Articles in Category: Minor Metals

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.

Compare Prices With The May 2016 MMI Report

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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An interesting article in the Financial Times recently reviewed the acquisition by China Molybdenum of the Tenke copper-cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo from Freeport-McMoRan.

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As the FT points out the purchase at a price of $2.65 billion is the largest single private investment in the DRC’s history and will be the largest purchase of copper assets since China’s purchase of Glencore’s Las Bambas mine in Peru for $6 billion in 2014.

Cobalt Control

The article examines the risks not to the copper market but to the co-product produced at Tenke, cobalt. The article focuses on risks to the cobalt supply chain of China gaining a dominant position in the global chain for this increasingly critical metal. Read more

The scrapping of rare earths export quotas late last year resulted in soaring exports from China which produced 84% of total world rare earths output of 124,000 metric tons, but prices have fallen to multiyear lows in 2016 in response to low demand and oversupply.

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Oxide shipments more than doubled in Q1 2016 at 11,956 mt. March was the second best month on record. That was despite expectations that exports were expected to drop off dramatically this year after December when cargoes hit a record high of nearly 5,000 mt as users built up inventories ahead of the Chinese new year.

Exports Up, Demand Down

Exports of dysprosium surged five-fold while neodymium shipments jumped more than 300%. The Chinese government plans to complete the consolidation of its rare earth 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 June, deputy industry and information technology minister Xin Guobin said.

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Much of the expected consolidation in China was slowed in the first two quarters by the weak market and stimulus at home that has led miners and domestic producers of smartphones and cars to increase production despite demand not moving much at all. If rare earths are to make a comeback in the second half of the year, actual end user demand will have to increase independent of government stimulus.

The broad metals rally continued in April with all but three of our MMI sub-indexes gaining value this month and two of those holding their value from last month. Only the GOES MMI lost value and that had more to do with its specialized market.

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The Aluminum, Raw Steels, Global Precious, Renewables, Stainless Steel, Automotive and Construction MMIs all increased in April amid a broad commodities rally. The U.S. dollar continued to weaken, hitting its lowest point in 15 months, pushing oil and other key commodities up in value and helping metals see their boat rise with the tide.

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In investments, both gold and silver are testing multiyear highs as investors look to them for a short-term safe haven from falling currencies.

Further dollar depreciation could increase demand for all dollar-denominated commodities and metals are currently in a sweet spot on the demand side, particularly because of China’s economic turnaround.

The China Front

Continued stimulus in China is increasing demand for steel, aluminum and other metals there. As we’ve previously reported, the People’s Bank of China has cut requirements for first-time homebuyers, cutting the minimum mortgage down payment from 25% to 20%, taking it to the lowest level of requirement ever.

This is just one of many stimulus measures that Beijing has undertaken in recent months. However, global steel and aluminum oversupply is still a top concern, and China’s role in that glut continues to be front and center.

Other Drivers

With U.S. home sales and the non-residential sector continuing to show strength, construction in both of the world’s largest markets has been a positive driver for metal, as has automotive demand.

The MetalMiner monthly GOES MMI reading dipped slightly from 202 to 195 against smaller import volumes. Market participants report to MetalMiner that grain-oriented electrical steel prices have fallen a bit in China, as well, though non-grain-oriented electrical steels have increased.

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However, AK Steel did add a surcharge of $65 per metric ton effective with June orders, the first higher surcharge since January.

GOES_Chart_May_2016_FNL

According to recent comments made by Roger Newport, CEO of AK Steel, demand appears solid for high-efficiency electrical steel. He also pointed to stronger housing starts, though they remain below historical norms. In addition, Newport indicated the new transformer efficiency standards would help with overall demand. AK Steel also received a boost when ATI closed its Bagdad facility in Gilpin, Pa., driving approximately 35,000 tons of new business to AK Steel.

Steel Rising

In the meantime, the steel market price rise, in general, appears more supply-driven as opposed to demand-driven. Many have questioned whether any more new demand will appear during the second half of the year which means that for prices to stay supported, producers will need to remain vigilant about managing capacity. Some believe prices will flatten during the summer and then start slipping toward the end of the year.

Although GOES markets don’t closely correlate with underlying steel markets, some of the drivers of steel prices also apply to electrical steel. These drivers include: China’s ability to hold prices higher (we have started to see some cracks in that foundation). Unlike in the U.S., Chinese producers work together to set market prices, a recovery in products and materials used in the oil and gas industry on the basis of a rising oil price and, finally, the overall health of commodities markets and base metal prices.

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The Rare Earths MMI joined copper this month as the only sub-indexes that didn’t increase this month.

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During 2015, flat performance was, relatively, a moral victory as we saw commodities fall across the board against a strong dollar. It’s now safe to say, though, that that environment is shifted as the dollar has weakened and a broad commodities rally has set in. Standing still is now tantamount to falling behind.

Rare-Earths_Chart_May-2016_FNL

Of course rare earth elements are difficult to track as many of the high-tech elements not exchange-traded and their prices and production can be hard to come by. Efforts to modernize the industry, particularly in China, have not yet been able to add transparency to their production and pricing.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), however, intends to change that by setting new standards for domestic rare earth producers. The proposal is still being discussed in Beijiing, but the idea is to specify minimum production utilization levels, recovery rates and yields, as well as to implement an exploitation plan that complies with environmental standards.

In the first quarter of 2016, average operation rates at Chinese smelters was 52.6%. If the new utilization plan is implemented, though, the expectation is that the rates will rise above 65% at the outset, according to Core. This might help to add transparency in the long term, but In the short-term, higher production rates may place further downward pressure on prices.

There have also been rumors, since April, that China’s National Development and Reform Commission would begin stockpiling material again soon and many buyers are holding off purchases ahead of assumed government stockpiling.

Compare Prices With The April 2016 MMI Report

India is also ramping up production and auctioning rare earth mining blocks. So, RE prices remain in their low range without much upward pressure.

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Gold prices extended their best start to a year in more than 30 years this month, jumping 5.1% to 82 amid a broad precious metals rally.

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Silver has mostly caught up to its investment metal cousin, too, thanks to its dual use as an industrial and precious metal. Silver miners are seeing their stock prices increase as supply has been constrained by recent mine shutdowns.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_May-2016_FNLAs with most of the metals we track, China is the biggest consumer and biggest producer of gold. So, the news that China’s central bank and customs service will allow companies that have “frequent imports and exports” of gold and gold products to apply for a single permit that can be used in as many as 12 shipments was welcome for both producers and consumers. The trial to simplify the rules takes effect June 1 and applies to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Nanjing and Shenzhen, the bank said in a statement.

Aside from loosened regulations, the investment metals are sitting in a good, fundamental place. The safe haven status of both gold and silver continues to help their prices as the Federal Reserve again showed no stomach for interest rate increases this month.

As my colleague, Raul de Frutos, recently wrote, this has led to the weakest U.S. dollar in 15 months and sent investors flocking to silver, gold and even the platinum group metals. That’s right, 15-month high for gold, 15-month low for the U.S. dollar index. The correlation, gold-to-dollar, is way more reliable that any physical demand indicator of gold.

It seems as if the Fed’s dovishness is catching on globally, too. Japan was expected to implement a fresh round of stimulus to weaken the yen to combat low inflation. However The Bank of Japan kept interest rates unchanged this month.

Compare Prices With The April 2016 MMI Report

There is little sign that investors will stop flocking to safe havens and with strong consumer demand in automotive and electronics it’s difficult to see an end to this bull run.

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MonthlyMetalBuyingOutlook_May2016_210This month, What appeared to be a rally led by anti-dumping actions involving several different steel products turned into something bigger as China implemented stimulus measures, boosting demand growth not only for steel, but also for the rest of the base metal complex.

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