aluminum price

The Construction MMI® fell again in July, despite strong US non-residential construction and accelerating growth in Europe.

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Metals and energy commodities, such as oil and liquid natural gas, continue to fall on international indexes mostly due to the weak economy and lax demand in China, the world’s second-largest economy. The recent volatility in Chinese stock markets shows no sign of abating.

Construction_Chart_August_2015_FNL

The private Caixin/Markit manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for China dropped to 47.8 in July from 49.4 in the previous month.

Chinese Economy Still Falling

It is worse than a preliminary reading of 48.2 and is the fifth consecutive month of contraction in the sector. With falling demand in such a large market, it is difficult to foresee a turnaround in the metals that make up our index. The Construction MMI® registered a value of 72 in August, a decrease of 2.7% from 74 in July.

While construction activity is strong in the US and Europe, emerging markets and China continue to drag down prices and overproduction of materials for export is actually exacerbating oversupply.

Try Not to Catch Falling Knives

The oversupply in aluminum, in particular, is worsening. Alcoa, Inc., recently raised its forecast for the global aluminum surplus, expecting a surplus of 760,000 metric tons this year which is almost double Alcoa’s previous forecast.

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It remains a good time to be a buyer with double-digit declines in fuel surcharges and lower prices across the board for all construction products including rebar and H beams tracked in the index. With the price of oil back below $50 a barrel we are likely to continue to see falling US fuel surcharges and lower cost transportation and shipping charges.

Construction purchasing in the US is now a waiting game as estimators and project executives questions become some version of “how long do I wait before buying” to achieve a truly low price before markets bottom out, rather than how quickly to purchase to avoid non-existent price spikes.

The Construction MMI® collects and weights 9 metal price points used within the construction industry to provide a unique view into construction industry price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Construction MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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As China goes, so too does the rest of the world, and that has been none more painfully clear than with the plummet of aluminum prices. China export volumes continue to be a main driver for this industrial metal’s decline. You can learn all about it, in addition to how other industrial metals are faring, by subscribing to our new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

China Export Volumes

We touched on the rise of Chinese aluminum exports back in April, as the Far East nation continued its transition into a consumer economy and, in turn, saw its domestic demand for aluminum fall off. However, that didn’t stop the Chinese from commissioning a new plant later this year that has the ability to produce upwards of 2 million tons of finished aluminum.

With so much aluminum being produced and so little domestic demand, what is a nation that has historically had issues unloading the product to do? The Shanghai Futures Exchange price has helped alleviate China’s difficulty exporting aluminum by dropping relative to the LME, allowing Chinese producers to better compete across Asia.

Just last month, the sharp increase in Chinese aluminum exports (35% year-over-year) raised a few eyebrows, most notably from Alcoa Inc.‘s Klaus Kleinfeld, who claimed the nation’s surging export figures were skewed by semi-finished products. The 2.5 million metric tons of unwrought aluminum and related products in the first half of 2015 equaled a 650,000-mt increase compared to the year prior.

At the Mercy of China’s Aluminum Producers

According to the Wall Street Journal, China accounts for about half of the world’s aluminum production and its producers are showing no signs of relenting their output of the metal despite plummeting prices. This is not what the rest of the market wants to hear.

“Chinese production is growing faster than in the rest of the world,” Ivan Szpakowski, Hong Kong-based analyst with Citi, told the news source. “Most producers in China are still making money, especially the ones with new capacity.”

Although the strength of the dollar has benefited aluminum producers outside the US to offset China’s export volumes, something has to be done as the global aluminum market could reach a surplus of 3 mmt of the metal before year’s end.

“China’s government should realize that huge exports are significantly influencing lower prices at the London Metal Exchange and it hurts primary producers not just outside China, but in China too,” Goran Djukanovic, an independent aluminum analyst, told the WSJ.

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You can find a more in-depth aluminum price outlook and forecast in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

The monthly Aluminum MMI® registered a value of 80 in August, a decrease of 3.6% from 83 in July.

Aluminum_Chart_August-2015

The combined impact of stronger output and weaker demand from China are adding to the global aluminum surplus. Chinese exports remain strong (up 35% year-on-year in the first half of the year) and the recent Chinese stock market sell-off has only raised worries about a bigger-than-expected economic slowdown and the latest figures seem to agree with the market.

Purchasing Down Again

China’s July flash Purchasing Managers’ Index came in at 48.2. China’s PMI has been below 50 for five consecutive months. Figures below 50 are generally associated with a fall in manufacturing activity.

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Mix all this information together, add a strong dollar and a falling commodity market and there you have it: Aluminum prices hit a fresh six-year low.

With aluminum now nearing $1,600/mt, prices are close to or below the cost of production for a big portion of global capacity. This is hurting the profitability of aluminum producers and investors are well aware of that.

Producers Predicting Surpluses

Alcoa, Inc., recently raised its forecast for the global aluminum surplus, expecting a surplus of 760,000 metric tons this year which is almost double Alcoa’s previous forecast. The aluminum giant managed to offset declines in aluminum prices through its growth in its aerospace, automotive and alumina businesses. However, that hasn’t changed the minds of investors who have contributed to Alcoa’s shares dropping 40% year to date.

What This Means For Aluminum Purchasers

These price declines not only hurt producers, but also the profitability of buying organizations that believe prices can’t go lower and proceed to buy big volumes to meet future demand. It’s never too late to have a strategy – don’t be caught on the wrong side of the trend.

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This Month’s Exact Prices and Trends

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There was no joy in automotive metals this month as prices retreated again amid ample supply and not enough worldwide demand.

Automotive_Chart_August-2015_FNL

The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 76 in August, a decrease of 7.3% from 82 in July, another all-time low for the index. Before the last two months, its previous low was 85.

Steel Prices Falling

Base metals remain in a bearish market, one that’s starting to edge on historic proportions. Also, a glut of imported steel in the US market continues to drive down prices domestically while the lack of demand overseas only exacerbates the problem here.

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US steelmakers have been forced to rely on anti-dumping actions again in hopes of creating some semblance of market equilibrium.

Steel is not the only ingredient in the Automotive MMI and its fall has been helped along liberally by steep falls for aluminum, palladium, platinum and copper.

Vehicle Sales Faltering

At least in the US, sales of automobiles are still strong, too. A sales collapse in China is one of the many effects of the stock market crash and slow economic growth there.

“There’s excessive competition and automakers are building excess capacity, and to raise utilization of the plants, they will engage in excessive selling,” Fumihiko Ike, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said in reference to the market many are looking at to create global sales increases.

The Chinese market is generally regarded as one that provides higher sales margins to manufacturers and Volkswagen, BMW and other manufacturers are taking on a hit on sales there.

With a continuing metals surplus and only the US end-user market in decent shape, it’s difficult to predict a turnaround for the Automotive MMI. The Thomson Reuters/Jefferies CRB Commodity Index is hitting new lows as well.

Actual Automotive Metals Prices

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Weak demand, a flood of Chinese exports and robust Western supply, in spite of earlier smelter closures, have created a perfect storm of surplus in the aluminum market.

Aluminum_Chart_July-2015_FNL

Shares of Alcoa Inc. stock have been collapsing over the past few months, falling more than 20% in only 8 weeks.

Alcoa’s Slide

The aluminum giant, with earnings ahead on Wednesday, has experienced powerful earnings growth over the past four quarters; however, lower aluminum prices are weighing on its stock price.

Alcoa Inc (AA) Stock Price 2 years out

Alcoa, Inc. (AA) Stock Price 2 years out. Chart: MetalMiner.

It should come as no surprise that the monthly Aluminum MMI® registered a value of 83 in July, a decrease of 3.5% from 86 in June.

Download MetalMiner’s July Metal Price Forecast

World aluminum production in May is up almost 12% year-on-year. That is the fastest growth rate since 2011.

LME Price Falling

Aluminum on the London Metal Exchange is back again below $1,700 per metric ton. This level acted as a floor in March 2014 and Alcoa investors are wondering if aluminum prices will rebound again this time, which would give a boost to Alcoa’s shares.

Unfortunately aluminum prices might need to fall further in order to cause further non-Chinese closures to balance the market. Furthermore, the Chinese stock market is having a rough go of it. The Shanghai index is off over 30% from highs reached in June. Finally, the fact that commodity prices keep falling across the board makes a rebound in aluminum prices more unlikely. Aluminum buyers and Alcoa investors might want to think twice before betting on a rebound in prices…

The Aluminum MMI® collects and weights 12 global aluminum price points to provide a unique view into aluminum price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Aluminum MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Through half of 2015, US auto sales are on track to hit record levels not seen in 15 years. After climbing more than 4% through July annual sales could approach the previous annual record of 17.4 million if they stay on this pace.

Yet, none of that demand seems to be helping automotive metal prices.

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As robust as the US automotive market is, it can’t entirely make up for sluggish sales elsewhere that are depressing demand for metals such as steel, aluminum and copper and pushing our index further down. Even the exhaust system metals, platinum and palladium, saw a deep dive this month.

Chinese New Car Sales Barely Growing

New car sales grew just 1.2% in China this May. Further complicating matters, is the fact that the nation of 1.37 billion is starting to develop a used car market and it’s looking very much like Chinese consumers like paying less for a used car, rather than paying more for a new one. What a shock?

This is, of course, bad news for raw materials suppliers as the massive Chinese auto market only recently transitioned to automobiles being the main form of transportation. Less-metals intensive bicycles and motorbikes had filled that role until recently.

Chinese steel and aluminum manufacturers had been counting on more robust growth from the domestic new car market and a strong used market could stunt the advances many were planning to reap from new car sales.

Bearish Market Hits Home

The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 82 in July, a decrease of 3.5% from 85 in June.

Automotive_Chart_July-2015_FNL

As we have documented liberally, the strong US dollar has created a bearish environment for all metals and automotive inputs are no exception. The steep fall observed this month in palladium, a metal that had previously held our automotive index up, was an example of just how much the bearish market is affecting even metals with strong demand. Palladium hit a two-year low this month and the bottom, subsequently, fell out of an already listing price index.

Copper, zinc and lead also fell significantly.

What This Means for Automotive Metal Buyers

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The drama surrounding Greece’s debt is compounding the bear market and, while it hasn’t yet caused strong currencies such as the dollar to see significant gains, its potential to do so threatens all commodities.
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The Automotive MMI® collects and weights 7 metal price points used in automotive production to provide a unique view into automotive metal trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Automotive MMI® constituent metals and their exact price movements, log in or register below!

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Our construction metals index fell slightly this month despite strong US housing demand and generally good employment numbers.

The monthly Construction MMI® registered a value of 74 in July, a decrease of 1.3% from 75 in June.

Construction_Chart_July_2015_FNL

The drop was mainly driven by hefty price hits to Chinese rebar and H-beam steel – yet the dip was spared from going lower by a more than 10% spike in the US shredded scrap price.

The construction sector neither lost nor gained jobs in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Commerce Department said permits to build new homes surged 12% in April to an annual rate of 1.275 million, the highest since August 2007. Permits for apartment construction were the breakout leader, while permits for single-family homes, a much broader segment, still rose modestly.

Homebuilders Bullish

Confidence among US homebuilders, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders’ index, rose to its highest level in 9 months in June, so all signs point to a strong building season domestically.

Meanwhile, the developing world isn’t exactly holding its part of the construction spending deal up. A recent World Bank report detailed how China’s state-run banking sector is creating debt while not delivering on the construction stimulus promises Beijing has made. With Brazil still mired in recession and Russian construction limited to heavy pipeline work, the BRICS countries are not developing at the rates they earlier envisioned.

Oil & Gas Demand Up

Demand for oil and gas products such as steel tubes has rebounded domestically as the US passed Russia this month as the world’s top natural gas producer. Baker Hughes reported that the rig count for US oil producers increased for the first time this year, despite massive output by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries trying to undercut US producers’ prices. It was the first weekly increase in 30 weeks.

Actual Construction Material Prices

Construction purchasing remains on the cusp of what could be a breakout, but both lending and a shortage of skilled labor remain major concerns.

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The price of Chinese rebar fell 7.4% to $341.39 per metric ton. At $368.77 per metric ton, Chinese H-beam steel was down 6.9% for the month. Weekly US Midwest bar fuel surcharge prices fell 4.6% to $0.30 per mile after rising the previous month. After rising the previous month, weekly US Gulf Coast bar fuel surcharge prices dropped 4.3% to $0.30 per mile. A 3.8% drop over the past month left Chinese aluminum bar at $2,134 per metric ton. Weekly US Rocky Mountain bar fuel surcharge prices fell 3.6% to $0.31 per mile after rising the previous month. After rising the previous month, European 1050 aluminum prices dropped 0.4% to $2,907 per metric ton.

The price of US shredded scrap rose 10.2% over the past month to $280.00 per short ton.

Last month was consistent for the Chinese low price of 62% Australian iron ore fines, which did not move from $77.30 per dry metric ton.

This September: SMU Steel Summit 2015

The Construction MMI® collects and weights 9 metal price points used within the construction industry to provide a unique view into construction industry price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Construction MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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MetalMiner’s basket of industrial metals used by the auto industry, the monthly Automotive MMI®, registered a value of 85 in June, a decrease of 2.3% from 87 in May.

Automotive_Chart_June-2015_FNLAs the chart shows, this move basically undoes May’s gains and puts the automotive metals index back where it was in April. The loss nearly erased the 2.4% gain last month as palladium and platinum prices either fell or traded sideways and the other metals tracked in the index weren’t really responsible for the recent movement, anyway.

Robust Car/Truck/SUV Sales

While automotive sales remain strong in the US and abroad, those sales are not creating the necessary demand for automotive materials to move the needle this year – even as companies such as Alcoa, Novelis, ArcelorMittal and others invest heavily in automotive aluminum and steel facilities worldwide.

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US car buyers bought new cars and trucks at the fastest pace in nearly a decade in May, US auto sales data released by the automakers showed. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Honda reported increases. Toyota, Nissan and Ford saw declines.

Americans bought about 1.63 million new vehicles in May, up 1.6% from about 1.61 million in the same month last year, according to automotive statistics provider Motor Intelligence. Industry forecasts had expected a 1% decline in sales, to 1.59 million, in part because May was one sales-day shorter than it was last year.

May’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate came in at 17.8 million, well past analysts expected 17.3 million.

Steel Inventories Still High

The big drag on the index continues to be the price of steel, which reached another new low this month. Cheap imports and high inventories are to blame in that market, and those high inventories will continue to make the road just as hard to ride for automotive.

Domestic steel producers have filed anti-dumping and countervailing duty petitions against five countries related to corrosion-resistant steel, the type used in automotive applications.

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The petitions charge that unfairly traded imports of corrosion-resistant steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan are causing material injury to the domestic steel industry. The petitions further charge that significant subsidies have been provided to the foreign producers by the governments of those countries.

It will take months to know if this action produces significant relief of the cheap imports and, even then, the anti-dumping and CVD determinations might not be high enough to have an effect. The end-use automotive market and its much of its material supply chain is intrinsically tied to the steel market.

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We here at MetalMiner have very cautiously been pointing out the underlying strength of the US construction market and have been dutifully chalking up falling and flat Construction MMI® numbers to low oil prices and cautious banks for nearly a year now.

Construction_Chart_June_2015_FNL

The monthly Construction MMI® registered a value of 75 in June, an increase of 1.4% from 74 in May, not gangbusters construction activity by any stretch of the imagination but perhaps the beginning of a break in the down-to-flat trend the market has been mired in since last year.

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There are several good reasons to believe this is a turning point in the price of construction materials such as H-beams, steel rebar and shredded scrap. Reasons that go far beyond our belief that a bad weather, higher break-even points for energy projects and a lack of willingness from lenders are what has held them back thus far.

First, in April construction spending jumped 2.2% to an annual rate of $1 trillion, the highest level since November 2008, the Commerce Department said on Monday. The percentage increase was the largest since May 2012. March’s outlays were revised to show a 0.5% increase instead of the previously reported 0.6% fall. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending rising 0.7% in April.

Oil as Fuel and as Project Breaker

With spending on construction up and beating expectations, it’s reasonable to expect prices to follow, but that’s not the only indicator of a strong summer building season. My colleague, Stuart Burns, wrote this week that, at least in the US, oil prices are actually going up and inventories are falling.

“For the first time in six months,” Burns wrote, “the US oil market is flirting with backwardation, where the spot price is higher than one- or three-month dated delivery – a sign of a tightening market and, potentially, a shortage.”

According to another report, prompt-month July contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was 27 cents lower than second-month August this week. That was the narrowest spread since Dec. 19 and compares to a month ago when it was at a $1.50 discount. While prices at the pump are still reasonable, the

Beyond that, the oil and gas industry has come out of this mini-slump leaner and meaner. A Goldman Sachs report said that US oil production will grow by 155,000 barrels per day in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014 as cheap money and more efficient drilling technology allows tight oil producers to continue drilling in spite of OPEC’s best efforts to close them down.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, investments in updating US energy infrastructure alone could generate an estimated $1.14 trillion in capital investments by 2025.

Construction Materials

The cost of construction materials, overall, is poised for an increase. This includes wood and other non-metal construction inputs.

According to the 2015 Q2 Non-Residential Construction Index (NRCI) Report recently released by FMI Corporation, the construction industry is improving despite lukewarm economic conditions. FMI surveys executives at construction companies for their forecasts and, according to the responses, the index component for the cost of construction materials dropped one point to 21.4. The component drops as prices increase. The cost of labor components dropped sharply by 5.2 points to 12.5. Both labor and material cost increases reduced the overall NRCI score. Despite this, the overall score STILL gained, jumping to 64.9 for the quarter.

That score reflects 18 months of improving activity.

“It was a little bit surprising, I would expect them (construction materials) to go up faster,” said Phil Warner, research consultant at FMI. “One of my explanations (for the first half of the year) has been substitution. Copper and other materials, where they can be replaced, have been substituted. We are at a point now where prices are so low that I would expect substitution to end and construction-grade materials (metals) to go up faster. We certainly don’t expect them to go down as construction will continue rising. Materials are coming around. They will remain at a lower-cost as construction, overall, improves but we likely won’t see them falling further.”

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Aluminum has had quite a depressing month.

A flood of Chinese exports, weak demand and robust Western supply in spite of earlier smelter closures have all contrived to leave the market in primary surplus. As such, MetalMiner’s monthly Aluminum MMI®, tracking aluminum prices across the globe, registered a value of 86 in June, a decrease of 4.4% from 90 in May.

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China’s aluminum output rose to a record 2.59 million tons in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The world simply can’t rely on China to restrain output. Prices might need to fall further in order to cause further non-China closures to balance the market. Rusal cited the rising tide of Chinese aluminum exports as a main concern in the producer’s first-quarter earnings report, which could increase in light of China removing a 15% export tax on aluminum products.

In the absence of demand from the financial sector, both the LME/CME price and physical delivery premiums have been falling, particularly in Asia.

Aluminum Premiums for Physical Delivery: Takin’ a Dive!

As I wrote on the blog recently, Reuters reported this week that premiums have dropped to $100-110 per metric ton for in-warehouse Singapore metal, down from $150 two weeks ago and $400 in December. In South Korea, May tenders were said to be awarded at $135-145 per metric ton and the country is sitting on nearly half a million tons of primary metal inventory. Premiums have dropped in Europe and North America, too, but are said to be stabilizing for the time being, although most are expecting further falls in North America.

Interestingly, the LME has returned to a healthy forward price curve, as it did in times of plenty from 2009-2014 when the stock and finance trade flourished, soaking up excess supply.

With such a strong forward curve and low interest rates, all it needs is a little appetite from the hedge funds and banks, with some encouragement from warehouse companies to store metal, and bingo! Excess inventory rapidly gets sucked up into long-term storage.

According to Reuters, some warehouse companies are starting to offer incentives or discounts on storage costs of around $70 to draw in metal. The foundations are in place for a pick-up in stock and finance activity, and the possibility that “demand” created by that activity could support premiums at least at or around current levels and potentially, at least in Asia, raise them up.

Most are expecting LME prices to fall further; it is entirely possible LME prices could fall while physical delivery premiums could rise. That was exactly the situation we had in 2012-13 and the LME changed its rules to avoid it. The next six months could test the system, let’s see.

What It Means for Semi-Finished Aluminum Markets

The combination of lower LME prices and falling physical delivery premiums have allowed producers of semi-finished products to chase a weak market down, a process hastened by rising supply from China.

Semi-finished product makers’ conversion premiums have also been soft in the face of a well-stocked distribution market and slack end-user demand, a situation that, as we enter the summer period, is unlikely to turn around before the fourth quarter.

Exact Aluminum Price Movements Over the Month

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