Articles in Category: Minor Metals

In the coming years, India will be scouting around for strategic partnerships with multinational mining exploration companies to secure the supply of critical minerals for its defense and manufacturing programs.

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In the opinion of analysts, if the Indian government wants its much-vaunted “Make in India” campaign to be a real success, it has no choice but to do this. Over the coming years, India will need to strategically develop joint partnerships with existing global players to secure assured supply of critical minerals. Read more

Rare earths are hitting new price lows as major manufacturers continue to invest in new technologies to substitute them out due to price volatility. Iron ore is still oversupplied, but stockpiles are falling faster than expected.

Substitution is Hindering Rare Earths Demand

Reuters’ Andy Home recently wrote about how large manufacturers are finding substitutions for heavy rare earths in a gambit to avoid the boom and bust price cycles of the magnet and battery metals that previously disrupted their supply chains.

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Japanese automotive giant Honda and its technology partner Daido Steel recently announced a materials breakthrough in the electric motors used in hybrid vehicles. Starting with the next generation of “FREED” minivan due to go on sale later this year, Honda will be using a motor that doesn’t need heavy rare earth metals.

Specifically, it will be the world’s first hybrid engine, a gasoline and electric motor, to dispense with terbium and dysprosium.

“Major deposits of heavy rare earth elements are unevenly (distributed) around the world (…) thus, the use of heavy rare earth carries risks from the perspectives of stable procurement and material costs,” Honda said in a statement.

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A fairly innocuous sounding statement but one that cuts to the heart of the roller coaster history of the rare earths market.

Iron Ore Stockpiles Falling Fast

Iron ore’s wild price gyrations this year may be masking a small, but significant, shift in the underlying fundamentals for the steel-making ingredient. While seaborne iron ore remains a well-supplied market, it appears the level of over-supply has been diminishing faster than many expected, leading to an improvement in the supply-demand balance, Reuters’ Clyde Russell writes.

Six little letters have dominated the political and economic news cycle over the past month or so: BREXIT. While the long-term effects of Britain’s vote to exit the European Union won’t be felt for awhile, the surprising result has already roiled global markets, including commodities in general and metals specifically.

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Our biggest winner of the Monthly MMI series, the Global Precious Metals MMI, gained the most from June to July, primarily driven by gold prices (themselves driven by near-term investor moves over to safe-haven assets brought on by the Brexit vote).

MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_July2016_FNL-TOPVALUE100

Some have indirect Brexit connections, such as our Renewables MMI and the consequences of the U.K. announcing it won’t make E.U. 2020 climate reduction goals… which it won’t need to if it completes its exit before 2020 (likely). Others, like our GOES MMI, were not affected at all.

The value of the U.S. dollar, China’s import/export activity, and international trade cases (especially those in the ferrous realm should continue to be watched by industrial metal buyers during these dog days of summer. However, we wish our British colleagues well in these politically uncertain times and offer our recent webinar to help them navigate the newly choppy purchasing waters.

In early June, the Chinese government held an auction for nine types of rare-earth metals, but bids came in below the production costs of China’s six major, consolidated suppliers.

Rare-Earths_Chart_July-2016_FNL

This year, China plans to add about 20,000 metric tons to its rare earth stockpiles. The six major suppliers are to keep 5,000 mt at government-designated warehouses and Beijing is to purchase the other 15,000 mt from those same six suppliers.

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Beijing is hoping that the stockpiles will make prices rebound as, except for a few minor increases, rare earths have fallen for the entire year.

Our Rare Earths MMI fell another 6% this month and there is little reason to expect the important metals for batteries and magnets to escape the low range they’ve fluctuated in for the last two years. Dysprosium and neodymium both lost ground this month as demand has faltered for the motors and batteries both are used in. Yet, it wasn’t an entirely lost month for rare earths.

Scandium Exploration

Texas Mineral Resources signed a memorandum of understanding with an unnamed coal company in Pennsylvania to produce scandium and other rare earth byproducts from coal ash and tailings. Initial studies on the coal ash project there suggest modest capital expenditure would be required, along with profitability.

Scandium is used in fuel cells today but its future as an additive in high-strength aluminum is bright. We’ve already written about Airbus‘ experiments with it in both 3D-printing and generative design. If TMR’s scandium from coal ash experiment is successful, its plan to establish a new subsidiary titled Scandium America Corp. with the unnamed Pennsylvania Coal Company.

This won’t affect prices anytime soon. Scandium isn’t even a part of the Rare Earths MMI yet. However, it shows that manufacturing companies are demanding more and rarer metals snd companies are devoting significant resources to providing them.

India Sets Aside Rare Earth Blocs

India is also exploring more rare earths production. The nation recently issued new policy guidelines to encourage more private-sector exploration for the minerals that demarcates a total area of 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) where companies can search for rare earths, and introduce auctions for the right to explore for the deposits, according to Balvinder Kumar, the top bureaucrat in the nation’s Ministry of Mines.

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India has one of the world’s bigger reserves of rare earths and Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to cut the red tape involved with setting up new mines. The region to be earmarked for exploration includes states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, according to Kumar, with another 400 square kilometers set aside exclusively for state-run companies to search for uranium and thorium.

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In its future energy scenarios report, the U.K.’s network operator, the National Grid, said even its most optimistic scenario suggests it will miss the European Union’s15% energy consumption from renewable sources 2020 climate target for member-states by at least two years.

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“While we believe the electricity sector can achieve its contribution to the 2020 renewable target, we believe the progress required in the heat and transport sector is beyond what can be achieved on time. As a result, none of our scenarios achieve the 15% level by the 2020 date. Our (most optimistic) Gone Green scenario is the earliest to reach this, meeting the target by 2022,” the report stated.

Renewables_Chart_July-2016_FNL

Our Renewables MMI fell 2% to 53 this month as it still traded in the narrow range it has fluctuated in for much of the year, but the U.K.’s situation mirrors that of many industrialized nations and shows just how difficult it has been to reliably grow renewable energy markets without burning coal or natural gas as backups. Despite the best of intentions, the U.K. simply cannot make its 15% energy reduction targets and the Leave campaign took full advantage of that fact last month when it promised citizens that it would get an independent U.K. out of such deals. But can it? Really?

Can the UK Escape EU Climate Deals By Leaving?

Withdrawing from the E.U. will certainly give the U.K. an easier route on heat and transportation policies in the short-term. The island nation will no longer be obligated to hit the 15% reduction target for 2020 whether it actually leaves two years from now or later.

But when it comes to renewable electricity, long lead-times to build new wind and solar farms (particularly wind in the U.K.) mean most of the projects needed to hit the E.U.’s 30% reduction goal for 2030 have already been granted planning permits and government money has been spent on their contracts. In other words, the genie is out of the bottle for almost all of the U.K.’s 2020 goals and even for some of its 2030 goals. It’s going to be really hard to put that genie, economically, back in the bottle.

The U.K.’s Own Goals Are More Ambitious in the Long Term

There’s also the fact the U.K.’s own unilateral Climate Change Act actually imposes even tougher requirements for cutting carbon emissions. Under the Act, the U.K. must cut its carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050. Again, whoever is Prime Minister and in charge of the National Grid can push the 15% 2020 goal and even the 30% 2030 goal set by the E.U. further off, but that 80% 2050 goal will only hang more ominously over the U.K. like a figurative sword of Damocles if politicians decide to do that.

The 2008 Climate Change Act also requires the government to set legally binding “carbon budgets,” which have already been set up. A carbon budget is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.K. over a five-year period. The committee provides advice on the appropriate level of each carbon budget. The budgets are designed to reflect a cost-effective path to achieving the long-term objective of an 80% reduction by 2050. The first four carbon budgets have already been put into legislation and run through 2027.

Free Download: The June 2016 MMI Report

The early implementation of regulations makes it even more difficult for any future government to get out from under the U.K.’s own 2050 targets as utilities, local governments and the federal bureaucracy has already appropriated money to achieve its short-term goals. So, the possibility of a repeal of the 2008 Climate Change Act is highly unlikely, as well, although some are vocally advocating it just as they did Brexit when that idea was called “bonkers” and we all know how that turned out.

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Monthly Metal July_Final-220Read all about the implications of Brexit and other recent developments for metals markets in our July Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

Our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook allows you to receive short- and long-term buying strategies with specific price thresholds. If you would like to trial our metal price forecast, click below to get two free months of reports.

Happy Independence Day from all of us here at MetalMiner!

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With most metals markets closed, we’ll be spending the holiday with our families and hope you are all able to do the same.

Independence Day Fireworks

Fireworks that were made possible by metallic salts. Photo: Abode Stock/NinoG.

Fireworks and Metals

Remember that if it wasn’t for metallic salts, there wouldn’t be any fireworks. Strontium carbonate  is used to make red fireworks, calcium chloride  for orange fireworks, sodium nitrate for yellow fireworks, barium chloride for green fireworks and copper chloride for blue fireworks.

The MetalMiner monthly domestic GOES MMI reading continued its slide moving from 195 to 191 in its third consecutive month of declines against smaller import volumes, despite a higher domestic surcharge.

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Unlike U.S. steel pricing, the various global trade cases on grain-oriented electrical steel have had somewhat of a limited impact on global prices.

GOES_Chart_June_2016_FNL

The demand for certain types of steels has created shortages for some materials and surpluses for others and may help explain why the M3 price has drifted lower as opposed to moving higher (we’d expect to see rising U.S. prices in particular as a result of the closure of the Allegheny Technologies, Inc. GOES line).

Tex Reports suggests that prices have begun to rise in China because of the anti-dumping cases placing a squeeze on products coming from overseas mills, and, therefore, diverting them to other markets in the Middle East and India, with no price increases.

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The dynamics between the high-grade products and the standard/lower grade products have kept domestic spot M3 prices in check. Last month we reported that market participants thought M3 prices would flatten during the summer and then start slipping toward the end of the year. Indeed this appears to be happening but perhaps sooner than anticipated.

Datamyne_GOES_Chart_432_060816

Source: Datamyne

Meanwhile, the volume of imports of transformer parts has risen since a dip back in February of this year. This suggests to us that demand has held reasonably steady.

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A new $20-million U.S.-India Clean Energy Finance (USICEF) initiative will invest up to $400 million to provide clean and renewable electricity to up to 1 million households by 2020, the White House said this week during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Another $40-million U.S.-India Catalytic Solar Finance Program will provide financing for small-scale renewable energy investment. Modi’s visit is one of the last opportunities the Obama administration will have to pledge tax dollars to its green energy goals and the opportunity for solar development in India is, indeed, a ripe one.

Renewables_Chart_June-2016_FNL

Cumulative solar installations in India crossed the 7.5 gigawatt mark in May 2016. About 2.2 gw of new capacity has been installed so far this year and it is more than total solar capacity installed in 2015. India’s solar project pipeline has now surpassed 22 gw with 13 gw under construction and 9 gw in the request for proposal process.

India’s Solar Mission

This is all part of Modi’s long-term plan to have 100 gw of solar capacity powering India by 2022. The investments by the Obama administration are also a goodwill gesture that’s designed to get U.S.-based solar panel companies and multinationals with a large presence in the U.S. specified as providers in India’s massive solar park projects. Both governments have been trying to iron out differences that earlier came to a head with the U.S. winning a WTO dispute panel.

The Renewables MMI fell 1.8% this month to 54 from 55 in May. It was one of many slight movements in a tight range for the sub-index that’s not shown much prince movement since September of 2015. The steel metals in the sub-index were also affected by the wild swings between U.S. and foreign steel prices, too.

It doesn’t seem like the pattern of a slow price decline interrupted only sporadically by small periods if increase will change much in the rest of year. Just like it didn’t in the previous three.

Compare Prices With The May 2016 MMI Report

As such, investments such as those being made in India will still take years to come to fruition and the markets for solar silicon, neodymium and pretty much everything but the steel components of wind turbines and solar panels will remain niche markets for the foreseeable future.

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Stockpiling of rare earths by China’s six largest producers has pushed up prices over the past two months.

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Following the completion of the first stage of a national inventory-filling effort in mid-April, China’s rare earths prices have seen increases almost across the board. This stockpiling comes as China prepares to finalize consolidation of its industry under six large state-owned firms — Chinalco, Northern Rare Earth, Xiamen Tungsten, China Minmetals, Southern Rare Earth and Guangdong Rare Earth — by the end of this month.

Rare-Earths_Chart_June-2016_FNL

It’s a time of both stockpiling and tightening in the People’s Republic, the world’s largest producer, as a nation, of the metals used in batteries, magnets and high-tech is trying to reform both how it mines and how it sells rare earths. As we previously reported, much of the expected consolidation in China was slowed in the first two quarters by the weak market and stimulus measures that gave producers new reasons to overproduce. Now, the Chinese industry is scrambling to consolidate and force the closure of smaller producers.

Tax Reform in China

After July 1, China will expand its reform of resource taxes across the board and base this tax on prices instead of quantity. Authorities believe that a price-based tax would reduce tax burdens on unprofitable resource sectors (such as rare earths) and boost taxes on the more profitable sectors. The expectation is that taxes will then follow the resource-cycle.

Our Rare Earths MMI was up 11% this month, but it was only a 2 point increase, belying how low the level that rare earths have traded in for the last year really is. The price boost can be attributed, almost entirely, to the aforementioned stockpiling.

China’s second quarter commercial stockpiling supposedly ended on May 31. The initiative helped boost prices, but that’s really just a temporary market effect ahead of the expected consolidation. In the long term, the market is still oversupplied and forcing out smaller producers in China really won’t have much of a practical effect.

Compare Prices With The May 2016 MMI Report

Companies such as Mitsubishi are also touting new methods they are researching for rare earth magnet and battery recycling, processes that would be a further threat to primary mining. We advise buyers to approach rare earths with caution as this is one market whose supply still exceeds considerable demand.

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