Articles in Category: Public Policy

Arconic Inc. said today that Klaus Kleinfeld has stepped down as chairman and chief executive officer, leaving the specialty metals company after heavy pressure from activist investor Elliott Management Corp.

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Kleinfeld’s departure came after he sent an unauthorized letter to Elliott Management that Arconic’s board said showed poor judgement. The internal battle between Kleinfeld and Elliott had been going on ever since the company was created by a split with the commodity aluminum production half of what used to be Alcoa, Inc., that company is now Alcoa, Corp.

Kleinfeld was appointed CEO of Alcoa, Inc. in May 2008 and shepherded the combined company through the commodities down-cycle. Leaving with Arconic was supposed to be a path to consistently higher profits, without the threat of commodity cycles harming the bottom line. But, as we have noted before, Alcoa Corp. has been flying high along with all other commodity aluminum producers ever since while Arconic has not been able to take advantage of the higher price of commodity-grade products.

Pruitt-Led Obama Rewriting Coal Plant Emission Rules

The Trump administration is moving to rewrite Obama-era rules limiting water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Scott Pruitt , the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency , sent a letter announcing his decision to a coalition of energy companies that lobbied against the 2015 water pollution regulations.

The EPA’s regulations would have required utilities, by next year, to cut the amounts of toxic heavy metals in the wastewater piped from their plants into rivers and lakes often used as sources of drinking water. Arsenic, lead and mercury and other potentially harmful contaminates leach from massive pits of waterlogged ash left behind after burning coal to generate electricity.

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The Utility Water Act Group petitioned Pruitt last month to reverse course on the regulations, which they claim would result in plant closures and job losses. Pruitt responded Wednesday, saying he would delay compliance with the rule while EPA reconsiders the restrictions. EPA will also request that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit freeze ongoing lawsuits filed over the rules by energy companies.

One of the toughest calls over the last six months has been guessing which of President Donald Trump’s many campaign pledges would be implemented once his administration came into power, and more to the point if they would live up to the rhetoric on the campaign trail.

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Apart from diehard supporters, most commentators expected pledges to be watered-down when Trump got into power and have since been surprised at the vigor with which he has continued to pursue many of those objectives. Now, vigor is one thing, impact is another. His moves on healthcare were largely blocked by Congress but some other policies may gain greater support and Adam Posen, President of the Peterson Institute for International Economics is quoted in the Telegraph as saying, in the Institute’s estimation, the market is seriously underestimating the consequences of some of his more likely polices. In particular he is concerned about Trump’s fiscal stimulus coinciding with a tightening by the Federal Reserve causing a severe spike in the U.S. dollar.

Whether Pozen is right or wrong only time will tell, but for any business with involvement in imports or exports somewhere in their supply chain a significant strengthening of the U.S. dollar could have a significant impact.

“The Fed is going to be far more aggressive than people think. Our view is that there will be three to four more rate rises this year,” Pozen is quoted as saying.

The institute’s primary concern is about the consequences for emerging market debt of Fed tightening. Pozen said the resulting drain on dollar liquidity from the international financial system would have profound consequences after the surge in dollar-denominated debt over the last decade. Our concern here is more about the other implication of rising U.S. Federal Reserve rates and the impact they would have on the exchange rate.

The promise of rising rates has caused the dollar to spike in the past as markets have anticipated rate rises, but Pozen believes investors have become inured to Fed guidance and are discounting the probability of rate rises this year. Yet the economy continues to grow steadily. Employment is high — the U.S. economy is near full employment, and inflation is picking up. If President Trump comes through on his promises rates rises are inevitable, which brings onto the second issue, radical tax cuts combined with fiscal stimulus would cause U.S. federal borrowing to rise.

Quoting from the article, Posen believes there is enough Republican support for corporate tax rate to fall from 35% to 25%, along with income tax cuts for the wealthy and the middle class, and more generous tax deductions for business. Such a policy at this late stage of the business cycle will cause the economy to overheat, forcing the Fed to jam on the monetary brakes, which would send the dollar through roof. The institute suggests this could result in a 15% spike in the dollar hitting exports and undermining domestic manufacturers at the mercy of import substitution.

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There is the possibility that Pozen has this all wrong. It’s not a forgone conclusion that President Trump will achieve his tax cuts, although an increasingly hawkish Fed is already in evidence. But at the very least, the situation deserves monitoring with the awareness that such a combination could have a very detrimental impact on the dollar and potentially for firms trading internationally. Posen is a former rate-setter on Britain’s Monetary Policy Committee, and is known for his work with former Fed chief Ben Bernanke on Japan’s Lost Decade and inflation targeting, he has sufficient experience and credentials to make his warnings worth listening to.

It could be argued that Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House has come at the perfect time for the U.S.A.’s number two defense contractor, Boeing. If for no other reason than his assault during the election on the cost of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program created an opening for Boeing to put a lower-cost alternative back on the table.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35C won’t be ready in time, enter Boeing and an F/A-18 Super Hornet upgrade. Source: Adobe Stock/Spacekris.

At the same time, the U.S. military, particularly the Navy, are facing a bit of a problem with their older F/A–18 Super Hornets. As an article in Sea Power magazine notes, after 16 years of nearly constant combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria the F/A–18 Super Hornet is in danger of exceeding it’s 6,000 hours of operational life way before it had been expected in the next decade.

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Meanwhile, the Navy variant of the F-35, the F-35C is still a long way from being finished and ready for service. Largely because of the compromises Lockheed Martin has had to incorporate into the F-35 program for the Marine Corps’ F-35B vertical-landing jet, the program is way over budget, running late and, still, according to Bloomberg has major operational capability shortcomings to overcome. Read more

U.S. Mining for rare earths is rapidly falling behind China, a trend that “limits our growth, our competitiveness and our national security,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska) said recently.

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According to the U.S. Geological Survey, imports in 2016 represented more than 50% of American consumption of 50 mineral commodities, a market valued at $32.3 billion annually. Of those 50, the U.S. was 100% import-dependent on 20, representing $1.3 billion. In 2015, the U.S. was half-dependent on 47 non-fuel mineral commodities and 100% reliant on 19 commodities.

Murkowski said at a committee hearing recently that this trend exposes the U.S. to potential supply shortages and price volatility, while also reducing international leverage and attractiveness for manufacturing.

Rare Earths MMI

“Instead of lessening our dependence, we are actually increasing our dependence,” she said. “We’re not making headway on this issue. … What are we doing wrong here?”

While Senator Murkowski’s comments are no doubt welcome by U.S. manufacturers who would love to source neodymium, scandium and other elements locally, a cursory look at our Rare Earths MMI shows that the supply situation is as much to blame for the lack of U.S. production as anything else, particularly among the heavy rare earths that most Chinese companies provide. Our Rare Earths MMI increased one point to a paltry 19 this month, its HIGHEST point since August of 2015. Ever since China banned export quotas of the key battery and magnet metals there has been plentiful supply and the low prices that come along with it.

Many smaller (some illegal) Chinese producers do not have the start-up costs that any Western rare earth producer does, simply because of lax regulation in that part of the world. That is changing, but the process is a slow one. Unfortunately for any prospective U.S. producers, the start-up costs situation is even worse when facing off against the larger Chinese rare earths producers. Some are state-sponsored and even the private ones enjoy subsidies at the state and national levels that no American producer could ever hope for.

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If Senator Murkowski and her committee want to promote the work of a U.S. rare earths miner (Molycorp, Inc. was the last active one and its Mountain Pass mine is up for auction after a bankruptcy last year), they should do what was promised during the election and roll back regulations that drive up startup costs for miners. It’s unlikely that a U.S. miner will ever face an even playing field with state-sponsored Chinese miners but right now, the tilt of it is so bad that many won’t even try. How bad is it? The company that holds the most promising identified deposit in the U.S. changed its name last year to downplay the fact that it plans to mine rare earths. Texas Rare Earths, which plans to mine a deposit in rural Round Top, changed its name to Texas Mineral Resources Corp.

The new name reflects a “significantly broader scope of Round Top projected output,” the company said in its release. What’s funny is one of the “broader” elements the release notes is scandium, which is generally considered a light rare earth element. It’s used the aerospace and automotive industries, particularly in aluminum alloys. Could it be that the rare earth “brand” is so damaged by abundant Chinese supply that U.S. companies are running away from it in their quest to draw investors?

Good luck with fixing the domestic supply situation, Senator Murkowski.

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The U.S. is preparing a review of China’s bid for market-economy status in the World Trade Organization, the Wall Street Journal reported today. Finishing a busy day in trade, Trump also signed two executive orders designed to enhance enforcement of current trade pacts and promised to end “the theft of American prosperity.”

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The Trump administration appears ready to formalize China’s unfavorable status in trade cases, which means the country’s goods would be eligible for higher U.S. tariffs, the paper said, citing documents from the Commerce Department website. The review is expected to be announced as early as this week, it said.

The first of the two trade orders Trump signed today calls for completion of a large-scale report to identify “every form of trade abuse and every non-reciprocal practice that now contributes to the U.S. trade deficit,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the Washington Post.

Read more

Dean A. Pinkert is a partner in Hughes Hubbard’s International Trade practice. He is a former Commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission. Pinkert was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2007, and was designated Vice Chairman by President Obama in 2014.

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As a commissioner, Pinkert participated in numerous anti-dumping, countervailing duty, and safeguard investigations, including the special safeguard investigation of passenger tires that resulted in import relief for the domestic tire industry and was upheld by the World Trade Organization. He participated in an unprecedented number of final determinations in Section 337 investigations during his tenure, notably dissenting in an electronic devices case that went to President for policy review. President Obama, relying on many of the factors cited in the dissent, overruled the commission for the first time since 1987.

Dean Pinkert

Former ITC Vice Chair A. Dean Pinkert. Source: Hughes Hubbard.

Pinkert spoke with MetalMiner Editor Jeff Yoders by phone about several issues facing metals producers and manufacturers, including global steel and aluminum overcapacity and how the new Trump administration can approach trade and overcapacity issues. This is part one of our discussion.

Jeff Yoders: Do you feel that the current tools being used to regulate trade are effective in dealing with global steel overcapacity? And global overcapacity for other metals?

Dean Pinkert: If you go back a year now, to the G20 decision to look at the overcapacity situation regarding steel, there has been a lot discussion, and there will be more, but, eventually, they will be able to figure out a way to proceed with a plan to reduce worldwide overcapacity. I just saw today that some of the aluminum interests around the world are looking to initiate that same type of process with regard to aluminum production.

That tells you that there’s a sense that there is progress being made on the steel side and the aluminum producers feel that they’re in a similar worldwide overcapacity issue and they want to see if that G20 process, intended to get the amount of product produced worldwide, down could be successful. Read more

Unlike the U.S., which has retained a paper $1 bill, the U.K. did away with the venerable pound sterling banknote in 1983, replacing it with a round dual-metal, £1 coin much to the disgust of traditionalists.

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Broadly speaking though, the £1 coin has been relatively successful in terms of longevity compared to the paper note. The former has lasted 40 years but the latter about nine months, but at a cost, the British one pound (£) coin has suffered from high levels of counterfeiting.

One pound coin

The new £1 coin, now with security features! Source: the Royal Mint.

There are thought to be more than 30 million fake £1 coins in circulation, adding up to 2.55% of coins according to a recent article in The Sun newspaper. The current pound coin is made up of 70% copper, 24.5% zinc and 5.5% nickel — weighing a mere 9.5 grams. The coin also has a diameter of 22.5 mm (7/8 inch) and a thickness of 3.15 mm (1/8 inch). The new pound coin is also constructed from two different colored metals like the old one, but the new version contains an iSIS security feature (a new high-security coinage currency system developed by The Royal Mint). Read more

The American Iron and Steel Institute praised the executive action taken by President Donald Trump today to, among other things, essentially undo the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Clean Power Plan.

The AISI said in a statement that today’s executive orders will begin the process of “revising and overturning several onerous environmental regulations designed in the previous administration that could adversely impact the competitiveness of domestic steelmakers,” the trade organization said.

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It directs the EPA to review and revise regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generating utilities. The Clean Power Plan was challenged in court and it has not yet gone into effect but it would have required utilities to cut emissions.

“The domestic steel industry has made substantial gains in reducing our energy usage as well as our environmental footprint, and we remain committed to our sustainable performance,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of AISI. “However, these burdensome regulations could harm the international competitiveness of energy-intensive, trade-exposed U.S. industries like steel.’

President Trump will use an executive order today to dismantle the Obama administration’s climate change agenda, according to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

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The order will compel the EPA to review the Obama administration’s chief climate rule for power plant emissions, the 2015 Clean Power Plan, Pruitt said.

“We’ve made tremendous progress on our environment, and we can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment,” Pruitt told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “And the executive order’s going to address the past administration’s effort to kill jobs across this country through the Clean Power Plan.”

The action will order several other federal agencies to undo the Obama administration’s climate change work: It will tell the Interior Department to end a moratorium on new coal leasing on federal land, the official said, and the Obama administration’s assault on methane emissions — outlined in early 2014 and overseen by Interior and EPA — will be ended, too.

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A major hydraulic fracturing regulation from the Bureau of Land Management will be reviewed under the order. It will also end President Obama’s climate action plan, the main 2013 directive outlining the federal government’s response to climate change.

President Donald Trump said today that his administration has approved the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration’s decision to block the oil transportation project.

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Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump officially announced the approval shortly after the State Department issued TransCanada‘s permit, making good on one of his campaign promises. The approval greenlights the Canadian company to complete construction on the pipeline that will funnel crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The American Petroleum Institute praised the approval.

“Today’s action to approve the Keystone XL pipeline’s cross-border permit is welcome news and is critical to creating American jobs, growing the economy, and making our nation more energy secure,” said API President and CEO Jack Gerard. “This critical infrastructure project has been studied longer than any pipeline project in U.S. history with exhaustive reviews by the State Department concluding that the project is safe for the environment and the best option for transporting domestic crude and Canadian oil to U.S. refineries.”

The 1,179-mile addition to existing pipelines that will stretch from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast is estimated to create 42,000 construction jobs but only 35 full-time, maintenance positions once it’s completed.

Lopez Allows Suspended Mines to Ship Out Stockpiled Nickel Ore

The Philippines’ environment ministry, led by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez, has allowed eight suspended nickel ore miners to ship out stockpiles of mined ore, sources told Reuters, temporarily boosting supply from the world’s top exporter of the raw metal after a major crackdown.

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More than half of all the mines in the Philippines have been ordered to permanently shut to protect watersheds in an eight-month campaign led by Lopez.