Precious Metals

Most of our commodity metals posted gains this month. Even laggards such as the Construction and Raw Steels MMIs were able to post at least a flat month and avoid a loss. Only the markets that were generally flat to down before commodities’ big downturn, Rare Earths and Renewables, lost ground this month.

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The big question, is, then are these metals’ prices truly going back up or are we merely experiencing temporary gains with the downward trend soon to continue? It honestly may be too soon to tell.

We have seen several commodities fall much lower this year after outside-influenced one-month rallies. As my colleague Raul de Frutos wrote regarding the copper market this month, “we know that trying to guess the bottom is a terrible strategy to take.”

The Dollar and Oil Prices

The big outside influence, of course, is actual weakness in the US dollar, the first real weakness seen this year.
The oil price reduction that has kept most commodities low this year has moderated, with oil hitting $60 a barrel this week. A 0.7% fall in the dollar index was the biggest drop of 2015.
Further weakness in the dollar throughout the rest of the year would give a bigger boost to commodities and foreign markets.

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Bolstered by a weaker dollar, global precious metals rose last month as industrial demand for palladium was finally joined by higher gold bullion and platinum prices.

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The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits inched up by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 in the week ended May 2, the Labor Department said recently. This was less than the 275,000 economists predicted and within reach of the unrevised 262,000 level for the prior week—the lowest since 2000.

This is the latest sign that an interest rate hike may come from the Federal Reserve as continued improvement in the US labor market might clear the path for rate hikes.

How High Will They Go?

Once the Fed starts the cycle of interest rate increases, the market can focus on how high the rates may rise, which will be less of a weight since the expectation is that rates won’t rise very much. Higher interest rates are bearish for gold because they give investors a reason to move money into investment vehicles that produce a yield. Gold has no yield.

End of the Stock Supercycle

There is also rampant speculation that a combination of downward earnings revisions and the difficulty of the banking system to turn bank reserves into money growth will lead to a large correction in the stock market. Precious metals are also a hedge against falling stocks.

The monthly Global Precious Metals MMI® registered a value of 84 in May, an increase of 1.2% from 83 in April.

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It is one of those delicious ironies of life that India, the world’s largest consumer of gold, has very little to show when it comes to actually mining the yellow metal.

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That’s poor form because India sits on very large resources of gold, revealed by several geological studies in the past. One such study pegged India’s primary gold resources at about 491 metric tons. Despite its 6,000-year mining history, the country mines just around a pitiful 25 mt of gold annually.

Imports Flourishing

India is one of the biggest importers of gold, despite a punitive 10% import tax. In the financial year ended March 31, gold imports had touched 900 mt, up 36% from a year ago.

Perhaps keeping all this in mind, and the fact that gold mining could mean earning some big bucks, Western Australia recently expressed interest in developing gold mines in India, as part of the bilateral cooperation in minerals and energy sectors between the two nations.

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Today in MetalCrawler; the Chinese economy continues to disappoint, gold breaks a key support level and nobody agrees about when copper prices might recover.

Chinese Economy May Be Stimulus-Proof

In many ways China doesn’t really look like an economy growing at even 7%, with exports plunging in March, power generation dropping 3.7%, the biggest fall since 2008, and a host of other indicators pointing to sluggish growth.

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Reuters Clyde Russell writes that increased economic stimulus spending by Beijing may not be able to do much to help the Chinese economy this year.

Gold Falls

Gold slid below $1,200 an ounce on Thursday as the dollar pared losses after upbeat US factory data and demand for physical metal stayed weak, though uncertainty over the timing of a Federal Reserve rate increase underpinned prices.

The dollar index, strength in which tends to weigh on gold, recovered from lows against a basket of currencies after a survey showed factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region accelerated in April.

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Investments in automotive aluminum keep popping up in MetalCrawler.

Constellium Expands Plant

Aluminum manufacturer Constellium recently said it has invested $40 million for a 210,000-square-foot expansion of its Detroit are plant to meet the increasing demand for aluminum by automotive manufacturers.

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Constellium has hired nearly 200 additional workers at the Van Buren site and will employ a total of 370 there after it hires about 20 additional workers.

Freeport Plans to Expand

Freeport McMoRan Inc. is expanding and that has it poised to become the world’s biggest copper producer at a time of slowing China growth.

The Phoenix-based company will close the gap with current world No. 1 Codelco next year after expanding mines in Peru and the US and as the Chilean state-owned company runs out of profitable ore at a mine in the Atacama Desert.

US Dollar Climbing Again

Gold eased Monday as the US dollar gained ground against other currencies, sapping foreign investors’ interest in the dollar-denominated metal.

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Spring is a time of renewal and nothing could use a good rebound more than our metal markets. Free Download: Cut Your Overseas Metal Shipping Costs While most of the metals are still down for the year, some of them actually rallied this month and showed positive growth, some for the first time in 2015. […]

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Without major central bank actions, precious metals will continue to fall in Q2 and possibly longer.

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The decline that began in February has taken hold and looks to be a long-term trend that won't end, based on market forces alone, for some time.

The monthly Global Precious Metals MMI® registered a value of 83 in April, a decrease of 3.5% from 86 in March.

Palladium Weakness

With most of our metals still in bearish territory, even if they're posting small gains on the monthly MMI, global precious was a bright spot through January, when it was still being bolstered by strong industrial and investor demand for palladium. That demand began dropping last month and, without palladium to prop it up, our index fell even further this month without much hope for recovery.

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As my colleague Raul de Frutos pointed out recently, palladium has broken a key support level and this indicates that selling pressure is increasing as the metal declines. It's now recording lower high points on the CME's spot index and that's a clear sign that there is diminishing buying pressure during upward bounces.

Palladium-backed exchange-traded funds also saw their biggest weekly outflows (more than 50,000 ounces) since August last week. A strong dollar and low oil prices look like barriers that automotive demand, alone, can't overcome for palladium. The mining cost of platinum and palladium has gone down with the ruble in top producer Russia and supply should be abundant enough to meet demand as production is being buttressed by the favorable exchange rate there and in number two producer South Africa.

Meanwhile, in Goldville...

Gold is still falling in most of the world in the face of that strong dollar, as well. While many long-term forecasts predict that Chinese and Indian demand will eventually propel the world's favorite investment metal upward, the continuing strength of the dollar as a reserve currency is hurting it even more than base metals with more industrial uses.

The Federal Reserve remains conservative when it comes to when it will raise interest rates for and it's not likely that other central banks will make a major move to rein in the strength of their currencies before the Fed. Chairwoman Janet Yellen also warned of continuing slow growth domestically and internationally this month, an argument that would seem to support keeping the rates low for the foreseeable future.

My colleague, Stuart Burns, wrote this month that other strong economies such as the UK are not likely to join in raising central bank rates for at least a further 12 months even if the Fed raises its rates tomorrow. That will exacerbate the dollar’s strength, particularly against economic regions such as the European Union, which is still dependent on a quantitative easing program.

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Here at MetalCrawler the crude oil production and mining news broke fast and furious today. The implications for our metal markets are abundant when it comes to domestic gas drilling and mining.

New Record for Oil Production

Domestic oil production grew last year by the highest margin since the federal government started keeping records in 1900.

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Crude oil output averaged 8.7 million barrels per day, an increase of 1.2 million barrels per day, which is the largest increase since record-keeping began, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Monday.

The EIA attributed the record increase to tight oil from shale formations and said production will likely increase this year and next, as well, although not as much.

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Last week, the Federal Reserve scaled back on its plans to hike interest rates this year. The potential for a delay has taken steam out of the dollar’s rally and contributed to a bounce in commodity markets.

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Higher US interest rates usually help boost demand for the dollar, which helps the dollar to appreciate against other currencies. The dollar gained significantly last Summer. This dollar’s strength makes it harder for US companies to sell goods overseas and to compete against imports, as Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen pointed out in the last meeting. For this reason, the Fed might not want to raise rates until the dollar cools down.

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Global platinum was in deficit last year to the tune of around 700 thousand ounces according to a report issued this month by the newly formed World Platinum Investment Council. Last year’s five-month strike in South Africa was expected, at its outset, to deplete reserves so much that prices would soar, but while they picked up the reality was above-ground stocks held by producers and the trade comfortably made up for the shortfall.

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Some 905 kilo-ounces are said by the WPIC to have been drawn down in South Africa against a backdrop of global platinum supply down 8% to 7.2 million ounces. As this graph from HSBC shows, the rest of the world’s production remained steady but South African supply dipped sharply.

Industrial use held broadly steady – chemical, petroleum, glass, electrical, medical and biomedical – were broadly level or up. Automotive and jewelry (particularly in Asia) grew strongly but investment was the standout retrenchment driving a decline in gross demand according to Johnson Matthey of 3% last year.

Although the market is forecast to remain in deficit this year, the lack of investment demand is expected to cap potential price increases. In spite of a reduction in above-ground inventory there is still generally reckoned to be some 2.8 million ounces available with the possibility of further supply coming out of ETFs if the market remains depressed.

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