Market Analysis

Copper LME falls to two-month low

London Metal Exchange copper falls to a two-month low. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @StockCharts.com data.

Copper prices fell to their lowest level in two months on the London Metal Exchange Wednesday. Copper started the year bullish, but ever since prices have struggled near $5,000 per metric ton as investors seem unwilling to chase prices higher.

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Weaker Chinese imports over the past few months and the bearish calls of some major banks have contributed to the recent price fall. Unlike other base metals, sentiment on copper is still sort of bearish, making this metal the worst performer among its peers this year. Read more

U.S. Flat-rolled steel prices have dropped $20-40/ton so far in August, bringing hot-rolled coil down to $580-600/ton ex-works Midwest.

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There are two schools of thought. First, the current dip reflects a typical holiday slowdown and prices will hold or come back in September. In that scenario, buyers need to secure Q4 requirements and will return to ordering in September. On the supply side, mills are taking downtime in October and Q4 for maintenance, there is still some idled capacity (U.S. Steel and AK Steel) while higher-than-expected final HRC duties and tariffs will keep out imports. The steel market will, therefore, tighten and prices will hold at the current high levels.

U.S. HRC, CRC, HDG Imports (000 tons)

Steel_insight_us_hrc_crc_HDG_imports_082316

Source: AISI, Steel-Insight.

Steel-Insight could not disagree more. While we don’t expect freefall just yet, we do expect HRC prices to be back in the high $300s/ton at some point next year. Read more

Tin prices continue to march higher. Tin is one of the best performers among industrial metals this year, up more than 40% from its January’s lows.

3M LME Tin. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets data

Three-month London Metal Exchange tin price. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com data.

The metal continues to rise on a bull narrative of supply shortfall this year.

China’s Tin Production Falls

The Chinese administration began environmental inspection at eight major provinces starting July 19th, leading to smelters in China either suspending or cutting back production.

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The recommended plant relocations and maintenance operations are expected to keep smelters idle for more than a month in some cases, with many mills not yet clear on possible restart dates. Read more

reuters_LME_Aluminum_support)82316_550

Source: Reuters.

LME aluminum has found its support level.

Construction has been one of the few pockets of strength in the U.S. economy – until recently. Construction payrolls have declined since March and spending in May rose less than 3% from a year earlier, the lowest rate since 2011.

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Coming after strong growth of 10% last year, the question now is whether the sputtering is just a blip or something more lasting that portends a significant drag on the economy.

The Associated Builders & Contractors, American Institute of Architects and National Association of Home Builders‘ chief economists recently gathered in Washington, D.C., for a mid-year market forecast, outlining stable to strong residential and commercial project activity through 2017.

Each economist discussed present and future indicators for sector performance, including ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator (8.6, 1Q2016); AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (52.6 in June) and the Construction Consensus Forecast (5.6% growth in 2017); and, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (60, August 2016).

While all of the economists predicted growth in 2017, they had varying degrees of optimism.

Anirban Basu, ABC Chief Economist: “Nonresidential construction spending growth will continue into the next year with an estimated increase in the range of 3 to 4%. Growth will continue to be led by privately financed projects, with commercial construction continuing to lead the way. Energy-related construction will become less of a drag in 2017, while public spending will continue to be lackluster.”

Robert Dietz, NAHB Chief Economist: “Our forecast shows single-family production expanding by more than 10% in 2016, and the robust multifamily sector leveling off. Historically low mortgage interest rates and favorable demographics should keep the housing market moving forward at a gradual pace, but residential construction growth will be constrained by shortages of labor and lots and rising regulatory costs.”

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Kermit Baker, AIA Chief Economist: “Revenue at architecture firms continues to grow, so prospects for the construction industry remain solid over the next 12 to 18 months. Given current demographic trends, the single-family residential and the institutional building sectors have the greatest potential for further expansion at present.”

The Aluminum Association has not given up on the U.S. reaching a binding bilateral deal with China to reduce aluminum overcapacity, but the group is also holding out the option of pursuing anti-dumping or countervailing duty cases if market conditions fail to improve.

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The aluminum industry is gearing up for a Sept. 29 International Trade Commission hearing, which would serve as the first step in any future trade defense cases on aluminum. The industry has taken a less aggressive approach than steel in not more pursuing anti-dumping, countervailing duties or World Trade Organization action against China on aluminum, opting instead to try to reach a bilateral or multilateral deal, Aluminum Association Vice President of Policy Chuck Johnson told World Trade Online.

“The issues of overcapacity really came to a head in the middle of last year,” Johnson said. “Prior to that, we had not been active on this issue. We have not, as an association, pursued antidumping and other trade enforcement remedies for our industry as have steel and other industries that have been facing a more endemic and long-term conditions. … But we are not taking anything off the table.”

This is a shift for the association, which represents original aluminum manufacturers throughout North America.

The ITC hearing will look at Chinese trade practices including trade policies, export duties and industry subsidization. The goal, Johnson said, is to get better documentation on China’s industry than has previously been gathered.

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The ITC is currently collecting information and gathering public comments in preparation for the hearing. The commission is also circulating a questionnaire looking at the competitive conditions affecting the U.S. aluminum industry as a whole.

Reuters_zinc_prices_vs_zinc_stocks_550_081616

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream.

London Metal Exchange warehouse zinc stocks have steadily fallen since mid-2012, despite mostly stable prices during that period.

Three-month Aluminum on the London Metal Exchange hit a new 13-month high this week, retaking the $1,700 level.

3M LME Aluminum hits 13-month high

Three-month LME Aluminum hits 13-month high. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets data.

Recently we talked about the decline in aluminum exports this year. China exported 390,000 metric tons of unwrought aluminum in July, down 9.3% from July of last year. Chinese aluminum exports have fallen around 7% for the first seven months of 2016. Lower aluminum exports are supporting aluminum prices this year.

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Despite the fall in exports, the U.S. is considering asking for a reclassification of aluminum products to stop a flood of “fake semi-finished” aluminum products entering the global market. The reason is that Chinese aluminum exporters seem to be avoiding export duties while simultaneously qualifying for Chinese export subsidies for semi-finished products, for products that are being shipped specifically for remelting as unwrought. Read more

Black lead zinc ore closeup rocky textureThe International Lead and Zing Study Group released new findings that reveal refined lead metal supply exceeded demand during the first five months of 2016.

Furthermore, over the same time frame, total reported stock levels grew, as well.

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“A decrease in global lead mine production of 5% compared to the same period in 2015 was mainly a consequence of reduced output in Australia and the United States,” the ILZSG report stated.

Refined lead metal production decreased by 1.9% despite increases in Kazakhstan and the Republic of Korea. The reason? Lower output from China, whose imports of lead contained in lead concentrates fell 19.9% compared to the same time frame in 2015.

Also in China, demand decreased by 12.4%, which contributed to the global usage decline of 3.3% overall. In Europe, usage climbed by 9.8% but in the U.S. and the Korea, usage fell by 1.2% and 7.5%, respectively.

Metal Prices Bullish?

Our own Raul de Frutos wrote this week that global stock markets continue to rise, indicating a positive outlook for the global economy and, in turn, industrial metals demand growth.

de Frutos wrote: “This is especially true when China’s stock markets rally. China’s stock market is possibly the best benchmark for China’s economy or at least investors’ sentiment about the Chinese economy. The slowdown in the Chinese economy (weak demand with too much capacity) explains why industrial metals peaked in 2011.”

You can find a more in-depth lead price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. Check it out to receive short- and long-term buying strategies with specific price thresholds.

 

Global stock markets continue to rise as we noticed last month. Stock markets have already made up for their losses following the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union.

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This recovery suggests that investors are turning more positive on the health of the global economy, which bodes well for industrial metals demand growth.

The Chinese stock market ETF hits a nine-month high. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @Stockcharts.com data.

The Chinese stock market ETF hits a nine-month high. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @Stockcharts.com data.

This is especially true when China’s stock markets rally. China’s stock market is possibly the best benchmark for China’s economy or at least investors’ sentiment about the Chinese economy. The slowdown in the Chinese economy (weak demand with too much capacity) explains why industrial metals peaked in 2011.

China’s stock market bottomed out earlier this year (coinciding with a bottom in metal markets) thanks to China’s stimulus measures that fueled demand growth. Chinese shares have risen rapidly this month to the highest levels in nine months as investors expect its central bank to ease monetary policy again.

Caixin’s PMI measure of manufacturing in China moved above the boom-bust line of 50 last month, for the first time since early 2015 while China’s Q2 GDP growth came at 6.7%, beating the market’s expectations.

Industrial Metals Continue to Climb

Industrial Metals ETF rises to a 13-month high. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @Stockcharts.com data.

Industrial Metals ETF rises to a 13-month high. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @Stockcharts.com data.

Not surprisingly, the trend in industrial metal prices looks pretty similar to China’s stock market. The recent rally in global stock markets, particularly in China, favors a continuation of this year metals’ bull market.

Free Download: The August 2016 MMI Report

Some industrial metals have benefited from a bull narrative of supply shortfall this year but, on top of that, they have also benefited from higher demand coming from China which is being reflected in the surge in Chinese imports this year.