Commentary

Did you honestly think it had gone away? In the week that the U.K. government is set to announce article 50, formally notify its European partners that it plans to leave the E.U. within two years, we’re reminded of the ongoing political process which is likely to add significant volatility in the year ahead.

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The U.K.’s (or at least Great Britain’s, Scotland is vowing to hold its own referendum on staying in the U.K.) decision to leave the E.U. will have far-reaching consequences but, realistically, does not look likely to signal a breakup of the E.U. itself. Recent elections in the Netherlands saw a swing back to liberal pro-E.U. political parties and a rejection of more xenophobic and anti-E.U. sentiments as espoused by Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom. Although she is likely to do well in the first round, the Dutch result does not bode well for Marine Le Pen in the upcoming French elections with pro-E.U. parties doing well in the polls. The E.U., politically, is currently showing a united front particularly in its pre-negotiating stance with the U.K.

Clean Break? Or Regulatory Cooperation?

Britain, on the other hand, is waging what can the politely be called an internal debate between those who are lobbying for a hard Brexit or clean break from all E.U. laws and institutions, and those on the other side taking a more pragmatic view that it could be in Britain’s interest (if it genuinely wants some form of open access to E.U. markets) to maintain compliance with many E.U. regulations and institutions. Read more

Following the fortunes of Boeing and Airbus, you could be forgiven for thinking that aircraft manufacturers always run late, over budget, and the resulting end product can struggle to meet initial expectations.

Emrbaer E2

The Embraer E2. Source: Embraer.

But Brazil’s Embraer, the world’s third-largest commercial jet maker, has shown with its next generation narrow body regional aircraft, the E-2 series, that it doesn’t have to be that way. Embraer introduced the aircraft at the Paris Airshow in 2013 and it was first displayed last summer at the Farnborough Airshow just 45 days after its maiden flight. The aircraft is set to be delivered on time, on budget, and even slightly underweight.

Segment Dominance

Embraer has been very successful with their current E-jet series and the new E-2 program looks set to maintain the company’s 55% market share dominance of the regional jet market. The E-2 will commence deliveries in the first half of 2018 and variants will be capable of carrying between 70 and 130 passengers. An FT article notes that Embraer has a backlog of commitments from airlines for 690 E2 aircraft, including firm orders of 275.

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The company has struck a wide-ranging and exclusive arrangement with Alcoa Corp. for aluminum sheet and plate for the wings, skins and fuselages of the model, with other Alcoa products being used in key applications such as wing ribs, fuselage frames and other structural parts. The long-term collaboration is said by Aluminum Today to be worth $470 million to Alcoa. “PurePower” engines will be supplied by Pratt & Whitney. Read more

This part two of our sit down with Steel Manufacturers Association President Philip K. Bell at the recent S&P Global Platts Steel Markets North America conference here in Chicago. Bell currently serves on the Department of Commerce International Trade Advisory Committee on Steel (ITAC 12), advising the Secretary of Commerce and United States Trade Representative on trade policy, trade agreements, and other trade related matters that benefit U.S. businesses, workers, and the economy.

Jeff Yoders: You mentioned that the proposed border-adjustment tax is something you have to be very, very careful about.

Philip K. Bell: Ironically, when I look at things the administration should prioritize, I would really like to see infrastructure rise higher on that top five list as opposed to things like a healthcare repeal because that’s one clear way that you can jump start the steel industry.

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Philip K. Bell

Philip K. Bell. Source: SMA

The steel industry, to me, if you look at it in the simplest terms, is based on cost and demand. You can help lower steel producers’ costs by reducing taxes and regulatory burdens, but you can increase demand by having this $1 trillion infrastructure plan and that would be very important. Making sure you deal with countries that dump, subsidize exports, etc. would also help.

JY: Using countervailing duties, anti-dumping duties and the existing tools commerce has, right?

PB: Right.

JY: I asked Chad Utermark, executive vice president of Nucor, what, exactly, their representatives had heard about when we might get to see the ideas for an infrastructure bill precisely because of that. This seems like a slam dunk for economic growth for all the industries that support construction. Why isn’t it being pushed more?

PB: We certainly would like to see infrastructure investment made a higher priority. I love the idea of public-private partnerships. The P3 approach is good, you’re going to bring better managerial skill with people who can manage the entire supply chain of infrastructure investment. Keep in mind, infrastructure can be financed this way, but it also needs to be funded (to an extent by the government). There are some infrastructure projects that are very important but might not appeal to private investors. They might not be easy to get done. Read more

We had a chance to sit down and discuss the issues facing members of the Steel Manufacturers Association with SMA President Philip K. Bell at the recent S&P Global Platts Steel Markets North America conference here in Chicago. Bell also currently serves on the  Department of Commerce International Trade Advisory Committee on Steel (ITAC 12), advising the Secretary of Commerce and United States Trade Representative on trade policy, trade agreements, and other trade related matters that benefit U.S. businesses, workers, and the economy.

Philip K. Bell

Philip K. Bell. Source: SMA

Jeff Yoders: We’ve heard a lot about North American Free Trade Agreement and what changes to it might mean in the last two days. How do your members feel about reopening NAFTA to changes?

Philip K. Bell: NAFTA is over 20 years old and it’s probably time to look at it again. A lot has changed over the last two decades. We hope the approach that the administration takes is one that’s more methodical and takes into account that not only are Canada and Mexico two of our biggest trade partners but, when it comes to the steel industry, they ARE our two largest trade partners.

There is a lot of integration in this area. You have a lot of steel producers that either have businesses in Mexico such as Gerdau, ArcelorMittal and Nucor — through its joint venture JFE — and you have a lot of companies that want to do business there like Steel Dynamics which is hoping to increase its presence in that market by importing flat-rolled into Mexico. Read more

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have done the U.S. oil industry a massive favor, and they are probably ruing the day they tried to squeeze America’s shale industry out of existence.

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The collapse in oil prices that ensued after Saudi Arabia-led OPEC opened the spigots two years ago forced American companies, and their many subcontractors, to innovate in a way that would never have happened so fast or gone so far without the imminent threat of survival forcing the pace.

Oil Prices Allow Reopening of Old Wells

Now, U.S. shale producers have achieved economies of scale that allow them to return to previously closed wells in fields like Eagle Ford and achieve 30% returns even at $40 a barrel. U.S. explorers may be making hay in the domestic market, but huge potential exists for these same firms to take their technology abroad. Read more

The head of an Indian zinc company is using the surge in metal prices to the financial benefit of his shareholders in a major way.

According to a recent piece from Bloomberg, Anil Agarwal, the billionaire head of Hindustan Zinc Ltd., is parlaying metal price increases into a $4 billion dividend for shareholders in what is being called a record return for the company.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

The closest beneficiaries include Vedanta Ltd. (65% ownership) and the Indian government (30% ownership), Bloomberg stated. Hindustan Zinc is the largest zinc producer in India.

“Vedanta continues to be in a very good space given all its verticals are doing well and if they can reduce debt that would be a better ploy and would increase the returns for shareholders,” Sanjiv Bhasin, executive vice president at India Infoline Ltd., told the news source by phone. “Metals, as a proxy to global growth and given the stimulus announced in the U.S., have been the best asset class in the past one year, and it will continue to outperform.”

Zinc Price Rally Amps Up

Our own Raul de Frutos wrote earlier this week that zinc prices climbed the week prior and the metal is now trading near the milestone of $3,000 per metric ton, which is the last time prices have been at this point since September 2007.

de Frutos wrote: “Zinc has doubled in price since it hit bottom in January of last year. As prices climbed, many buyers probably made the mistake of thinking prices were too high, missing this spectacular rally. However, buyers that subscribe to our monthly outlook, didn’t miss this rally. We recommended buying forward starting in April of 2016. Ever since, prices have risen without looking back.”

How will zinc and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

Macro photo of a piece of lead ore

Lead prices grew 0.7% at the beginning of the week, reaching $2,290 per metric ton, while sister metal zinc rose 0.4% to $2,875 per mt.

This data, reported by Reuters, is trending in line with our own Raul de Frutos’ projections that lead prices will trade at $2,800/mt by the end of the year. The metal has fluctuated fairly wildly over the past several months following a significant run throughout most of 2016.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

de Frutos stated: “Prices are now back near new highs as bulls seem to be taking control again.”

He added that lead prices are currently holding well and could be ready for another rally, thus the anticipation for a $2,800/mt by the end of 2017.

Lead Prices Still Have a Ways to Go

“Lead treatment charges have plummeted over the past few months. They are currently below $20 per mt, from $80 just three months ago. In this respect, lead is playing catch-up with its cousin zinc, in which the deficit for refined metal is more obvious.”

How will lead and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal’s audacious purchase of 13% of mining giant Anglo American PLC  took the stock markets by surprise last week. But Agarwal, chairman of London-listed Vedanta Resources is known for his bold and sometimes seemingly counter-intuitive acquisitions.

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Agarwal has bought the shares in the name of his family trust Volcan, saying it is just an investment in a “great company with excellent assets,” stating that he had no immediate plans to launch a takeover, according to the Financial Times.

No one believes him, of course, or at least not the part about it just being an investment in a great company with excellent assets. True, the prospect of Agarwal’s Vedanta with a market cap of $2.99 billion, being able to takeover Anglo-American with a market cap of  $20.84 billion (£16.7 billion) is verging on the absurd, but the truth is Agarwal is probably more interested in a seat on the board and the opportunity to influence Anglo-American’s future in South Africa than seriously taking over a group that is seven times the size of his own.

Source: Financial Times

Anglo-American has made no secret of its desire to divest some of its more troublesome South African investments.

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The political instability and red tape in South Africa has caused the miner problems in recent years and Anglo has already sold two assets to Vedanta including the Gamsberg zinc project in the Northern Cape which Vedanta should bring to production next year. Read more

Late last week, Indian media was rife with reports of Vedanta Resources PLC Chairman Anil Agarwal making a “surprise” bid for about 13% of mining giant Anglo American PLC for $2.4 billion, even as the British newspapers headlined the development as a “raid.” Anglo American owns De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond exploration and mining companies.

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The move to acquire the shares was made through Agarwal’s personal investment firm Volcan Investments in London.

Here’s the lowdown on Anglo American: The U.K.-headquartered Group, with operations in South Africa, North and South America, Asia and Europe, has revenue of $23 billion, EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) amount to $6.1 billion, and it has a market value of over $20 billion. In addition to diamonds, Anglo is a global player in platinum and base metals and minerals — it mines copper, nickel, niobium and phosphates. It also sells commodities such as iron ore and manganese, metallurgical coal and thermal coal.

When the 13% shares are acquired, Agarwal’s Volcan will be the second-biggest shareholder after the South African Government investment firm Public Investment Corp., which owns 14%. Volcan, said news reports. Volcan intends to finance the investment through mandatory exchangeable bonds. Led by JPMorgan Chase & Co., the bond sale will take place on or around April 11, the closing date.

Agarwal is the founder of Vedanta but he said he doesn’t intend to make a takeover offer for Anglo American, though a merger between the two failed last year. Incidentally, in 2010, Vedanta acquired Anglo American’s portfolio of zinc assets in Namibia, South Africa and Ireland.

Agarwal told the Sunday Times that he “liked” Anglo’s entire balanced portfolio, both in South Africa and elsewhere.

Some years ago, through his entities, Agarwal had also signed an agreement with the South African government for sharing mining technology.

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He said he would be “fully supportive of the board, management and strategy”.

Metal trader turned mining tycoon Agarwal started as a scrap dealer way back in 1975, and his has been a rags to riches story so far but we’ll have to wait and see if his interest in Anglo American is more than just that of a minority investor.

For an industry that has for decades been criticized by environmental groups as the root of all evil it is ironic that oil and gas producers are aligned in championing carbon capture with such enthusiasm.

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The fossil fuel industry is at the forefront of lobbying for radical changes in public policy into research to cut the costs of extracting CO2 from hydrocarbon energy. Industry leaders like Bob Dudley from BP are quoted in the Telegraph as saying, “we can’t just keep our heads in the sand”.

The reality is the hydrocarbon industry has seen the writing on the wall. Public attitudes are hardening, aided by worries about particulate emissions from diesel cars and air pollution in major cities from Beijing to Delhi and even in western capitals like London. The industry is under huge pressure from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and activist shareholders to find long-term solutions to the carbon question and thwart claims that hydrocarbons are our sunset energy source. Read more