Articles in Category: Supply & Demand

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The European Steel Association (Eurofer) had good news about the EU steel sector last week, albeit with a caveat.

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According to a report from Eurofer last week, EU investment in steel and its exports have trended positively.

“Strengthening investment and robust exports are boosting the performance of steel-using sectors in the EU,” the report states. “Steel demand is expected to continue its gradual recovery in 2018.”

The report continues with a caveat.

“However, increasing import pressure in in the second quarter of 2017 signals that foreign supply remains a critical issue for the EU steel sector.”

Steel consumption in the EU dipped slightly in the second quarter compared to the first quarter, according to the report. As a result, EU domestic suppliers suffered. Deliveries by EU domestic suppliers in the second quarter fell 3.5% year-over-year. In addition, third country imports rose by 10% year-over-year.

“The relative balance between growth in domestic and foreign supply seen in the first quarter of 2017 was reversed at the expense of EU steel mills,” said Axel Eggert, director general of Eurofer, in a prepared statement. “Despite a reduction in imports from China and several other countries owing to corrective anti-dumping duties put in place third country import volumes have risen again in the second quarter.”

Overall, however, EU steel consumption for 2017 is forecast to rise 2.3%. The report also notes that steel demand is expected to continue its “gradual recovery” into next year (a recovery dating back to 2014). The report cites the “expected rise in real steel consumption in the EU market and very modest support from the stock cycle” as factors underpinning the ongoing bounceback.

As for steel-using sectors, the report states production activity grew by 3.1% year-on-year. Moreover, first-quarter growth was revised up to 6.3% (compared to the same period in 2016).

“We welcome the healthy performance of relatively steel-intensive sectors,” Eggert said in the release. “These include the automotive and engineering industries, as well as tube manufacturers, over the first half of 2017. Growth in the construction industry was the strongest it has been for many years and clearly reflects improving fundamentals in this important steel-using segment.”

Eurofer expects total output to continue to trend positively throughout the remainder of the year, building on the momentum of the first half. Total output is forecast to rise by 4.2% for the year, according to Eurofer.

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Despite import pressures, the total economic picture for the EU bloc leaves room for optimism. Eurofer’s October outlook forecasts GDP growth of 2.1% this year and 1.9% for 2018.

“The business climate looks set to remain supportive to continued healthy investment growth, whereas private consumption growth is foreseen to slow down somewhat,” the report states. “In combination with stable growth of government consumption, domestic demand will be the major driver of economic growth in the EU.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, U.S. manufacturers are pleased that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s ruling in a recent antidumping case treats China as a non-market economy, BHP looks to meet copper demand with more drilling and U.S. Steel reports its third-quarter earnings.

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Manufacturing Group Praises DOC’s China Decision

The Manufacturers for Trade Enforcement (MTE) expressed their support for the Department of Commerce’s recent antidumping ruling on Chinese aluminum foil (for which dumping margins were assigned based on the department’s non-market economy dumping methodology).

“Fair international competition and a level playing field are essential for the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute and co-chairman of the MTE. “China has not met the statutory criteria to be treated as a market economy, and we applaud our government’s commitment to ensuring China is not prematurely awarded market economy status.

“Substantial state intervention in the Chinese economy has resulted in significant overcapacity in many manufacturing sectors in China while also distorting global markets and hurting American manufacturers. Jobs have been lost in all of our industries. China should not be afforded market economy status while still maintaining a state-controlled economic system that encourages unfair trade practices that injure multiple U.S. industries.”

BHP Aims to Meet Copper Demand

Miner BHP, in efforts to meet growing copper demand in an increasingly electrified automotive market, is turning to the drill, according to Reuters.

According to the report, BHP’s copper exploration budget has hovered at an annual average of $60 million the last 4-5 years.

U.S. Steel Posts Solid Third Quarter

U.S. Steel reported third-quarter net earnings of $147 million, or $0.83 per diluted share. Third quarter 2016 net earnings were $51 million, or $0.32 per diluted share.

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“Our third quarter results were modestly better than we expected, with stable operating performance at each of our segments and our Tubular segment producing positive EBITDA in the quarter,” said Dave Burritt, U.S. Steel’s president and CEO, in a release. “Our results for the first nine months of 2017 improved over the first nine months of 2016, with all three of our segments improving compared with 2016.”

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was:

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Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

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So far this year, the U.S. has imported 19.6% more steel than it did through the same time frame last year, according to data released by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) on Wednesday.

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According to preliminary Census Bureau data cited by AISI, through the first nine months of 2017, total and finished steel imports amounted to 29,663,000 and 22,890,000 net tons (NT), respectively. Compared with the first nine months of 2016, total and finished steel imports are up 19.6% and 15.7%, respectively.

Finished steel import market share was an estimated 27% in September, a percentage point below the 28% year-to-date market share. Estimated finished steel import market share peaked in June — around the same time as the Trump administration’s first self-imposed Section 232 steel probe deadline, which came and went without a decision (and remains outstanding) — when it eclipsed the 30% mark.

Source: AISI

By item, a number of steel product imports jumped significantly in September compared with the previous month. Those spikes include: reinforcing bars (up 85%), line pipe (up 35%), tin plate (up 31%), oil country goods (up 23%) and plates in coils (up 11%).

In the year to date, imports of oil country goods (up 255%), line pipe (up 60%), standard pipe (up 45%), mechanical tubing (up 32%), cold rolled (up 28%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (up 26%), sheets and strip hot dipped galvanized (up 22%) and hot rolled bars (up 19%) all posted notable increases. 

South Korea once again emerged as the top steel exporter to the U.S. last month. In descending order by volume, the top exporters to the U.S. were: South Korea (321,000 NT, down 11% from August), Japan (169,000 NT, up 32%), Germany (151,000 NT, up 53%), Taiwan (120,000 NT, down 2%) and Turkey (112,000 NT, up 5%).

South Korea also leads the way through the first nine months of the year, sending 2,949,000 NT to the U.S. (down 2% versus the same period in 2016), followed by Turkey (1,944,000 NT, up 5%), Japan (1,234,000 NT, down 14%), Taiwan (1,026,000 NT, up 36%) and Germany (1,001,000 NT, up 6%).

Speaking of Section 232, the Trump administration’s probe of the national security implications of steel imports, the wait continues for a ruling. The probe, launched in April, carries a Jan. 15 deadline. At that point, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is required to present the president with a report detailing findings and recommendations. If Ross determines the imports are a threat, the president then 90 days to decide if he agrees and whether or not to use his statutory authority to adjust import levels.

Mid-summer optimism from domestic producers, who expected the Trump administration to enact some sort of trade remedy (whether in the form of tariffs, quotas or a combination of the two) has waned. With NAFTA, health-care reform, tax reform, immigration and a number of other issues dominating the administration’s focus, Section 232 chatter has seemed to die down in recent months.

U.S. steel producers are still holding out hope for Section 232 action addressing the rise of imports. Nucor CEO and Chairman John Ferriola touched on the issue of imports during the company’s third-quarter earnings call last week.

“Nucor continues to believe significant work remains to be done to achieve free and fair trade for U.S. manufacturers,” Ferriola said during the call. “More specifically, it’s time for comprehensive and broad-based remedies that address the illegal foreign trade practices that have materially weakened our nation’s economic vitality.”

The last Section 232 probe took place in 2001, when the George W. Bush administration looked into imports of iron ore and semi-finished steel. Ultimately, it was determined those imports did not pose a threat to the country’s national security.

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

This time around, U.S. producers are hoping for a different determination.

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Chinese steel output is falling, according to The New York Times.

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Crude steel output hit 71.83 million metric tons in September, the lowest since February and down from 74.59 million tons in August, according to National Bureau of Statistics data last week. September’s average daily output was 2.39 million tons, down 0.8% from August (but still 5.3% higher than in 2016).

After a year in which mills have been cranking out every ton they can muster and prices have been booming on the back of plant closures, the recent fall in output is telling.

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was.

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  • Holidays in India mean an uptick in gold buying — our Sohrab Darabshaw covered India’s holiday gold surge.
  • The fourth round of renegotiation talks focused on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) concluded earlier this week. We covered the latest round of talks, which by all accounts have the three negotiating teams at an impasse.
  • As the fallout continues from Kobe Steel’s quality data falsification scandal, our Stuart Burns wrote about what exactly might have gone wrong at Japan’s third-largest steelmaker.
  • The World Steel Association’s Short Range Outlook came out this week, predicting solid, albeit moderated growth for the global steel market.
  • Precious and base metals have been behaving similarly, our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote this week.
  • The U.S. International Trade Commission launched a new Section 337 probe related to automation systems.
  • The value of the U.S. dollar has a significant impact on the fortunes of a number of metals, our Stuart Burns explained.
  • And how about palladium? Burns also touched on the rise of the platinum group metal and its leapfrogging of platinum (for the time being).
  • It’s third-quarter earnings report time. Alcoa and Nucor were among the latest companies to announce their earnings for the latest quarter.

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

The World Steel Association released its October 2017 Short Range Outlook (SRO) — its assessment of the global steel market — on Monday.

For the most part, the latest SRO relates good news for the global market.

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“In 2018, we expect global growth to moderate, mainly due to slower growth in China, while in the rest of the world, steel demand will continue to maintain its current momentum,” said T.V. Narendran, chairman of the World Steel Association’s Economics Committee, in the report.

According to the SRO, global steel demand will reach 1,622.1 million tons (Mt) in 2017 and 1,648.1 Mt in 2018. Excluding China, demand is expected to grow 2.6% this year and 3.0% next year.

Dr. Nae Hee Han, the World Steel Association’s director of economic studies and statistics, wrote on Monday that while the numbers in the SRO are mostly positive, there are a few caveats.

First, she wrote, the growth of emerging economies did not meet previous SRO estimates set in April.

“A number of emerging economies did not perform as well as expected in 2017 due to short term disruptions caused by ongoing reform initiatives or political factors,” Nee Han wrote.

On the other hand, developed economies — the European Union, Japan and the United States — performed better than expected. But Nee Han explains that emerging economies will experience greater growth in 2018, partially as a result of reform initiatives, including the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system in India, energy and tax reform in Mexico, exchange rate reforms in Argentina and Egypt, and fiscal reforms in GCC countries.

As for the sustainability of the current growth trend, Nee Han writes that it might not be a long-term thing.

“Secondly, the worldsteel Economics Committee at its most recent meeting in Amsterdam a month ago was in agreement that the current momentum is driven mostly by cyclical rather than structural factors,” she wrote. “We do not find the improved growth figures to be sustainable in the long term: China’s continued deceleration, megatrends such as aging populations, a shift to a circular economy and increasingly stringent environmental regulations continue to weigh against steel demand.”

Another optimism-mitigating factor listed by Nee Han is the statistical anomaly that is China’s 2017.

“In 2017 China closed most of its illegal induction furnace capacity, which up until now had not been included in official statistics,” Nee Han explains. “With this closure, the demand satisfied from these producers is now being met by the official sector. This shift of demand explains the forecasted jump in the Chinese growth rate in 2017 – the technical effect of the underestimated 2016 base.”

Around the World

Demand for finished steel is variable around the world, but, for the most part, is forecasted to increase this year and next in most regions.

In the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) bloc, there is an expected 4.9% year-over-year increase in demand (or 138.7 Mt) and 1.2% increase in 2018 (140.4 Mt).

Meanwhile, the report forecasts a 2.5% jump this year in the EU (162.1 Mt) and 1.4% increase next year (164.3 Mt).

In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) bloc, which includes Russia, there is an expected 3.6% increase in 2017 (51.1 Mt) and 3.8% next year (53.0 Mt).

In the Asia and Oceania region, there is an expected 9.3% growth in 2017 (1,098.8 Mt) and 1.1% in 2018 (1,111.1 Mt).

In Africa, there is an expected 1.6% drop in demand this year (37.0 Mt) and a 3.3% jump next year (38.2 Mt).

In Central and South America, the report forecasts a 2.5% jump this year (40.4 Mt) and 4.7% jump next year (42.3 Mt).

Construction and Automotive Sectors

What about industry sectors, like construction and automotive?

According to the SRO, construction growth in developed countries, which has been relatively slow since the 2008 economic recession, is “now showing more positive signs both in the residential and commercial sectors due to rising incomes and improving investment sentiments.”

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

As for the automotive sector, the report states that despite a strong 2017 overall, growth could moderate in the U.S. and China, a trend that is “likely to extend to other countries in 2018.”

There are reasons why miners — indeed, all producers across industries — seek to dominate market share.

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The biggest reason? Being able to influence the market.

Yes, economies of scale come with size and in the case of mines to metal integrated trader Glencore that dominance in the zinc market gives them influence over not just mine output but concentrates, tolling and refining in a way that is not rivaled by any other firm.

Nor is the firm too kind to do things by halves — when they decide on an acquisition, on a market move, on a position, they do it decisively and with conviction.

In October 2015, Glencore sent shock waves through the market by cutting a third of its output, some half a million tons, to address what was widely seen as an oversupplied market and to stabilize prices. It worked — in just two years, the price has risen from $2,000/ton at the start of 2015 to $3,300/ton today.

LME zinc price, from October 2015 to October 2017. Source: LME

A Financial Times article states Glencore’s Australian Mount Isa and McArthur River operations took the brunt of the 2015 supply cuts, with output reduced by 380,000 tons. In total, the Glencore shutdowns removed 3.5% of global mine production, as the miner curtailed output from mines in Australia, Peru and Kazakhstan. In the meantime, end-of-life closures at Century in Australia and Lisheen in Ireland helped tighten the market.

Arguably Glenore’s action, while painful for zinc consumers, have in the long run done the zinc market a favor.

The rise in prices has supported the case for investment in new mines, such as Gamsberg and Duglad, due to come online towards the end of the decade. But even miners recognize you can have too much of a good thing, and limiting further price rises would not only help consumers but would help mitigate the demand destruction that comes from prices rising too fast and too far.

With that in mind, will Glencore look to bring back some, or all, of its idled capacity in 2018?

The firm continues to bet big on zinc, announcing last week its plans to increase its stake in Peru’s Volcan Cia Minera SAA, Bloomberg reports. With new mines due to come on stream in 2019 and 2020, supply constraints to the zinc market will eventually ease somewhat. Doubts remain, however, whether they will be enough to see the market in surplus.

Deshnee Naidoo, chief executive officer of Vedanta’s zinc unit, said a more sustainable zinc price would be $2,500-2,800 per metric ton. Others may argue with her, but Glencore has shown it can move markets and has the means — like Saudi Arabia did in the 1990s and 2000s with oil — be the swing producer, stabilizing a market for the benefit of both producers and consumers.

Traders often get a bad press for short-termism and the blind pursuit of profit, but Glencore has shown it acts in the longer term, too, and is capable of taking a strategic view of the market, of taking short-term losses in the pursuit of longer-term gains. The firm is uniquely positioned in the zinc market to act as a benign stabilizing element, keeping prices at a profitable but not demand-destructive level.

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It is clearly not as simple to regulate mine supply as it was oil supply for Saudi Arabia. You cannot turn off a mine like you can the spigot of a pump.

But with so many diverse zinc resources, Glencore is in a better position that any to smooth out the dips and peaks, for the sake of its shareholders and for the market as a whole.

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On the heels of an eight-point leap last month, the Construction MMI dropped a point to hit 90 for our October reading.

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The prices of Chinese rebar and H-beam steel, in addition to U.S. shredded scrap, all fell on the month. European aluminum 1050 sheet also posted a modest drop.

On the positive side of the ledger, Chinese aluminum bars and the trio of U.S. bar fuel surcharges in this sub-index posted price increases.

Slumping Housing Market

As we noted last month, the housing market struggled in August, when existing-home sales fell to their lowest levels of the year.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which shook Texas (and southwestern Louisiana) and Florida, in addition to the severe humanitarian toll, also rocked the housing market.

“The South saw a decline in closings last month that was largely attributed to the after-effects from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area,” according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). “Home sales likely will be impacted for the rest of the year in Houston and in the most severely affected areas in Florida after Hurricane Irma.”

“Nearly all of the lost activity will likely show up in 2018,” said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist.

Even so, home prices are rising fastest in cities prone to experiencing natural disasters, according to the NAR.

In fact, they’re rising twice as fast in those places compared with lower-risk areas, NAR reported, quoting a study by real estate data firm ATTOM Data Solutions.

“Strong demand for homes in high-risk natural hazard areas has helped to accelerate price appreciation in those areas over the past decade, despite the potential for devastating damage, as evidenced by the recent hurricanes that made landfall in Texas and Florida,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, as quoted by NAR. “That strong demand is driven largely by economic fundamentals—primarily the presence of good-paying jobs, although the natural beauty that often comes hand-in-hand with high natural hazard risk in these areas is also attractive to many home buyers.”

Reuters last month reported on Harvey’s impact on the Houston housing market, namely in the form of a housing shortage and rising prices reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans.

“The supply of houses and apartments is expected to drop sharply with tens of thousands of homes destroyed and uncertain prospects for future flood insurance costs,” Reuters reported.

Growth in Construction Spending

According to the most recently available U.S. Census Bureau data for the month of August, construction spending in the U.S. increased 0.5% over the revised July estimate of $1,212.3 billion.

The August total of $1,218.3 billion is up 2.5% from the August 2016 total of $1,189.1 billion.

Broken down by sector, private spending was up 0.4% in August from the previous month, at a seasonally adjusted total of $954.8 billion.

Public spending amounted to $263.5 billion, up 0.7% from the previous month. Educational construction spending was up 3.5% from the previous month, while highway construction dropped 1.3%.

Architecture Billings Continue Growth

According to the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) put out by the American Institute of Architects, billings continued to show growth in August.

Billings across the country increased for the seventh consecutive month, according to the most recent ABI report.

With a reading of 50 indicating no growth, the South region posted the strongest month with a reading of 55.7, followed by the Northeast (54.3), Midwest (52.5) and West (51.3) regions. The overall billings reading rose from 51.9 last month to 53.7 for August.

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