Articles in Category: Minor Metals

Renewable energy technology has been split into two camps since it became a reality around the turn of the century.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

On the one hand there are the passionate environmental believers for whom the inflated subsidies were an irrelevance in the face of saving our planet, and on the other were naysayers for whom the arguments about global warming were a plot by the far left to raise taxes or run some kind of tree-hugging environmental agenda at the expense of business and consumers.

Neither polarized position was fair, of course, and the quiet majority in the middle have watched the technologies become progressively more efficient and costs fall dramatically while the extremes of global warming horror stories have been discredited, but the hard science of gradually rising carbon levels has been widely accepted.

Who Cares Why The Temperature is Rising?

In the process, a wider acceptance has gained ground that global temperatures really are rising and whether it is part of a natural cycle or man-made is not a risk we can afford to take. Ultimately, action to reduce carbon emissions will be cheaper than many possible downside scenarios if left unchecked and most people would accept we are making a mess of our environment and really should behave more responsibly.

Meanwhile, politicians have been plowing our taxpayer money into supporting wind, solar and a number of other “renewable” technologies, with some degree of success. Costs for the major energy sources — solar and wind — have fallen, partly as a result of technology improvements and partly due to economies of scale, to the point now where private firms are signing up to invest in major wind projects for a tariff of just $100 per MegWatt/Hour (€90 per mw/h). Indeed, in Europe all the extra power capacity added since the mid ’90s has been renewable.

Source: Telegraph Newspaper

Source: Telegraph Newspaper

The biggest hurdle renewables now have to overcome is not the cost of production, but the curse of intermittency. Where does the power come from when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine? Read more

We rarely see such positive growth in metal prices as we did in the August MMI Price Trends Report.

MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_August2016_FNL-TOPVALUE100

All the metals we track were up save for Aluminum, which fell only 1.3%, and renewables and rare earths, which held flat. The Stainless Steel MMI increased 9% amid uncertainty about Chinese nickel ore supply after mining crackdowns in top supplier, the Philippines.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Meanwhile, the most bullish of bull runs continued for our Global Precious MMI which added a 7.2% increase to its jump last month to knock on the door of the top 10% of the IndX. The platinum group metals had strong increases along with gold and silver this month.

Wall Street Bull

“Hey metal buyers, remember me?” Wall Street bull courtesy of iStock.

Palladium, particularly, made higher highs and stumbled to lower lows in classic bull market fashion.

So buy quickly before prices increase more, right? Wrong. Our Raw Steels MMI posted a healthy 4% increase, but it’s still heavily dependent on China’s stimulus programs to keep demand up in the largest global consumer of steel products. If there is a pullback in stimulus, prices could fall dramatically. The same is true for copper.

Unlike diamonds, bullish trends in commodities and industrial metals don’t last forever. Continue to make informed buying decisions in this thriving market — watch China’s stimulus program and the strength of the U.S. dollar post- Brexit — and remember that today’s price strength might be tomorrow’s carpet getting pulled out from under your feet.

Dr. Christopher Bayer, Ph.D., of the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University Law School, recently responded to an e-mail interview with MetalMiner Editor Jeff Yoders about the recent Conflict Mineral Benchmarking Study he led of Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals compliance.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

More than three years after U.S. companies began filing reports about their efforts to find conflict minerals linked to armed militias in Africa in their supply chains, 65% say they still can’t make a determination about what minerals are in those chains. Bayer explained more in this MetalMiner Q&A.

Chris Bayer. Image courtesy of Tulane University.

Chris Bayer. Image: Tulane University.

Jeff Yoders: Analysis of the reports shows that conflict-minerals reports are boosting supply-chain transparency for many of these companies. Is that an added benefit to reporting?

Chris Bayer, PhD: Yes, a company can use Dodd-Frank Section 1502 to gain insight into its own supply chain, to a degree that would probably not have been previously possible. Whether and how companies may leverage that to their advantage is up to them, but without question, information is power. Quite a number of companies are weeding out non-performing suppliers in their supply chain according to their defined parameters on conflict minerals.

JY: 10% Of all filers said, or implied, they had conflict-free products. What did you and your team’s research tell you about these claims?

CB: First off, it is in fact an extraordinary claim for a company to make. A whole lot of work would go into ruling out the possibility that the company is indeed not — through its procurement practices — fueling conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Your due diligence inquiry is, by definition, very involved, given the sheer amount of tiers and suppliers to traverse on average. But as per the Securities and Exchange Commission, a company should take care not to designate is products as DRC conflict-free unless it can also provide independent assurance that would lend credibility to such a claim.

JY: Incomplete reports were still an issue. How long do you think it will be until companies can, at least, fill out complete reports?

CB: Since many companies are already able to achieve full compliance — including reporting smelter Or Refiner (SOR) and Country of Origin (COO) data — the we-need-more time argument becomes less plausible.

JY: More companies underwent product audits this year. Are outside product audits necessary for full compliance?

Free Download: Last Chance for the July 2016 MMI Report

CB: A company that does not opt to use the “DRC conflict free” designation is, as per the SEC statement of April 29, 2014, not required to have an independent, private-sector audit performed.

Our Rare Earths MMI held steady, or flat, depending on how you look at it, at 17 this month, an example of how stagnant prices have been in a low range this year.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The low price of rare earths did not come about because of export quotas being struck down in China or the World Trade Organization loss that precipitated the quotas’ end. In China, heavy rare earths production became more stable, but that wasn’t the reason either. What has caused the rare earths market to essentially collapse is substitution on a large scale and better recycling of the high-tech minerals.

Rare-Earths_Chart_August-2016_FNL

Rare earths demand has fallen because manufacturers sought to eliminate the threat of a national blockade, the likes of which Japan felt after Chinese rare earths producers essentially blacklisted the country in 2011.

Companies such as Siemens, Samsung and Honda have accelerated research on how to use less of the minerals, especially the “heavy” rare earths such as lanthanum and dysprosium. In that way, China hurt its own monopoly by forcing their customers to apply more ingenuity and brains to eliminating or limiting the scarce elements in their supply chains. Honda even produced a hybrid car engine, the first ever, that doesn’t rely on heavy rare earths.

Honda’s apparent turning point was a partnership with fellow Japanese firm Daido Steel in 2011, prompted by China’s squeeze. The result today is a new technique for designing crucial engine magnets that avoid heavy rare earths and are 10% cheaper and 8% lighter, Honda told the Wall Street Journal.

Compare Prices With the 2016 MMI Report

The world will still likely need rare earth elements, particularly for renewable energy products such as solar panels and wind turbines, but the evidence of the damage done by China’s attempt to corner the market on heavy rare earths is now overwhelmingly apparent and a recovery in prices will not happen in the short term.

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |

Our Renewables MMI was flat again this month, another sign of stagnant prices and renewable power generation markets that are simply not maturing very fast.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Perhaps it’s a sign of just how tepid renewable technology metals markets are, that the purchase of major photovoltaic panel manufacturer SolarCity and electric/hyrid automaker Tesla Motors didn’t really make a blip in the prices of silicon or our other renewable metals.

Industry consolidation is usually a good sign for emerging technologies and the synergies that Tesla could possibly take advantage of in providing electric car batteries, home energy storage and now solar-energy-collecting panels sort of make sense to allow Tesla to own the green power storage segment. If vertical integration hadn’t been abandoned by the auto industry decades ago.

Renewables_Chart_August-2016_FNL

Markets have responded with a veritable shrug. SolarCity shareholders are almost certain to file a lawsuit questioning the merger, all the shareholders who are, of course, not Tesla CEO Elon Musk who is also a major SolarCity shareholder. SolarCity’s CEO is Musk’s cousin. The $2.6 billion takeover will pay shareholders only $25.83 a share. Less than SolarCity’s share price the day the deal was announced.

Analysts hate the merger, too. Adam Jonas, an influential auto industry analyst at Morgan Stanley, slashed his price target for Tesla and wrote in a note to clients that potential rewards would not adequately compensate investors for the greater risks and cash flow drain. Expanding into a non-auto business like solar energy exposes Tesla to “untested cost, competitive and regulatory forces,” he warned.

Tesla shares, themselves, dropped 10% the day the deal was announced. Even if this deal won’t move markets for silver, silicon, lithium or neodymium anytime soon, there are economies of scale that could pay off in the long run that Musk is looking at.

Compare Prices With the July 2016 MMI Report

Tesla owners will eventually need to get power from energy sources other than plugging into a wall unit fed by a coal-fired electricity plant, after all. Just don’t expect Tesla to become the vertically integrated battery/solar panel/electric car maker that changes the world in the next five to 10 years.

Actual Renewables Prices

Neodymium dropped from $50,642.96 per metric ton in July to $48,920/mt this month, a big drop of 3.4%. Silicon increased to $1,821.33/mt this month from $1,818.34/mt in July, an increase of .2%.

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |

10% publicly-traded companies in the U.S. who filed form SDs with the federal government have proven it is possible to not only comply with Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but to also perform supply chain due diligence in line with industry best practices, according to an analysis of public filings by Dr. Chris Bayer, PhD, of Tulane University.

Free Download: The July 2016 MMI Report

Yet, more than three years after U.S. companies began filing reports about their efforts to find conflict minerals linked to armed militias in Africa in their supply chains, 65% say they still can’t make a determination.

U.S.-listed companies are required to investigate their supply chain for the presence tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (commonly known as 3TG in metals circles), under a rule stemming from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. The law is meant to choke off mining revenue to militia groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and adjacent countries.

As well-meaning as it is, even last year many companies were not able to fully vet their supply chains and have previously said so in their filings.

This year, 10% of Form SD and CMR (conflict minerals) filers were found to be 100% SEC Rule compliant 67% were at or above the 75% compliance threshold. In all, SD & CMR filers averaged a compliance score of 79%, a generally high degree of compliance.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

More than 100 companies said or implied they had conflict-free products, Bayer found. His study was advised by Assent Compliance, among others. But only 19 companies, including Intel, Qualcomm, Cree, Hasbro and Texas Instruments, actually underwent an audit for those claims on one or more of their products.

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.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

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.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

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.

Free Download: The July 2016 MMI Report

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.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

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.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

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.

Free Download: The June 2016 MMI Report

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.

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |