two-year low this month and the bottom, subsequently, fell out of an already listing price index.

Copper, zinc and lead also fell significantly.

What This Means for Automotive Metal Buyers

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The drama surrounding Greece's debt is compounding the bear market and, while it hasn't yet caused strong currencies such as the dollar to see significant gains, its potential to do so threatens all commodities.
This September: SMU Steel Summit 2015

The Automotive MMI® collects and weights 7 metal price points used in automotive production to provide a unique view into automotive metal trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Automotive MMI® constituent metals and their exact price movements, log in or register below!

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The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 73 in July, a decrease of 2.7% from 75 in June.

Copper_Chart_July-2015_FNL

Copper suspiciously rallied in the first quarter, gaining almost 20% from trough to peak.

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However, copper prices fell again in May and June and those previous gains have almost vanished. The copper rally was always suspect at best.

Chinese Construction Feeding the Bear

The bearish commodity market is definitely not encouraging investors to pour money into copper. Another big factor that doesn't help to lure investors into copper is weak Chinese demand for the metal. The latest Chinese numbers show poor demand from key sectors:

  • In the first five months of current year, real estate development firms purchased 76.50 million square meters of land, a year-over-year (YoY) decline of 31%. The floor space of completed buildings declined 13.3% YoY as of May. Finally, Chinese real estate firms have started construction on only 503 million square meters as of May, falling 16% YoY.
  • A lower growth rate in China's automobile sector also hits copper's demand. China’s passenger car sales only grew by a mere 1.2% YoY in May, sliding 3.6% from the previous month.

Meanwhile in May, China produced 0.65 million tons of refined copper, a 6% YoY increase.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

The latest figures don't give investors reason to think that copper's fundamentals are set to tighten up and, overall, the market sentiment on commodities is bearish. We shouldn't expect copper to make significant upside moves.

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This September: SMU Steel Summit 2015

The Copper MMI® collects and weights 12 global copper metal price points to provide a unique view into copper price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Copper MMI®, how it's calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Our construction metals index fell slightly this month despite strong US housing demand and generally good employment numbers.

The monthly Construction MMI® registered a value of 74 in July, a decrease of 1.3% from 75 in June.

Construction_Chart_July_2015_FNL

The drop was mainly driven by hefty price hits to Chinese rebar and H-beam steel – yet the dip was spared from going lower by a more than 10% spike in the US shredded scrap price.

The construction sector neither lost nor gained jobs in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Commerce Department said permits to build new homes surged 12% in April to an annual rate of 1.275 million, the highest since August 2007. Permits for apartment construction were the breakout leader, while permits for single-family homes, a much broader segment, still rose modestly.

Homebuilders Bullish

Confidence among US homebuilders, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders’ index, rose to its highest level in 9 months in June, so all signs point to a strong building season domestically.

Meanwhile, the developing world isn't exactly holding its part of the construction spending deal up. A recent World Bank report detailed how China's state-run banking sector is creating debt while not delivering on the construction stimulus promises Beijing has made. With Brazil still mired in recession and Russian construction limited to heavy pipeline work, the BRICS countries are not developing at the rates they earlier envisioned.

Oil & Gas Demand Up

Demand for oil and gas products such as steel tubes has rebounded domestically as the US passed Russia this month as the world's top natural gas producer. Baker Hughes reported that the rig count for US oil producers increased for the first time this year, despite massive output by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries trying to undercut US producers' prices. It was the first weekly increase in 30 weeks.

Actual Construction Material Prices

Construction purchasing remains on the cusp of what could be a breakout, but both lending and a shortage of skilled labor remain major concerns.

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The price of Chinese rebar fell 7.4% to $341.39 per metric ton. At $368.77 per metric ton, Chinese H-beam steel was down 6.9% for the month. Weekly US Midwest bar fuel surcharge prices fell 4.6% to $0.30 per mile after rising the previous month. After rising the previous month, weekly US Gulf Coast bar fuel surcharge prices dropped 4.3% to $0.30 per mile. A 3.8% drop over the past month left Chinese aluminum bar at $2,134 per metric ton. Weekly US Rocky Mountain bar fuel surcharge prices fell 3.6% to $0.31 per mile after rising the previous month. After rising the previous month, European 1050 aluminum prices dropped 0.4% to $2,907 per metric ton.

The price of US shredded scrap rose 10.2% over the past month to $280.00 per short ton.

Last month was consistent for the Chinese low price of 62% Australian iron ore fines, which did not move from $77.30 per dry metric ton.

This September: SMU Steel Summit 2015

The Construction MMI® collects and weights 9 metal price points used within the construction industry to provide a unique view into construction industry price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Construction MMI®, how it's calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Yesterday, the only US-based rare earths miner — Greenwood, Colo.-based Molycorp, Inc. — filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of a reorganization of the company's debt.

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This has been expected since Molycorp missed a debt payment early this month. In a statement, Molycorp President and CEO Geoff Bedford said, "The actions we have taken today are important steps toward achieving a restructuring of our $1.7 billion debt with our major creditor constituencies. In doing so, the company expects to exit Chapter 11 with an appropriate financing framework to support our business going forward."

Rare-Earths_Chart_June-2015_FNL

We have documented the long stock price slide Molycorp has experienced and how many manufacturers have simply found substitutions for the light rare earths they offer. As with any bankruptcy, Molycorp's shares will be removed from the New York Stock Exchange and move to the OTC pink sheets.

While it's difficult to say if Molycorp will be able to emerge as quickly as Bedford's prediction, it will take recovery in the overall rare earths market for it to succeed. Our MetalMiner Indx has documented a steady slide in rare earths prices over the last two years.

What This Means for Rare Earths Buyers

China eliminating quotas and opening its rare earth products up to foreign markets is depressing prices overall. Right now rare earths are in surplus and less production or greater demand will be necessary to bring prices back to 2011 levels.

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The Rare Earths MMI® collects and weights 14 global rare earth metal price points to provide a unique view into rare earth metal price trends. For more information on the Rare Earths MMI®, how it's calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Silicon is essentially sand. But for use in semiconductors and solar panels it needs to be refined to a purity of 99.99999 %. This makes the second-most abundant resource in the world a commodity as its availability is limited by worldwide refining capacity.

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We have long lamented the trade war going on over refined silicon over the last few years. Big companies such as German-based multinational Solarworld, Inc., want higher prices, saying their panels are of higher quality than those offered by smaller, mostly Chinese, producers.

US Factory Capacity Increasing

Installers in US markets are reaping a windfall by using the cheaper panels for installations that are subsidized by states such as California and the low cost of the cheap imports. While it was kind of funny to see Solarworld wrap itself in the flag when it successfully petitioned the Commerce Dept. for tariffs on Chinese panels, and then Chinese silicon, itself, Solarworld has simultaneously stepped up its US presence and seems to be willing to fight for the US market.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk's SolarCity, an entirely American-owned operation, is building a massive $5 billion
"gigafactory" in Buffalo, NY. When the silicon solar panel factory is completed and running full-tilt (projections within two years), it will be the biggest solar panel plant in North America. To run at full speed, the plant will need an elaborate network of suppliers and service firms to support it.

Is Domestic Demand There Yet?

Is there enough solar demand for companies like SolarCity and SolarWorld to get their prices increases AND see sales grow? A significant price spike in silicon in the renewables MMI this week is certainly a step in the right direction. The tariffs placed on Chinese panels and silicon seem to be having the desired effect, as well. The European Union renewed similar duties this week, essentially stifling Chinese exports to the West with high tariffs in both markets.

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As reported last month, the European Commission had not released the provisional dumping margins on US GOES producers along with producers from Russia, China, Japan and Korea. However, those provisional duties have since been released ranging from 21.6% to 35.9%.

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Eurofer, the European Steel Association subsequently released a second press release on May 28, defending the European steel producers against a backlash of criticism from manufacturers and buying organizations. And whether or not you “buy” the Eurofer arguments supporting the claims, we have direct evidence here in the US of what happens when buying organizations face higher prices – they adjust their supply chains!

Manufacturers Moving

In the US case, these electrical power equipment manufacturers moved their operations to more favorable manufacturing locations (e.g. Mexico and Canada). Check out the latest import data from Zepol in terms of the growth of that market:

[caption id="attachment_70218" align="aligncenter" width="550"]GOES_chart_060115 Source: Zepol[/caption]

Regardless, trade cases remain the headline story for grain-oriented electrical steel.

New Anti-Dumping Allegations

Six US steel producers filed an anti-dumping case against China and other countries for galvanized, aluminized and galvalume products as well as pre-painted steels. And though this case does not include GOES, the flood of steel imports has everybody screaming anti-dumping.

Nobody doubts the world faces a glut of steel. Of course the grain-oriented electrical steel market behaves differently from other steel markets where some segments of the GOES market remain in an over-supply situation and the high performance end of the market faces a global supply squeeze.

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And therein lies the rub – domestic M3 prices have dropped from last month.

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The monthly Stainless MMI® registered a value of 73 in June, a decrease of 3.9% from 76 in May.

Stainless_Chart_June-2015_FNL

After a small price increase in April, nickel prices fell again in May. Prices are now trading near their lowest levels in six years. Meanwhile, nickel inventories jumped to a fresh highs, accentuating an overhead of supply and cutting expectations of the bulls that expected a deficit to develop.

Demand Cannot Outstrip Supply

Although stainless demand is expected to grow moderately, service centers have plenty of inventory and that is putting pressure on US mills. Moreover, a stronger dollar last month sent most base metal prices down, including nickel.

Aluminum is one metal showing similar behavior. The demand outlook for both metals was quite optimistic. That brought bulls in to support prices from falling. However, the bearish commodity market (there's a serious lack of demand) and a strong dollar made these two metals give up all their gains from 2014.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

It's not that stainless demand is weak, it's just far from being strong enough to overcome the excess of inventory, increased imports and a strong dollar. While the macro picture stays the same, expect prices to remain range-bound at best.

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The red metal met the Red Cross earlier this week in the kickoff post of our series on health-acquired infections (HAI) and copper's role in the war against them – but what hospital procurement officers and facilities management departments may want to know is, what's up with the copper price?

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First step in the multi-step program of "What's Up With the Copper Price?" is a look back at where prices have been: MetalMiner's monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 75 in June, a decrease of 2.6% from 77 in May.

Copper_Chart_June-2015_FNL

The index decline was driven mainly by spot and 3-month London Metal Exchange prices, US copper producer grades 102 and 110, and Chinese copper wire.

What's Up With That?

Second step in the multi-step program of "What's Up With the Copper Price?" is knowing some of the underlying fundamentals that may have to do with its shift. For that, we turn to MetalMiner Editor-at-large Stuart Burns, who writes that:

"Analysts expect China’s copper demand to grow by 4% this year, yet that figure is based on considerable use in power grid investment and assumes government spending plans will be met. Power grid investment actually fell by 8.65% in April, according to the FT, and in the first four months of this year China completed Rmb86.6bn of grid investment, only 20% of the planned amount for the year.

Investors agree with the pessimistic outlook cutting their net long positions in copper, joining Chinese speculators who have been betting against copper all year.

A CNBC report says recent weakness is due to weak premiums, high scrap discounts and a failure of the seasonally strongest quarter for copper to translate into solid demand. China’s factories are now approaching a summer slow-down and with it lower metal consumption."

Outside China, there's always Mongolia – and the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, from which Rio Tinto's recent bullishness is born. According to the FT, "Rio Tinto recently forecast that copper prices will recover faster than expected with demand outstripping supply within two years. This bullish forecast comes as the Anglo-Australian miner steps up talks in May with the Mongolian government aimed at finalizing a deal on a $6 billion expansion at Oyu Tolgoi, which had been stalled for months. The lack of new copper projects in the pipeline could result in a market deficit earlier than expected," the paper indicates, "but even if Rio Tinto was right, 2 years is still a long period of time where we could see further price declines."

What's Up With the Market?

For the third step in the multi-step program of "What's Up With the Copper Price?", we cast our focus onto the future by turning to our metals procurement specialist, Raul de Frutos:

"Copper prices have been rallying since February and, in the short term, they could continue doing so. For the short term, consider placing orders now for known demand. Don’t buy long-term forward, as copper is in a bearish market and we expect prices to lose steam soon and come back to lower levels."

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The renewables market lost ground again this month, going from being an unspectacular but steady market to just an unspectacular one. It's even now from the range it had been hovering in since last November.

Renewables_Chart_June-2015_FNL

The monthly Renewables MMI® registered a value of 58 in June, a decrease of 3.3% from 60 in May.

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What's concerning is that while we certainly didn't expect renewables to break out and hit new highs this year, they've actually lost significant ground compared to late 2014 when the range hovered between 60 and 70. 58 is a new all-time low. We can only chalk this drop up to more incentives for end-use products using silicon in the solar market and the overall weakness in the rare earths market for neodymium.

In California this month, a state cap-and-trade program is now giving away crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels to low-income homeowners. While this will certainly help adoption, it won't do any favors to companies such as SolarWorld, Inc. which are trying to bring prices of the panels, and silicon itself, up to achieve higher profit margins.

Silicon will also inevitably feel the pinch from a wave of mergers in the semiconductor industry that will force the involved companies to adopt better procurement and lean operations principles.

The more interesting renewable market is that of grain-oriented electrical steel. While the US GOES price actually went up this month, the GOES M3 price, a much better indicator of actual purchasing activity, went down. More on that tomorrow.

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