Minor Metals

A recent study by SNL Metals & Mining reported that delays in the US mine permitting process diminish the value of minerals and mining projects – underscoring a need for a streamlined permitting process.

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The study, “Permitting, Economic Value and Mining in the United States,” commissioned by the National Mining Association, found that duplicative permitting processes can delay mining projects a decade or longer and those processes, both federal and state, are hindering US mining industry’s ability to meet a rising demand for minerals.

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It can take three to five times as long to receive a mining permit in the US than in Canada or Australia. Source: NMA/Minerals Make Life.

Some mining projects lost as much as half of their value while awaiting state or federal approval. Three domestic mines in Arizona, Alaska and Minnesota served as case studies for the research. In one example, SNL found that after eight years of delay the value of Arizona’s Rosemont mine dropped by $3 billion. Alaska’s Kensington mine suffered 20 years of mining delays, while the capital cost of building the mine increased by 49%.

Where Have Exploration Dollars Gone?

“Why aren’t we attracting the exploration dollars we should be? Back in the mid-’90s we attracted about 20% of the worldwide exploration budget for mining. Now, it’s only about 7% and I do think it’s this delay on the return on investment that makes a big difference,” said Katie Sweeney, senior vice president, legal affairs, and general counsel at the NMA. “Are you going to put your money in Australia where you can get a permit in a couple of years or here where it’s 7 to 10? The process is definitely broken.”

The study details a veritable alphabet soup of permitting processes in all three states as well as the federal process. It quantifies incremental, production and additional risk. There is a comparison with the processes in Australia and nearby Canada in the report as well, one that’s not favorable to the US as both clock in with an average permit time of two years compared to seven or more for US projects.

The timeline for the government to respond is more clearly outlined in those countries, the permitting agency leading the process is identified from the outset and responsibility for preparing a well-structured environmental review is given to the mining company, not the government. In the US not only is a primary permitting agency not defined, but several groups with competing interests could be lining up for review.

New Legislation

There are bills pending in both the US House and Senate to streamline federal processes.

“On the House side we should see the bill move through. It’s passed the lower chamber the last two congresses so I would anticipate it will get through this congress as well,” Caswell said. “On the Senate side we think there is more opportunity than in previous congresses. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R. Alaska) is a champion of this bill and with her in position as Chairman of the Energy and Resources Committee, she has more opportunity to promote moving this bill forward. When she held the last hearing on this bill there seemed to be wide support among the committee members present. We are hopeful of making progress in the Senate this time.”

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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."

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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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President Obama and congressional republicans won a battle for trade authority in congress and a major rare earths restructured and sought bankruptcy protection.

Trade Promotion Authority Passes Senate

The US Senate voted Wednesday to give President Barack Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals—one of the final steps in a long political battle that pitted the White House against House Democrats in a battle over trade authority for the president. Fast track means deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will be debated later this year, must be given an up or down vote by the Senate.

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The bill—which passed 60-38 in the Senate—will be sent to the president’s desk. Separate bills to provide assistance to American workers displaced by trade deals, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, and to provide tougher anti-dumping enforcement protections from US Customs and Border Protection, particularly for the steel industry, are expected to follow and possibly be signed by the president simultaneously.

Molycorp Files for Chapter 11

Molycorp, Inc. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today.

The only US miner and producer of rare-earth elements—15 elements used in magnets, batteries, catalytic converters and other high-tech products—said it had secured an agreement with creditors to restructure its $1.7 billion in debt. The deal also provides $225 million in new financing to continue operations.

Molycorp and 20 subsidiaries filed chapter 11 petitions in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del. The company said it expects to exit chapter 11 before the end of 2015. The restructuring support agreement is with creditors that hold over 70% of the aggregate principal amount of the company’s 10% senior secured notes.

The Company’s operations outside of North America, with the exception of non-operating companies in Luxembourg and Barbados, are excluded from the filings. Molycorp Rare Metals (Oklahoma), LLC, with operations in Quapaw, Oklahoma, also is excluded from the filings as it is not 100% owned by the Company.

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Want a short-term buying strategy for zinc? Check out our FREE June Buying Outlook report!

Top Market Drivers

1. Dollar to Euro exchange rate.
2. Global production.
3. Global capacity utilization.
4. Automotive production Europe/NA/China.
5. Chinese lead prices.

Market Commentary

Not surprisingly, lead has also fallen this past month on the back of a stronger dollar. In fact, lead fell below MetalMiner’s May short-term support level of $2,000/metric ton. Market sentiment also appears weak.
According to Shanghai Metals Market, of 10 secondary Chinese lead smelters surveyed on or about May 29, only one producer forecasted rising prices, three forecasted declining prices and the balance came in neutral.
And though Q1 2015 global lead mine output dropped 0.9% from the same quarter in 2014, world usage declined by 2.7%, according to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group. Moreover, the supply/demand balance appears largely in harmony. In other words, the world could see a small deficit of 17,000 metric tons, but provisional data from ILZSG
suggests that supply outpaced demand.
The fundamentals do not support or suggest any imminent lead shortage to give prices
a boost.

The Outlook

Three-month lead closed the month of May at $1,952/mt, down about 8% from last month. We warned readers last month of a short-term pullback that did indeed materialize. And though lead had a strong price rally in April, the dollar’s ascent in May pushed lead prices lower. As with the other base metals, price risk remains to the downside.

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The iron ore price recovery looks like it’ll be short-lived and half of the board of an Australian uranium miner quit after their partner company refused to expand.

Chinese Steel Slump

A slump in Chinese demand for steel has poured cold water on a rally in iron ore, with prices for the raw material likely to drop over the rest of the year, traders and analysts said.

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Dwindling stocks at China’s ports suggested tighter supply in a market that had been hit hard by plentiful or, but Goldman Sachs is predicting prices will fall back below $50 a metric ton as lack of demand persists in China.

Half of ERA Board Quits

Half of the board members of Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), the operator of Northern Australia’s Ranger uranium mine, have announced their resignations amid uncertainty over the mine’s future.

Three members remain on the board after ERA chairman Peter McMahon and independent non-executive directors Helen Garnett and David Smith stepped down over the weekend. The board members said majority owner Rio Tinto Group‘s decision to abandon work on the mine’s expansion. They said the cancellation made it difficult for the company to pursue its goals. ERA’s stock has plunged more than 70% since it said, June 12, that it would not proceed with the final development study for the Ranger 3 Deeps uranium project due to low prices.

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Molycorp missed another payment this week and the House passed fast-track trade approval which now moves on to the debate in the Senate.

Molycorp Restructuring

Molycorp Inc., the Greenwood Village Colo.-based miner of rare earth elements is skipping its second loan payment in two weeks.

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Molycorp officials on Monday said they would take advantage of a 30-day grace period on a $3.36 million semi-annual interest payment related to 3.25% senior unsecured convertible notes that are due in 2016. The move, company officials say, will not trigger any cross-defaults on its other loans.

The company will use the grace period to continue evaluating debt restructuring options, the company said in a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Fast-Track Trade Bill Advances

The House on Thursday took the first step toward reviving the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats voting for it. This is the second time in a week the House has voted to approve a fast-track bill. On Friday, the House voted 219-211 in favor of fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.

In last week’s vote, though, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.

House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups. The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama’s desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would move the two bills separately.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its producer price index (PPI) for May. An analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America showed that steel mill product prices were down 2% for the month and 11% over the previous year.

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AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson wrote that goods such as steel and concrete constitute 60% of the index (including 7% for energy); services, 40% (trade services, 25%; transportation and warehousing services, 4%; other services, 10%). The overall PPI for inputs to construction increased 0.6% from April to May. The index for energy soared 12% for the month, outweighing declines of 0.2% in the index for goods less food and energy and 0.1% in the services PPI.

The PPI for all goods used in construction declined 3% over the last 12 months. Materials important to construction that had notable one- or 12-month price changes include diesel, up 11% for the month but still down 36% over 12 months. The aforementioned steel mill products fell -2% and -11%, respectively. Steel pipe and tube were down -1.9% for the month and -9.2% for the year. Copper and brass mill shape prices were up 3.7% in May but still -3.7% for the year. Fabricated structural metal bar joists and rebar prices were up .3% and 1.3% for the last 12 months.

What this Means for Metal Buyers

Energy prices are still rising, changing the cost calculations for construction projects, yet construction materials prices remain low, allowing estimators to reduce costs.

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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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MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_June-2015_FNLRemember that bounce we saw in most of the metal prices we track last month? Annnnd it’s gone.

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The bearish environment our metals are up against resumed this month as the strong dollar erased nearly all of the gains from May. There were some positive outliers, though, with construction showing growth just as the summer building season begins in the US and the Global Precious Metals MMI was able to hold onto its May gains.

Check out the June MMI Report to get details on the fundamentals of all of the markets we track.















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Engineers have produced a new nickel, copper and titanium “memory” alloy that that springs back into shape even after it is bent more than 10 million times.

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The journal Science reported that the new shape memory alloy shatters previous records for bending and is so resilient it could be useful in artificial heart valves, aircraft components or a new generation of solid-state refrigerators.

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Shape memory alloy photo courtesy of Rodrigo De Miranda/University of Kiel.

shape memory alloys (SMAs) are already used in surgical operations and other applications. A stent, for example, might be squashed into a small space and then spring into its designed shape to prop open a blood vessel.

When SMAs are bent or otherwise structurally deformed, the stress (in the form of heat or electrical current) causes the SMA to spring back to its original design.

Yet, as a technology, the alloys have never entirely fulfilled their promise and entered the world of “high-cycle fatigue” applications.

“Usually shape memory alloys – like in minimally invasive surgery – they regain their shape once, or a few times, but not multiple times,” said Prof. Manfred Wuttig who developed the new alloy at the University of Kiel along, in Germany, along with colleagues from the University of Maryland. He is one of the paper’s senior authors and told the BBC. “This is highly unusual. It’s kind of a leap forward.”

The nickel, titanium and copper atoms are arranged in such a way that they can switch between two different configurations. This “phase transition” is what allows the alloy to snap back into shape after it has been bent. It can be triggered by heat, the metal can stay in a bent position when cold, or, in a different form of the alloy, it can happen as soon as tension is released.

The researchers’ paper in Science describes how, by embedding tiny impurity particles made from titanium-copper, SMAs can withstand deformation and re-formation up to 10 million times. This could open up SMAs for use in such high-cycle applications as refrigerator compressors and aircraft parts as well as more delicate surgical uses.

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