Industry News

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

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  • In case you missed it, our August MMI Report is out. Metals like copper and aluminum hit record highs, and nine of our 10 sub-indexes posted upward movement as a result of a strong July. Will that momentum continue? Check back next month for the September MMI report.
  • Many have predicted a decline for iron ore prices, but as our Stuart Burns wrote on Monday, reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. A weak U.S. dollar, combined with strong equities and global GDP, have helped keep iron ore performing well, not to mention Chinese steel and the wider metals market. Read through for Burns’ assessment of the iron ore market.
  • In India, a boom of bauxite production is expected, wrote our Sohrab Darabshaw. In fact, it is expected to more than double by 2021. How is that possible? One reason, Darabshaw writes, is “increased domestic demand for aluminium, which will largely be sourced from the quintupling of land under mining lease in the Odisha province (which has the bulk of India’s bauxite reserves).”
  • One commodity almost everyone is interested in is oil. On Tuesday, Burns wrote about the future of oil prices. But, since this is MetalMiner, after all, those prices also have an effect on metal markets.
  • Everyone loves a good M&A story, and Burns had one earlier this week on the ongoing talks between Indian steel giant Tata Steel and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp. Plus, he touches on ArcelorMittal’s takeover of Italy’s Ilva. Burns writes: “For the first time in years, steelmakers at least seem to have a plan and are actively pursuing it. Whether that plan is to the eventual benefit or detriment of consumers remains to be seen — but a healthier domestic steel industry must certainly be advantageous to all.”
  • How about zinc? Burns wrote about the metal’s rise to $3,000, and the reasons behind zinc’s price hitting its highest point since 2007.
  •  Last week was a busy one for the U.S. Department of Commerce, which handed down preliminary determinations in countervailing duty investigations for both Chinese aluminum and silicon coming from a trio of countries.
  • Back in India, steel exports are on the rise as the Indian government’s protectionist measures seem to be paying off for its domestic industry.
  • Lastly, representatives of the U.S., Canada and Mexico began talks on Wednesday regarding renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the trade deal instituted in 1994. The U.S. is focused on, among other things, bringing down ballooning trade deficits with the two countries (particularly Mexico). The talks are scheduled to continue until Sunday, so check back for updates on the proceedings.

Free Download: The August 2017 MMI Report

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Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement, has been a talking point for President Donald Trump. After all, let’s not forget: during the first presidential debate last September, Trump called NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever signed, maybe anywhere.”

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In January, Trump pulled the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiate under former President Barack Obama. In April, Trump reportedly nearly pulled the U.S. from NAFTA, but ultimately backed off after conversations with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

With that, the stage was then set for the first round of negotiations, which kicked off Aug. 16 in Washington, D.C. The talks are scheduled to continue until Aug. 20.

In recent months, the Trump administration made it clear that attacking the sizable trade deficits the U.S. has with Mexico and Canada will be a major focus of the negotiations. United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said as much in his opening statement:

“I’ve always thought that communities along our borders have a particular equity in this agreement. In many cases their lives, businesses, and families are very much on both sides of the dividing line,” Lighthizer said. “They too are hardworking men and women trying to raise a families and accumulate wealth. We must keep their interests paramount. But for countless Americans, this agreement has failed. We cannot ignore the huge trade deficits, the lost manufacturing jobs, the businesses that have closed or moved because of incentives — intended or not — in the current agreement.”

According to Census Bureau data, 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.

This year, from January-June, Census Bureau data show a nearly $36.3 billion trade deficit with Mexico and a $10.5 billion trade deficit with Canada.

As with most things, various stakeholders have differing opinions on the success of NAFTA.

Read more

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India’s protectionist measures to safeguard its steel industry seem to be paying off.

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As reported consistently by AG Metal Miner, the Indian government, responding to the call of its steelmakers, had time and again imposed various forms of anti-dumping measures and fines to stop cheap imports of steel — especially from the world’s steel manufacturing leader, China.

Along with the U.S. and Brazil, India was said to be one of the world’s leading initiators of anti-dumping investigations, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Well, now, all this has resulted in India’s steel exports doubling to 8.2 million tons and imports have been slashed by about one-third in 2016-17.

As per a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), quoting from portions of the released Economic Survey, the rise in exports of steel could also wipe away the excess capacity built up in the steel sector. The mid-year survey by the government said steel imports had declined in 2016-17, while exports of steel had doubled.

Alloy imports dipped by 36.6% to 7.4 million tons in 2016- 17 against 11.7 million tons in the previous fiscal year. Exports doubled to 8.2 million tons last fiscal year, over 4.1 million tons in the corresponding year.

The news was welcomed by steel companies like Tata Steel. T.V. Narendran, managing director for Tata Steel India and South East Asia, told newsmen that steel demand in India was increasing, making it just right to make future investments. Stability was being witnessed in the steel sector globally, though it had faced some problem two years ago, Narendran told reporters.

Ironically, much of Indian steel joy stems from its traditional rival China, where there’s been a visible improvement in the economy — which meant much of its steel being produced was once again being used within the country. It was against the backdrop of China’s economic slowdown that the global steel industry had faced distress due to decline in global demand.

The Indian survey report said, in response to the dumping of cheap imports, the government in 2016 introduced a host of measures like raising Basic Customs Duty, imposition of Minimum Import Price (MIP) and anti-dumping duties in order to shield domestic producers. The government imposed the MIP for steel in February 2016 for a period of one year.

On April 12, 2016, India initiated countervailing duty investigation concerning imports of certain hot-rolled and cold-rolled stainless steel flat products originating in China.

According to the WTO, India’s share in total global steel exports increased from 1.1% in 2000 to 2.8% in 2016. During this period, China’s share in total steel exports rose from 3.7% in 2000 to 19.2% in 2016. Japan’s share in total steel exports in 2000 which was 12.2%, but fell to 9.1% in 2016.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Meanwhile, the U.S. share in total steel imports was 17.0% in 2000, but has since come down to 12.1% in 2016.

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This morning in metals news, European aluminum maker Constellium moves its U.S. offices from New York to Baltimore, copper and aluminum take a step back, and AK Steel announces a price hike.

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Constellium to Set up Shop in Baltimore

European aluminum firm Constellium announced it will move its U.S. corporate offices from New York to Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday.

According to a statement from Constellium, at least 25 senior management and executives will be relocated to the new Baltimore office by the end of 2018.

Constellium, which has its corporate headquarters in Amsterdam and two additional corporate offices in Paris and Switzerland, produces aluminum products for a wide range of industries, including aerospace, automotive, transportation, defense and packaging.

Copper, Aluminum Fall Back

After recently hitting multi-year highs, copper and aluminum fell on Thursday.

According to Reuters, the drop is the result of investors who “locked in profits from a steep rally amid doubts about future demand in top metals consumer China.”

Speculator activity has seen the LME index rise 16% from early June, according to the report.

AK Steel Announces Price Hike

Effective immediately, AK Steel will raise the price for all carbon flat-rolled steel products by a minimum of $30 per ton, according to a report on Nasdaq.com.

Since last August, AK Steel’s shares have risen 5%, compared with 21.8% for the industry, according to the report.

Despite that disparity, AK Steel had a strong second quarter, topping earnings and sales estimates, according to the Nasdaq report.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

The company reported net income of $61.2 million (or 19 cents per share), up 253.7% from net income of $17.3 million (or 8 cents) recorded in the prior-year quarter, the report says.  The company also recorded net sales of $1,557.2 million for the quarter, up 4.3% from the year-ago quarter, exceeding the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1,530 million.

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

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s ruling Aug. 8 on Chinese aluminum foil wasn’t the only determination it announced that day.

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On top of the foil ruling — in which the department ruled that Chinese foil imports benefited unfairly from government subsidies, and as a result could be subject to duties of up to 81% — the DOC also issued a preliminary countervailing duty determination regarding silicon imports from Australia, Brazil and Kazakhstan.

According to a DOC release, silicon exporters from Australia, Brazil and Kazakhstan benefited from countervailing subsides of 16.23%, 3.69 to 52.07%, and 120%, respectively.

“We will continue to review all information related to this preliminary determination,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in the release. “The Trump Administration remains vigilant against foreign actors that take advantage of American workers and businesses.”

Imports of silicon metal from Australia, Brazil, and Kazakhstan were valued at an estimated $33.9 million, $60.0 million, and $17.5 million, respectively, according to the DOC release.

The petitioner is Globe Specialty Metals, Inc., which has production facilities in Alabama, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.

The DOC’s rulings on silicon and aluminum foil are representative of the Trump administration’s emphasis on antidumping and countervailing duty probes. According to the DOC release, the administration has launched 64 investigations between Jan. 20 and Aug. 8, marking a 40% increase from the same timeframe last year.

Last year, the U.S. collected $1.5 billion in duties on $14 billion of imported goods “found to be underpriced or subsidized by foreign governments,” according to the DOC announcement.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

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This afternoon in metals news, supply-side reform in China is having significant effects on global markets, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calls for trade action to combat cheap imports of steel and aluminum from China and other countries, and scientists have resolved a long-standing mystery about a prehistoric copper smelting event.

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Chinese Supply-Side Reforms Leave Their Mark

There are many who question the impact of China’s efforts to curtail excess production, but according to a report by Platts, supply-side reforms in the country are having major impacts around the world.

China’s net steel exports through the first seven months of the year were down almost a third, according to the report. Hot rolled coil prices have also risen in the process, reaching their highest point since 2013.

“Given the current protectionist bent that seems to span the globe, it will be interesting to see how China’s metal exports will be perceived in a few years’ time,” the Platts report concludes. “In the US, for example, there is not enough steel capacity to deliver upon the infra-build being promised by President Trump, should Section 232 be imposed, and the build go ahead.”

Schumer Calls for Action on Cheap Steel, Aluminum Imports

The Trump administration launched Section 232 investigations into imports of steel and aluminum, with a particular focus on China.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, sounded a similar note, according to a report in the Watertown Daily Times.

“There are top notch manufactures like Alcoa and Nucor ready to provide high-quality aluminum and steel to businesses in and around the country, but China’s overproduction has resulted in a substantial threat to Upstate New York’s metal industry by making it almost impossible for companies that play by the rules to compete,” Schumer said in a statement.

According to the report, Schumer has sent letters to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the matter.

Scientists Resolve Ancient Copper Smelting Mystery

For more than half a century, the origins of a copper smelting event at a prehistoric archaeological site has remained a mystery.

But recently, a team of scientists hit paydirt at the Late Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey.

“Scholars have been hotly debating the origins and spread of metallurgy for decades, mainly due to the relationship this technology had with the rise of social complexity and economy of the world’s first civilisations in the Near East,” according to a report in phys.org.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

According to the report, a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science concludes that that after “the re-examination of a c. 8,500-year-old by-product from metal smelting, or ‘slag’, from the site of Çatalhöyük presents the conclusive reconstruction of events that led to the firing of a small handful of green copper minerals.”

Unlike the steel mergers of the mid-noughties, the mergers currently in the news are born out of weakness, not strength, a recent Financial Times article suggests.

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According to the piece, profitability among the continent’s steelmakers plunged from a peak in the third quarter of 2008 — when each ton shipped delivered on average €215 in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization — to just €46/tonne in the first quarter of 2016, according to calculations by UBS.

The figure has recovered since to about €83/tonne in the first quarter of 2017, but at the cost of 86,000 job losses since the financial crisis and years of losses contributing to the bankruptcy of the continent’s largest steel production plant, Ilva, in Italy.

Source Financial Times

Despite years of suboptimal capacity utilization, there has been limited rationalization of production continentwide, with governments fiercly opposing job losses in their backyard and steelmakers hoping the other guy will make the cuts. Even Ilva is now being taken over by ArcelorMittal rather than closing completely, and following a major investment will be back in production next year.

Source Financial Times

Although the industry acknowledges Europe will never need as much steel as it once did, ArcelorMittal is quoted as saying the industry is looking to governments to do more to stem imports from Russia and China, and facilitate the planned and phased closure of persistently loss-making plants. Less foreign competition and more consolidation is the agenda in the hope fewer more-consolidated steelmakers can achieve greater clout with buyers in a more constrained market, forcing through higher prices.

Source Financial Times

When ArcelorMittal’s takeover of Ilva is complete, the combined entity will control some 30% of European flat-rolled steel production, up from 26.5% for ArcelorMittal now. While Tata Steel’s proposed and much-delayed merger with ThyssenKrupp’s steel division — currently Europe’s second-largest steel producer — would raise their combined market share for hot-rolled flat products to over 20%.

Steel prices are already up nearly 60% from the bottom in 2015 on the back of improved recovery in steel demand and a gradual increase in anti-dumping legislation restricting some types of steel imports into Europe. Producers would like to see this go a lot further, of course, but consumers are fighting to keep the import market open, fearing — with some justification — that more action will reduce competition and result in significantly higher prices.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

For the first time in years, steelmakers at least seem to have a plan and are actively pursuing it. Whether that plan is to the eventual benefit or detriment of consumers remains to be seen — but a healthier domestic steel industry must certainly be advantageous to all.

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

This afternoon in metals news, experts say that despite the delay in the Section 232 investigation of steel imports, they still expect President Donald Trump to impose tariffs, U.S. steel production is up 2.9% in the year to date and copper and steel output from Kazakhstan rose significantly from January to July.

Section 232 Tariffs Still Coming, Experts Say

The wait continues for the Trump administration’s announcement of what it is going to do at the conclusion of its Section 232 investigation into steel imports.

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The investigation was launched in April, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has 270 days to present President Donald Trump with a report (making for a January deadline).

An announcement was expected to be made by the end of June, but that self-imposed deadline came and went without an announcement. However, despite the delay, some industry experts believe Trump still plans to impose tariffs, according to a report by Reuters.

Trading partners around the world, including the European Union, in recent months have warned of the possibility of retaliatory measures should the U.S. move forward with tariffs (or a quota system, or a hybrid tariff-quota measure).

A Trump administration official told Reuters the Section 232 review is active and is “still under the final stages of review within the administration.”

U.S. Raw Steel Production Up 2.9%

Per data released in the American Iron and Steel Institute’s weekly report, U.S. raw steel production in the year to date is up 2.9% compared with the same time frame in 2016.

Adjusted year-to-date production through Aug. 12 was 55,650,000 net tons, up 2.9 percent from the 54,106,000 net tons during the same period last year, according to the report.

For the week ending Aug. 12, production was up 1% from the week ending Aug. 5, up to 1,780,000 net tons from 1,762,000 net tons the previous week.

Copper, Steel Output Up, Zinc Output Down in Kazakhstan

Output of copper and steel rose significantly from January to July in Kazakhstan compared with the same time frame in 2016, according to Reuters.

Copper output rose 5.7% and steel output rose 10.1% for the first seven months of the calendar year.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Meanwhile, zinc output dropped 0.9%.

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One of the top five regions in the world with the largest deposits of bauxite, India’s bauxite production is expected to increase from 22.08 million tons in 2016 to 49.4 million tons by 2021, according to new research.

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The BMI Research report says bauxite production is projected to hit 26.1 million tons this year, about 18% higher than 2016.

In the last two decades, India’s bauxite ore production has kept up with its aluminum output. As is the case with steel and other metals, bauxite production in the country, too, was estimated to go up in 2017 because of increasing domestic demand.

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This morning in metals news, China pressured iron ore traders not to buy from North Korea even before the newest round of U.N. sanctions were imposed, a Chilean copper company is preparing to invest in Mongolia and China produced a record amount of steel in July.

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China Puts Pressure on N. Korean Iron Ore Business

As the political situation on the Korean peninsula continues to intensify and President Donald Trump criticizes China for allegedly not doing enough to rein in North Korea, a Reuters report indicates China has taken some action against North Korean interests.

According to Reuters, China pressured its iron ore traders not to buy North Korea iron ore, pressure that even preceded the latest round of U.N. sanctions.

Per two traders Reuters spoke to, the Chinese government stopped issuing permits to bring in iron ore “several weeks ago.”

Codelco Looks to Make Investment in Mongolia

Chilean state miner Codelco is planing to make an investment in faraway Mongolia, Codelco’s chief executive told Reuters on Friday.

According to CEO Nelson Pizarro, the company is looking for medium-term investments in the country, which may have untapped copper deposits.

Chinese Steel Output Hits 74M Tons in July

Chinese steel producers had a prolific July, churning out  a record 74 millions tons, Reuters reported.

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The output bested the previous month’s then-record total of 73.23 million tons, reached in spite of government efforts to combat pollution.