Articles in Category: Public Policy

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Talk of tariffs stemming from the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations of steel and aluminum imports has seemingly softened over the last couple of weeks, but the overall trade dynamic between the to countries remains tense.

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First, President Trump told the Wall Street Journal last week that “we don’t want to do it at this moment” in reference to trade actions on steel imports resulting from the administration’s Section 232 investigation.

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 gives the Secretary of Commerce authority to conduct comprehensive investigations to determine the effects of imports of any article on national security. The investigations were announced open in April. By law, the investigation must be concluded, including a submitted report, within 270 days of its opening.

More recently, a shift toward a negotiated agreement seems to be gaining favor. According to Inside U.S. Trade ($), Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suggested “voluntary” agreements, according to House Ways & Means Committee members who met with Ross on July 27.

However, in terms of getting any additional clarity on what the administration plans to do, the committee members left the July 27 briefing without much of that.

“I don’t think that there was a lot of clarification,” Richard Neal (D-MA) told Inside U.S. Trade.
The deadlines for the Section 232 investigations are well down the road (not until January), but, until then, talk is likely to continue about what the administration will or won’t do, in addition to what other relevant parties could do in retaliation.
In similar news, the administration and many in the U.S. steel industry have pointed to China’s excess capacity as the major problem for the domestic industry, leading to suggestions of tariffs or quotas targeting China (but also affecting other steel-producing countries).
Talk of trade remedies against China, however, hasn’t just been limited to steel and aluminum.
Bloomberg reported earlier today that the Trump administration could go after China for perceived intellectual property violations.
According to the Bloomberg report, the administration is considering invoking another article — Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.
In essence, Section 301 is the mechanism by which the U.S. can respond to countries in violation of trade agreements or engaging in unfair trade practices. The move would further increase tensions between the U.S. and China, particularly in light of Trump’s admonishments of China for not doing enough to rein in North Korea.

The steel market is doing rather well, particularly in the U.S., but an improvement in demand is helping lift earnings in Europe, too.

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The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is probably true of steel companies — it is also true to say it doesn’t lift all boats equally.

ArcelorMittal, part way through a major re-structuring program to re-focus the business on value add growth areas and exit less attractive market segments, is doing rather well judging by both the share price and recent reporting.

The Northwest Indiana Times reported last week that the world’s largest steelmaker grew its second-quarter profit by 19% to $1.3 billion, lifting its first-half profit to $2.3 billion (compared to just $696 million during the same period in 2016).

Demand in the U.S. — though it has been impacted by imports, the firm claims — was high, as the firm shipped 21.5 million tons of steel in the second quarter, a 2% increase over the first quarter. So far this year, however, its steel shipments in H1 declined by 2.4% to 42.5 million tons compared to the year before.

So, margins are up but volumes are down. North American shipments dropped 3.4% to 5.4 million tons and crude steel production fell 7.3% to 5.8 million tons, the Northwest Indiana Times reports. Yet, with sales prices up 5.7%, sales values were up 3.3% to $4.6 billion in North America, leading to much-improved profits.

Even U.S. Steel is doing better. CEO Dave Burritt said U.S. Steel saw “higher prices and volumes in all of our segments.” Burritt also said management believes that if the steel market continues going as it is currently, it could earn as much as $1.70 per share this year – adding the caveat that unfortunately it doesn’t see the market continuing in the same manner for the rest of the year.

Analysts are questioning whether the present share value is justified, suggesting after falling some 30% already this year it could have further to go.

Analysts such as Citi see major “downside” in 2018 and 2019 to U.S. Steel’s share price, predicting a loss for the year even though the first half has been relatively (for U.S. Steel) strong.

Waning Optimism and What Comes Next

Some steel sector share prices were boosted earlier this year by the hope President Trump would pump billions into infrastructure. Then, as hopes faded for that outcome, they got a sugar rush from the prospect of trade measures to curb imports of foreign steel.

But the Motley Fool, quoting the Wall Street Journal last week, reported comments by the president suggesting he was kicking trade action into the long grass.

Trump said he does not want to impose tariffs and quotas on imported steel “at this moment.” Objections from trade partners (who don’t want their exports curbed), and from domestic steel users as well (who like the idea of cheap foreign steel) are sapping the administration’s support for the trade action. It’s hardly surprising, but until recently the steel lobby had been putting a powerful case for action, and it took time for counterarguments to gain traction.

The president went on to say that instead of imposing sanctions “very soon,” as the steel industry was hoping, his staff will need to do “statutory studies … addressing the steel dumping” issue. And while the president promised action “fairly soon,” he also said the administration plans to address health-care reform, tax reform, and may even want to get an infrastructure bill passed by Congress before returning to the steel issue.

So, for the time being, forget about it — “he has other fish to fry” seems to be the position.

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Without curbs to imports, the view for steel companies’ profits remaining robust becomes less compelling.

Companies like Nucor and Arcelor will continue to do well, but others, like U.S. Steel and AK Steel, will struggle later this year and into 2018.

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You would think that a stiffening of Washington’s backbone when it comes to Russia would be welcomed by Europe. After all, it was Germany’s Angela Markel that has led the tough stand taken against Moscow following the Russian-sponsored uprising in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

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But on the contrary, cross-party support in the U.S. House of Representatives led to a 419 to 3 vote in favor of new financial sanctions against Russia this week, a move that has faced fierce criticism from Bonn and considerable debate about the wider implications.

The EU probably does not care about the inclusion of North Korea in the proposed sanctions, although it has taken a distinctly different and more tolerant line on Iran (the third regime included in the action).

But it is Russia that is really raising the hackles in Bonn according to Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.

Impact on Europe

A post on the site reports the action could not only severely impact many European companies who have already invested heavily in projects, particularly in the oil and gas sector, but that it could also precipitate a political divide among Europe’s partners. Seen in the context of this development, President Donald Trump’s focus on Poland during his recent visit to the continent for the G-20 summit takes on a more sinister slant — at least, that is the view many Europeans are taking.

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This morning in metals news, a recent report predicts the precious metal catalysts market will reach $19.4 billion by 2022, Reliance Steel and Aluminum Co. posted strong second-quarter numbers and   China’s Ministry of Commerce says it is willing to work with the U.S. on global aluminum market issues.

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Precious Metal Catalysts Market to Grow to $19.4B

Precious metal catalysts will prove to be especially precious on the market in the near future, according to a report from Research and Markets.

The report indicates the market will grow from $14.37 billion this year to $19.41 billion by 2022, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.19%.

Why is this metal sector set to become even more precious? Advances in automobile technology and pharmaceutical applications will see a rise in demand for this subset of metals, according to the research report.

“The newly developed emission standards demand additional improvements in catalyst technologies to successfully remove toxic substances from car exhausts, which will, in turn, drive the precious metal catalysts market growth through the automobile sector,” the report states.

A Good Q2 for Reliance

Reliance Steel and Aluminum Co. — the largest metals service center operator in North America,  headquartered in Los Angeles — posted strong numbers for this year’s second quarter.

According to a report on the Nasdaq website, the company reported a bottom line of $103.1 million, ($1.40 per share), compared with $99.5 million, or $1.36 per share, for Q2 of 2016.

The company’s revenue total also rose in Q2 by 12.7% to $2.48 billion, up from $2.20 billion last year.

China Signals Willingness to Work on Aluminum Market Issues

Ever since announcing Section 232 investigations of steel and aluminum, the Trump administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce have made it clear that Chinese excess capacity is the primary focus (notwithstanding the fact that Chinese steel and aluminum represent relatively small portions of U.S. imports).

On the heels of the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC) Section 332 report on competitive factors affecting U.S. aluminum, China’s Ministry of Commerce suggested a global approach to tackling problems within the aluminum market, Reuters reported.

According to the Reuters report, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng did not agree with the assessment that the USITC report accused China of “sponsoring” its aluminum industry.

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The results of the aluminum investigation will likely not be coming for some time, as the steel report is expected to come first. However, June came and went without a steel 232 announcement. Plus, if President Donald Trump’s comments earlier this week are any indication, steel trade policy doesn’t seem to be a top priority at the moment, particularly as the health care debate continues to heat up.

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This evening in metals news, President Donald Trump indicated yesterday Section 232 might be going on the backburner, data show a sharp rise in steel imports during June and a new report predicts the 3-D printing metals market will be worth $12 billion by 2028.

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Taking 5 on Section 232

The Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations are being watched closely by metals producers around the world — but Section 232 is just one thing on the administration’s plate.

On Tuesday, President Trump told the Wall Street Journal that when it comes to enacting measures against steel imports (like tariffs or quotas), “we don’t want to do it right now.”

In April, the administration launched a national-security probe of steel and aluminum imports. Under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has 270 days to present the president with a report and recommendations.

With health care currently in the spotlight — in addition to Trump’s announcement today regarding banning transgender individuals from serving in the military — Section 232 has seemingly lost a little steam. Previously, the steel investigation results were expected to be announced by the end of June.

Steel prices performed well in the weeks following the April announcement, but that initial optimism has fizzled. Trump’s noncommittal comment regarding the investigation sent several domestic steel companies downward yesterday, according to MarketWatch, including AK Steel, Nucor and ArcelorMittal.

Steel Imports Rise in June

U.S. imports of steel rose sharply for the month of June, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) on Wednesday.

The country imported approximately 3.87 million net tons in June. In the year to date, 19.64 million tons have been imported, up 25% from the same time frame in 2016. Finished steel imports amounted to 15 million tons in the year to date, up 17.2% compared with the same time period in 2016.

Per the report, products which saw significant increases from May to June included: reinforcing bars (84%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (61%), heavy structural shapes (40%), cold-rolled sheets (32%), hot-rolled sheets (29%), mechanical tubing (25%), oil country goods (19%), hot-rolled bars (12%) and plates in coils (11%).

Notable year to date increases versus the same period in 2016 include: oil country goods (248%), cold rolled sheets (41%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (36%), standard pipe (35%),  line pipe (32%), mechanical tubing (29%), hot-rolled bars (28%), sheets and strip hot-dipped galvanized (26%), tin plate (17%) and wire rods (10%).

3-D Printing Worth $12B by 2028: Report

Momentum continues to build for 3-D printing technology, so much so that a recent report predicts the growing sector will be worth $12 billion in just over a decade from now.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

The report, from IDTechEx Research, states that “at this stage it would be a mistake to underestimate the enormous potential for innovation in 3D printing of metals.”

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For India, a recent development may turn its minerals industry on its head.

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Scientists from the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a department under the Ministry of Mines, recently discovered millions of tons of precious stones and minerals under the deep waters that surround peninsular India.

What’s more, the discovery lies within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which means India will benefit the most.

It was sometime in 2014 that the scientists found the huge presence of marine resources off the Indian coast, extending till the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and around Lakshadweep. The amount of lime mud, phosphate-rich and calcareous sediments, hydrocarbons, metalliferous deposits and micronodules called for a more extensive exploration, and that’s precisely what the GSI team did.

After three years of exploration, they hit paydirt.

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I could be committed for heresy for what I am about to write, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Britain will leave the European Union (EU).

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On the balance of probabilities, a break with the EU is more likely than not. In recent weeks, however, the realization of what leaving the single market will mean to voters’ pockets, not to mention the fiasco of the Conservative government in-fighting, has encouraged some to think a rethink may yet prevail. A second referendum is, while not likely, at least not impossible.

I say heresy because the debate is becoming increasingly acerbic.

Leave supporters, in particular, shout shrilly anytime the topic is raised that “we cannot thwart the will of the people” and to even suggest a rethink is “anti-democratic.” As Gideon Rachman wrote so eloquently in the Financial Times this week, this sounds rather like a third-world dictator, who having unexpectedly achieved a vote in his favour says — “one man, one vote, one time.”

In other words, once a decision has been taken by referendum, it cannot be revoked.

But as Rachman observes, this denies the fact that the electorate was, putting it politely, profoundly misled during the campaign.

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It didn’t take long for President Donald Trump to extricate the U.S. from one trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now, the Trump administration is looking to make good on a promise to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

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On Wedesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced the first round of negotiation talks will be held Aug. 16-20 in Washington, D.C.

A 90-day consultation period with Congress and the public kicked off May 18. Late last month, the Office of the USTR held public hearings over three days regarding NAFTA, welcoming comments from lawmakers, businesses and other stakeholders. Some U.S. industry sectors agreed NAFTA has been largely successful, but that the agreement forged in 1994 needs modernizing tweaks.

Lighthizer also announced John Melle, the assistant U.S. trade representative for the Western Hemisphere, will serve as the chief negotiator during the NAFTA talks. Melle has worked for the Office of the USTR since 1988.

The USTR also released its trade objectives for the negotiations on Monday. Perhaps not surprisingly, the primary goal for the Trump administration is a reduction of trade deficits with Mexico and Canada.

“President Trump continues to fulfill his promise to renegotiate NAFTA to get a much better deal for all Americans,” Lighthizer said in the prepared statement released Monday. “Too many Americans have been hurt by closed factories, exported jobs, and broken political promises. Under President Trump’s leadership, USTR will negotiate a fair deal. We will seek to address America’s persistent trade imbalances, break down trade barriers, and give Americans new opportunities to grow their exports. President Trump is reclaiming American prosperity and making our country great again.”

In 2016, the U.S. had a $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico and an $11 billion deficit with Canada. In 1994, when NAFTA went into effect, the U.S. had a $1.3 billion trade surplus with Mexico.

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According to a recently released study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a border tax or the U.S. exiting the agreement could negatively impact U.S. automotive manufacturers. The study argues that a 15% border tax would cost U.S. automakers and suppliers $22 billion a year and a 20% tariff on Mexican imports would drive up production costs per vehicle by $650 on average.

Whatever happens, though, Mexico and Canada clearly would like to get the ball rolling.

Reuters reported today that diplomats from the U.S.’s NAFTA partners are hoping to reach a deal quickly to put an end to uncertainty in the business community regarding the trade deal’s future.

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Although oil and gas remain Iran’s most important exports by far, one beneficiary of the relaxation in trade embargoes has been the metals industry.

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According to an analysis by the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade, reported in the Financial Tribune, the data show growth in the production of crude steel, finished steel products, iron ore, coal concentrate and sheet glass in the last Iranian financial year running March 2016 to March 2017 compared to the year before, showing a significant uptick in output (much of it for export).

Coal concentrate saw the greatest increase with the rise of 10.6%, from 1.113 million tons in March 2015-16 to 1.232 million tons last year. Crude steel output had the second-largest gain, rising from 16.538 million tons to over 18 million tons (a 9% increase).

Iran holds the world’s 10th-largest reserves of iron ore. Despite dominance by Australia and Brazil, Iran still managed a 4.2% increase to 31.711 million tons, helping lift production of steel products 1.4% to 17.681 million tons.

These sound like modest increases for a country recently facing lower barriers to trade, but that may be because the benefits have yet to percolate through to the wider economy.

In the meantime, it is direct exports that have benefited the most. The Financial Tribune reported Iran’s total mineral products shipments last year registered a 17% and 38% increase in value and volume, respectively, year-on-year.

Source: Trading Economics

From a value perspective, it is difficult to make a judgement year-on-year for total exports because some 82% by value is oil and gas, for which prices have been highly volatile.

Even so, with a depressed oil price, Iran’s exports are heading back above their historical long-term trend of some $20 trillion, as the above graph from Trading Economics shows. The oil-price-induced spike of 2006-10 was an anomaly not seen before or since.

Economically, Iran would benefit enormously from a full and unfettered return to the international markets, but that is not going to happen while the autocratic mullahs remain in control. Liberal parties are dissuaded from the political process and many opposition politicians remain in jail. As in so many authoritarian regimes, those in power live well while the clear majority fail to enjoy the standard of living they could achieve based on their high standards of education and young, dynamic population.

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Even so, the country’s economic situation is trending positively. Foreign firms are showing greater confidence in returning to the Iranian market after years of sanctions.

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Defining the root cause of Britain’s predicament is not as simple as a sweeping “foreign competition” argument. But there’s no doubt that is part of the problem, as Britain’s steel industry has been decimated over the last 25 years.

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A House of Commons report last year said output from the UK steel industry was £2.2 billion in 1990, compared to £1.6 billion in 2015, a 30% fall (in 2013 prices).

Source: House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No. 07317, Oct. 28, 2016

The decline has left the U.K. producing just 11 million tons of steel, compared to 166 million tons for the EU as a whole and 804 million tons from China. A combination of global excess supply and lackluster government support has left the U.K. as the fifth-largest steel producer in the EU, after Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

In line with most European producers, surviving U.K. steelmakers have had to move up the value chain in order to remain profitable. Inevitably, however, the market for more value add, niche product areas is smaller than the bulk commodities end of the market.

The U.K., in turn, is a relatively small consumer of steel products, as medium to heavier industry has also declined over the years. As a result, the U.K. has lost the ability to make some of the grades or forms necessary for more demanding or critical applications.

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