Articles in Category: Public Policy

Reuters reported that U.S. stock index futures rose to record intraday highs on Tuesday as oil prices surged and investors assessed earnings from top U.S. retailers.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The theory is share prices are being driven higher by a strong oil price and retailers who are reporting better than expected store sales. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Macy’s, and Home Depot sales are all up on robust consumer demand. If stock prices were supported on consumer confidence alone, we could see an argument for this bull run in share prices to continue.

Stocks are up

Stock prices continue to rise thanks to strong retail sales and oil prices. Source Adobe Stock/Tiagozr.

There is plenty of optimism around. Donald Trump’s much-vaunted infrastructure projects are expected to create significant demand and have an inflationary impact on the economy… when they eventually see the light of day. 2018 At the earliest is our expectation since few are shovel-ready and all will have to get past Congress first. Meanwhile, though, the economy is adding jobs at a steady rate and unemployment is low.

Oil Supply

However, if Reuters is right and shares are being driven higher in part due to the oil price, we have a few concerns. The oil price was driven higher by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries‘ production cap agreement last year, an agreement to which both major OPEC producers and 11 non-OPEC countries like Russia signed up to in an effort to reduce excess production and bring the market into balance by the summer. Read more

President Donald Trump’s administration is mulling changes to how the U.S. calculates trade deficits. A change could be made that would show more movements of goods between free trade agreement countries, the Wall Street Journal reported recently citing people involved in the discussions.

Benchmark Your Current Price: See How it Stacks Up

The leading idea under consideration would exclude from U.S. exports any goods first imported into the country, such as cars, and then transferred to a third country like Canada or Mexico unchanged, the sources told The Wall Street Journal. These would not be traditional transshipments, generally done to disguise a country of origin, but rather shipments that are manifested to include the country of origin but simply move goods through a trade agreement country.

Economists say that approach would cause trade deficit numbers to go up because it would typically count goods as imports when they come into the country but not count the same goods when they go back out, known as re-exports.

Trump has been highly critical of trade deals including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. By using a metric that widens the trade deficit, it could give him political leverage to make sweeping changes, the newspaper reported.

If the government adopted the new method, the deficit with Mexico would be nearly twice as high.

The effect of such a change would be particularly stark on data involving countries that have free trade deals with the U.S., this person said—and in some cases the new methodology could even change a trade surplus into a trade deficit.

Trump trade officials said the idea is part of an early discussion and that they are examining various options. It is unclear whether the administration would adopt any new approach for measuring trade as part of official government data, or just use the higher deficit calculation to make the case for new trade deals.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

“We’re not even close to a decision on that yet,” Payne Griffin, the deputy chief of staff at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative told the Journal. “We had a meeting with the Commerce Department, and we said, ‘Would it be possible to collect those other statistics?’”

The Journal reported that career government employees at the USTR’s office complied with the request to prepare data using the new methodology but also noted their objections.

One of the major gripes about environmental legislation is that while the West creates ever stricter laws and ever lower emissions targets, many parts of the world completely flout agreements or do not even sign up to them in the first place.

MetalMiner Benchmarking: Click Here for Current Metal Prices

The steel industries of Europe and the U.S. frequently complain that they must meet tough emission targets that their competitors in China, India and elsewhere can avoid either because their governments have not signed up to such restrictions, or because they simply are not enforced.

The True Cost of Air Pollution

Well, finally after years of complaints it appears the tide is turning but tragically it has come about due to an appalling loss of life that is only just being recognized. Air pollution alone causes 6.5 million early deaths a year the Guardian newspaper reports. That is double the number of people lost to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and four times the number killed on the world’s roads. In Africa, air pollution kills three times more people than malnutrition. Read more

Leading Republican lawmakers said over the weekend proposals for a new Trump-administration-backed infrastructure bill could be introduced as early as the coming weeks.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.) told reporters he expects to receive “some kind of recommendation on an infrastructure bill, a subject that we frequently handle on a bipartisan basis,” but gave no details or timing.

He has previously voiced concern over adding to budget deficits with a new injection of federal funds for road, bridge and other construction projects like the ones President Barack Obama secured from Congress in 2009, especially after a major highway funding law was enacted about a year ago.

MetalMiner Benchmarking: Click Here for Current Metal Prices

During the campaign, Trump said he would push for a $1 trillion infrastructure program to rebuild roads, bridges, airports and other public works projects. He said he wanted action during the first 100 days of his administration, which now seems unlikely.

This week President Donald Trump began to deliver on his campaign promises to deregulate industry and unshackle American manufacturing, using the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that empowers Congress to review, by means of an expedited legislative process, new federal regulations issued by government agencies and, by passage of a joint resolution, to overrule the regulation.

MetalMiner Benchmarking: Click Here for Current Metal Prices

First up, Congress passed a law under the CRA that rolled back an Obama administration rule that would have required oil, gas and mineral extraction companies to disclose payments made to governments. The Securities and Exchange Commission rule never went into effect and exploration companies and industry organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute, said it put natural resource companies at a competitive disadvantage to foreign firms by disclosing too much of their contract terms.

Iron ore mine

Deregulation via the CRA will help minerals mining and exploration. Source: Adobe Stock/nikitos77.

Metals producers and other companies dependent on minerals to make their products generally supported the repeal. Another potent input for the creation of metals is coal and Trump followed up the CRA action by signing a bill that quashed the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation to protect waterways from coal mining waste that officials finalized in December. Regulators spent most of Obama’s administration eight years writing the Stream Protection Rule and it was effectively wiped away with the stroke of Trump’s pen thanks to the CRA.

The House has passed several CRA resolutions, and the Senate has so far sent three of them to President Trump so far, but there are at least 10 CRA bills still moving through the House and Senate. Until now, only one CRA resolution had ever been passed and signed into law: the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s workplace ergonomics rules, in 2001.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

If Trump and the republican Congress continue to use the CRA to roll back rules, they could potently erase much of the regulation that business organizations have said hamstrung them for the last eight years.

Using the CRA to roll back regulations would certainly make it easier for Trump to deliver on his promises of smarter, better regulations for industries such as manufacturing and mining. Using it also helps the Congress keep up a commitment from an early Trump executive order that it must repeal two regulations for every new one. We could see a slew of deregulation actions to allow Congress to “bank” new regulations if it needs to pass a law to, perhaps, create a new definition of what a countervailable subsidy is for companies to petition the Commerce Department to allow it to place duties on foreign imports.

Donald Trump’s November victory ignited the steepest stock market rally from election day to inauguration for a first-term president since John F. Kennedy won the White House in 1960.

MetalMiner Benchmarking: Click Here for Current Metal Prices

The S&P 500 index, a broad measure of the performance of large U.S. companies, climbed 6% since election day. Wall Street has not posted such a strong run from a president’s first-term election win in more than half a century, when the S&P 500 climbed more than 8% after JFK beat then vice-president Richard Nixon.

Stock market performance since election of a new US president. Source: Financial Times.

Over the same time frame, only the advance following Bill Clinton’s second election stands with JFK in topping the Trump run. Additionally, Wednesday’s fifth-straight record-high close for each of the major U.S. equity indexes matches a streak last seen in January 1992. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank even said its manufacturing index soared in February to a 33-year high, in another indication of improving business sentiment in the wake of the Republican election sweep. Read more

President Trump signed a bill to roll back a Dodd-Frank banking reform disclosure requirement that demanded that resource exploration and extraction companies disclose any payments that they might make to foreign governments, the U.S. federal government or other entities in their exploration activities.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Rule 13q-1 adopted by the SEC, would have implemented the resource extraction issuer payment disclosure provisions of Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Under the SEC rule, a public company that qualified as a “resource extraction issuer” would have been required to publicly disclose in an annual report on Form SD of its tax return information relating to any single “payment” or series of related “payments” made by the issuer, its subsidiaries or controlled entities of $100,000 or more during the fiscal year covered by the Form SD to a “foreign government” or the U.S. Federal government for the “commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals” on a “project”-by-“project” basis.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who attended the signing Tuesday, said it would be “the first of many Congressional Review Act bills to be signed into law by President Trump.” He said they would “provide relief for Americans hurt by regulations rushed through at the last minute by the Obama administration.”

Supporters of the SEC regulation say it would have provided greater transparency. The SEC said Congress had sought transparency “to help combat global corruption and empower citizens of resource-rich countries to hold their governments accountable.”

The regulation, which never went into effect, was drafted at the direction of the Obama administration in response to directions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. The directive was in an amendment backed by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and then-Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

Foes of the regulation, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, said the rule would put natural resource companies at a competitive disadvantage to foreign firms by disclosing too much of their contract terms.

Slowly but surely, India seems to be shifting the goal posts on its minimum import price policy designed to protect the domestic steel industry.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

India recently extended the anti-dumping duty on cold-rolled flat steel products from four nations, including China, Brazil and South Korea to guard the domestic steel industry from cheap imports for another two months. The duty was expected to expire after six months and was recently extended to give it a total duration of eight.

Domestic Indian steelmakers could see their protective minimum import prices for steel products lifted. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010.

India had previously imposed a minimum import prices (MIP) to protect the steel industry and the cold-rolled duties came in addition to the MIP. The policy was described as a short-term emergency measure while anti-dumping duties are a long-term measure to protect the country’s trade.

Yet, according to a recent media report, India’s steel secretary Aruna Sharma said there would be no minimum import price (MIP) extension for 19 steel products.

How the MIP Started

India started imposing an anti-dumping duty of $474-$557 per metric ton on hot-rolled flat products of alloy and non-alloy steel imported from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia in August. Read more

The Trump administration is exploring the idea of classifying currency manipulation, such as when China sets the value of the yuan/renminbi deliberately low to promote exports, as an unfair trade government subsidy that U.S. manufacturers can then petition the Commerce Department for redress against.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

The Wall Street Journal reported that, under the plan, the Commerce Secretary (Trump has nominated Wilbur Ross for the job) would designate the practice of currency manipulation as an unfair subsidy when employed by any nation. This plan would not single out China, or any other country, but rather give U.S. companies the opportunity to pursue trade remedies such as countervailing duties on imports from nations that artificially set currency values low.

Dollar vs. RMB

The value of the renminbi against the US dollar has consistently fallen since China removed its peg. Chart: Jeff Yoders/MetalMiner.

Last year, we created an interactive narrative experience showing how China has changed its currency values since it joined the World Trade Organization. Many countries and the WTO, itself, have wrestled with how to deal with Chinese exports in recent years but no country has considered creating a currency manipulation category for dumping of foreign exports that would, presumably, be enforceable under current WTO rules.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The currency plans, according to the WSJ, are part of a China strategy being put together by the White House’s National Trade Council, led by economist Peter Navarro. The policy seeks to balance the administration’s dual goals of challenging China on trade while still keeping relations  — and most trade — with the massive country on a fairly even keel. That’s why the policy does not single out China and would apply to all nations that reset the values of their currency without direction from an independent body such as the European Central Bank or Federal Reserve.

The difficulty in enforcing such a policy would be that nations such as China could cry foul at the WTO and say that the ECB or Fed are not really independent. A definition of what is an independent central bank might be challenged in the WTO.

I am not sure this would go down well in the U.S., but take the most populous country in the world, with an estimated population of 1.3 billion of whom 22% are judged to be living in poverty and give them a state-provided universal basic income (UBI) payable to every single person. Sound like madness? Sound like a recipe for financial disaster? Sound like a socialist pipe dream? Maybe, but the idea is being actively debated in India according to the Economist.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

Although the pre-annual budget economic survey, published on January 31, did not make any promises, it did outline an idea to pay every citizen 7,620 rupees ($113) a year. Far from a king’s ransom — it is equivalent to less than a month’s pay at the minimum wage in a city, but it would cut absolute poverty from 22% of the population to less than 0.5%. The money would largely come from recycling funds from around 950 existing welfare schemes, including those that offer subsidized food, water, fertilizer and much else besides. Altogether, these add up to roughly the 5% of GDP that the UBI would cost, the government’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian estimates. Read more