Industry News

NioCorp Developments Ltd. has successfully produced high-purity 99.9% commercial grade Scandium Trioxide from its Elk Creek, Ne., Superalloy Materials Project and the company has finalized plans for a proposed scandium purification circuit there.

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Niocorp also announced that it anticipates public release of the results of its Elk Creek Feasibility Study in the second calendar quarter of 2017. Following the release of the study, the company intends to intensify efforts to secure government permits and obtain project financing to prepare for the launch of construction operations in Nebraska.

NioCorp’s successful production of a high-purity commercial grade scandium, an element used to make superstrong and light alloys used in both the automotive and aerospace industries, was conducted at SGS Mineral Services lab in Lakefield, Ont., Canada. This is a major milestone in Niocorp’s plans to become one of the world’s largest producers of the high-value metal. A 99.9% purity level, otherwise known as 3Ns or “three nines” scandium, meets or exceeds the purity needed for the additive’s use in virtually all of its mainstream commercial applications, including ultra-high-performance aluminum-scandium alloys for the aerospace and automotive industries, in the solid oxide fuel cell industry, and in other defense and non-defense applications.

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NioCorp said in a news release that the test showed its scandium product meets or exceeds the purity specifications of all potential customers with whom it has been in discussions.

OPEC Output Cut Threatened: Saudi Arabia Demands Iranian Cut

Saudi Arabia may demand that Iran, which is allowed a slight rise in output under the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ deal with member-states and non-members such as Russia, commit to an output reduction as a condition of continuing the cuts, people familiar with the kingdom’s thinking told S&P Global Platts.

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.

The strike at Chile’s Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, is ending after workers decided to invoke a rarely used legal provision that allows them to extend their old contract, the union said on Thursday.

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Hours earlier, talks between the two sides failed, and Escondida, which is operated by BHP Billiton, said it would attempt to restart production, presumably with replacement workers. The workers said they would present their decision to the government on Friday and return to work on Saturday.

Escondida produced 5% of the world’s copper last year.

Asian LNG Buyers Come Together

The world’s biggest liquefied natural gas buyers, all in Asia, are clubbing together to secure more flexible supply contracts in a move which shifts power to importers from producers as oversupply grows.

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Korea Gas Corp. said on Thursday it had signed a memorandum of understanding in mid-March with Japan’s JERA and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) to exchange information and “cooperate in the joint procurement of LNG.”

The Architecture Billings Index returned to growth mode in February, after a weak showing in January. An economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine-to-12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

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The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the February ABI score was 50.7, up from a score of 49.5 in the previous month. This score reflects a minor increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

ICE Delays London Gold Price Benchmark

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) has delayed the launch of clearing for London’s benchmark gold price because not all participants in the auction will be ready, two sources involved in the process told Reuters on Tuesday. The delay could weaken its bid to become the dominant exchange in London’s $5 trillion-a-year bullion market, sources say.

 

Chinese steel exports tumbled to a three-year low in February, customs data showed last week, lower than expectations, as steelmakers in the world’s top producer shifted to meeting rising demand at home.

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Shipments for the month were 5.75 million metric tons, the lowest since February 2014, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. It was down 29.1% from a year ago and down 22.5% from January.

Duterte Wants Mining Compromise

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said recently he hopes there will be a “happy compromise” between the mining industry and protecting the environment, throwing support to Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez will appear before Congress ahead of her confirmation hearing. Lopez is under pressure because she has closed nearly half the nation’s mines.

Two requests for proposals were released yesterday by Customs and Border Protection for the planned border wall between the U.S. and Mexico along the southern border in several states.

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New descriptions in the RFPs include this language: “CBP seeks highly qualified Contractors to assist in the development of a new border wall design standard as well as construct border wall and supporting tactical infrastructure/technology along the southwest border. CBP seeks highly qualified Contractors to propose a reinforced solid concrete wall that meets or exceeds CBP’s performance requirements. The proposed prototype designs shall not include the use of proprietary design or equipment. CBP plans to enter into multiple-award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ), task order contracts for Border Wall Design/Build Construction. The IDIQ may include various, simultaneous task orders ranging from $100,000 up to $275,000,000 per task order.

“CBP anticipates awarding IDIQ contracts to multiple Contractors. All selected Contractors will be awarded one (1) task order to construct its proposed prototype.”

The RFP goes on to state that “the prototypes will inform future design standard(s) which will likely continue to evolve to meet USBP’s requirements. Any and all prototypes will be designed to deter illegal entry into the United States. Through the prototyping process, CBP may identify new designs or influences for new designs that will expand the current border barrier toolkit that CBP will use to construct a border wall system. The border barrier toolkit is based on USBP’s requirements.”

Steel Industry Supports Revisiting Auto Emissions Standards

The American Iron and Steel Institute, the largest trade body representing the steel industry,  issued a statement in reaction to the Trump administration’s recent announcement that it is re-examining fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration for 2022-2025 model year light-duty vehicles.

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“AISI is pleased the administration has withdrawn the final determination of the EPA Light Duty Vehicle Emission Standards issued in January,” Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of AISI said in the statement. “As a key materials solutions provider, we look forward to a dialogue between EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California Air Resources Board, auto manufacturers and other relevant stakeholders on the Mid-Term Evaluation. The steel industry is making investments in new grades of lightweight, high-strength steels to assist our automotive customers in reducing emissions and improving fuel economy performance.  We are confident that getting the partnership between the government and stakeholders back on track will result in a plan for the future which protects the environment by establishing a common sense, implementable single national program for CAFE and GHG standards.”

President Trump’s $1.1 trillion budget blueprint, released today, proposes dramatic cuts to the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, while seeking billions more for defense issues and $1.5 billion for the president’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

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It proposes the previously reported $54 billion increase in defense spending and corresponding cuts to non-defense spending at the State Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the wholesale elimination of other federal programs.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, described the proposal as a “hard power budget” in a Wednesday briefing with reporters, meaning the Trump administration will prioritize defense spending over diplomacy and foreign aid. It significantly cuts funding to global institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations, too.

While the budget notes that plans and costs for the border wall are not yet completed, according to Mulvaney, the budget will include a request for $1.5 billion as the first installment payment for the promised wall and then another installment of $2.26 billion in 2018.

Steel Shipments Up in January

The American Iron and Steel Institute recently reported that for the month of January 2017, U.S. steel mills shipped 7,708,416 net tons, a 7.5% increase from the 7,173,245 nt shipped in the previous month and a 9.6% increase from the 7,031,307 nt shipped in January 2016.

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A comparison of January 2017 shipments to the previous month of December 2016 shows the following changes: hot-dipped galvanized sheets, up 14%, cold rolled sheets, up 13% and hot-rolled sheets, up 4%.

The leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation said today that they will revisit Obama-era corporate average fuel economy standards on greenhouse gas emissions for 2022 to 2025 model cars and light trucks, a win for automakers that said the standards were too tough to meet.

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President Donald Trump, speaking at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich., went even further saying his administration would cancel Obama’s executive order establishing the standards outright.

“Today I am announcing we are going to cancel that executive action,” President Trump said. “We are going to restore the originally scheduled midterm review and we are going to ensure any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories. We’re going to be fair.”

The American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest industry association of steelmakers, which count themselves as important members of the automotive supply chain, praised the action.

“AISI is pleased the Administration has withdrawn the final determination of the EPA Light Duty Vehicle Emission Standards issued in January,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of AISI in a statement. “As a key materials solutions provider, we look forward to a dialogue between EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California Air Resources Board, auto manufacturers and other relevant stakeholders on the mid-term evaluation.”

The CARB’s inclusion is notable as California has said it will go forward with state emissions standards that are more stringent than the federal government’s, no matter if the federal CAFE standards are changed or not.

Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates

For the first time this year, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates one quarter point to a range of .75% to 1%, a widely expected move following strengthening economic reports and signals from Fed officials.

After its two-day policy meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise the range of the federal funds rate to 0.75% and 1.00%, citing progress in labor market growth, business fixed investment and inflation.

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“In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise…the fed funds rate,” the central bank wrote in its statement.

One member of the committee, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, voted against the decision, preferring to keep the federal funds rate between 0.50% to 0.75%. Kashkari is a new voting member of the FOMC this year.

President Trump’s budget proposal this week would cut the federal government to its core if enacted, culling back numerous programs and expediting a historic contraction of the federal workforce, according to economists who spoke to the Washington Post and saw the draft plans.

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This would be the first time the government has executed cuts of this magnitude — and all at once — since the drawdown following World War II, economists and budget analysts told the Post.

Chinese Rebar Jumps

Shanghai rebar steel futures rose nearly 3% on Monday, supported by a pickup in seasonal demand in top consumer China that also lifted Chinese iron ore off of a one-month low.

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But bloated stockpiles of iron ore at China’s ports — holding near their highest in at least 13 years — capped price gains in the steelmaking raw material.

The most-active rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange was up 2.7% at 3,496 yuan ($506) a metric ton by the midday break.

U.S. infrastructure was given a near-failing grade of D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) yesterday, the largest trade association of the civil engineering profession in the U.S. This was the second time in two reports that our national roads, bridges, railways, airports, dams and other infrastructure sites barely avoided the dreaded F.  The criticism could give momentum to President Donald Trump’s vow of a $1 trillion investment to rebuild everything from roads to dams.

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The D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers‘ (ASCE) is unchanged from its last report card in 2013, suggesting that only minor progress had been made in improving public works.

The ASCE estimated in a statement that the United States needed to invest $4.59 trillion by 2025 to bring its infrastructure to an adequate B- grade, a figure about $2 trillion higher than current funding levels.

Chinese Steel Exports Plummet

Chinese steel exports tumbled to a three-year low in February, customs data showed on Wednesday, lower than expectations, as steelmakers in the world’s top producer shifted to meeting rising demand at home.

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Shipments for the month were 5.75 million metric tons, the lowest since February 2014, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. It was down 29.1% from a year ago and down 22.5% from January.