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

This morning in metals news, the U.S. Department of Commerce has delayed ruling on whether or not to consider China a market economy, the Commerce Department also deferred a preliminary ruling on Chinese aluminum foil, and also issued a preliminary determination in an antidumping duty investigation of silicon from Australia, Brazil and Norway.

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Commerce Waits to Rule on China’s Market Economy Status

China officially became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001, but its status as a market economy is still something of debate around the world.

In that vein, the U.S. Department of Commerce has elected to delay a ruling on whether to treat China as a market economy until after President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip to China, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

“In all cases, the Department conducts a full and fair assessment of the facts,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Thursday, as quoted by Bloomberg. “This extension will ensure that the highest standards are followed in this case as we seek to guarantee fair treatment for U.S. workers and businesses.”

Trump will travel to Asia from Nov. 3-14, making stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

For more information on China’s market economy status, make sure to visit our microsite on the issue.

Commerce Defers Aluminum Foil Ruling

In addition to the aforementioned, the Commerce Department announced it would defer a preliminary ruling in its antidumping investigation of aluminum foil imports from China.

“The deferral will allow the Commerce Department to fully analyze information pertaining to China’s status as a non-market economy (NME) country, which is being contemplated within the context of this AD investigation,” according to a Commerce Department release Thursday.

The Commerce Department announced it intends to issue a ruling on both China’s market economy status and Chinese aluminum foil imports no later than Nov. 30.

Commerce Issues Affirmative Determination in Silicon Investigation

The Commerce Department did, however, act in its investigation of silicon imports from a trio of countries.

On Thursday, Commerce issued an affirmative preliminary determination in its antidumping investigation of silicon imports from Australia, Brazil and Norway.

According to the Commerce Department announcement, exporters from Australia, Brazil, and Norway have sold the metal at rates ranging from 20.79%, 56.78% to 134.92%, and 3.74%, respectively, at less than fair value.

According to the Commerce Department, imports of silicon metal last year from Australia, Brazil, and Norway were valued at an estimated $33.9 million, $60.0 million, and $21.6 million, respectively.

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

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A final determination in the case is scheduled to be announced Feb. 16.

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Before you get into your planned Labor Day festivities, let’s take a look back at some of the stories here on MetalMiner from the past week:

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  • After a somewhat stagnant run, aluminum had a strong August — why? Our Stuart Burns covered aluminum’s upward momentum last week.
  • Ah, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the deal that’s stayed in the news for much of the year. President Donald Trump recently renewed rhetoric threatening the 23-year-old trade agreement on the heels of the completion of the first round of negotiating talks held in Washington, D.C. We recapped the recent developments in the ongoing talks held by trade representatives of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
  • Speaking of trade agreements, talks are also underway between the U.S. and South Korea on KORUS, the free trade deal the two countries began in 2012.
  • China was reportedly amenable to making further significant cuts to tackle excess capacity, which has been a major talking point, not just for the U.S., but the global market. However, President Trump rejected China’s proposal. Burns offered his analysis on the situation.
  • It’s been a mostly good year for base metals — but not every metal has joined in on the fun, as our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote last week.
  • Hurricane Harvey inflicted a severe toll on the people of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Now, there’s a long road ahead to recovery, both in terms of the humanitarian and economic impacts of the storm.
  • Burns looked to the the so-called “lucky country” of Australia, which is rich in iron ore. But what happens when iron ore reserves are exhausted? Answering the question briefly: look to the sun.

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Australia is sometimes called “the lucky country.”

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Although the phrase is usually meant positively to reflect its bountiful natural resources (and sometimes to its isolation from conflict and strife elsewhere in the world), the original meaning was not so complimentary.

At the start of the last chapter of Donald Horne’s book “The Lucky Country,” a passage reads  “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

Personally, my experience of Australians has been very favorable: there is no one we like better beating at sports, they have a good sense of humor and are one of the few societies that have maintained a reasonable work-life balance.

But maybe part of that comes from those bountiful natural resources, much like Norway and a few other mature but resource-rich economies. The country is partially supported by exports of commodities they have in abundance. The Reserve Bank of Australia estimated in 2014 that household incomes across the country were 13% higher than they would have been without the mining boom and real wages were 6% higher.

Just like a Norway without oil and gas, without iron ore, coal, natural gas and other natural resources Australia’s economy would have to work a whole lot harder to just tread water.

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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.

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This morning in metals news, Australia is relieved to have reportedly secured an exemption from protectionist measures that may come to pass as a result of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports; the bourbon industry might be subject to retaliatory measures from the EU if Section 232 hits Europe; and U.S. steel production is on the rise.

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Australia Secures Exemption from Section 232 Measures

Although Chinese steel and aluminum overcapacity have been at the center of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations, producers from around the world have expressed concern about being caught in the crossfire.

The EU, for example, has said that it might turn to retaliatory measures if Section 232 affects European producers.

This week, however, it was reported that Australia will be exempted from any Section 232 protectionism that might come down the pipeline.

According to The Guardian, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann lobbied President Donald Trump during the G20 this past week in Hamburg, Germany. The Guardian reports Australia “has been assured that Australia will be exempt from any trade sanctions.”

“We are an open economy, we don’t manipulate the steel market and North America has much to gain from the continued access to Australian steel,” trade minister Steven Ciobo told The Australian. “It is less than 1% market share in the North American market.”

Obviously, this is a big victory for Australian steel and aluminum, should it hold true. However, the world won’t know the true scope of the Section 232 measures until they are actually announced, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.

Whether or not further exemptions will be carved out for other recognized market economies remains to be seen. Surely, the European Union is keeping tabs on Australia’s reported exemption and hoping to secure an exemption of its own.

Bourbon Industry Prepares for 232 Blowback

As mentioned, the EU has expressed concerns about the negative effects Section 232 measures would have on its producers. That sentiment has transformed into talk of retaliation (with some even pondering the possibility of a trade war ensuing).

One possible target of retaliatory measures, according to The Guardian, is the American bourbon industry.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday at the G20 summit that if the U.S. enacted trade measures against China and Germany’s steel industries, the EU would respond with retaliatory measures within a few days, The Guardian reported.

Bourbon, a popular European import, is produced almost entirely in Kentucky. The Guardian reported that in 2016, U.S. spirit exports to the EU were valued at $654 million, 20% of which came from bourbon whiskey, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

This could just be the tip of the iceberg (or ice cube) with respect to talk of retaliation against sectors of U.S. industry.

U.S. Steel Production Up 3.1% in May

Protection of American steel and aluminum producers is at the heart of the Section 232 investigations — and speaking of domestic production, U.S. steel production was on the upswing in May.

According to a American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) report this week, U.S. steel mills shipped more than 7.66 million net tons in May, a 3.1 percent increase from the more than 7.43 million net tons shipped the previous month.

In the first five months of 2017, U.S. shipments amounted to 37.7 million net tons, a 3.3 percent increase from the 36.5 million net tons shopped through the first five months of 2016.

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According to the report, in May shipments of hot-rolled sheets and cold-rolled sheets were up by 4% and 3%, respectively, from the previous month.

Six years its first proposal, Indian mining giant Adani seems as if it’s finally ready to start its $16.5 billion coal project in Queensland, Australia.

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The company recently secured the approval for a permanent rail line for what’s known as the Carmichael project. An official statement by the company said Queensland’s Coordinator-General had given “the latest, and final, secondary approval” for about 19-and-a-half miles of permanent track, as well as a 300-bed camp.”

The permission will add to the nearly 242 miles of heavy haul track connecting the mine to Abbot Point port. Chief Executive of Adani Australian, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, said in a press statement, “We are particularly focusing on the construction of our planned near-400-kilometer (248 miles) rail line to be constructed between the Carmichael mine and our bulk port facility at Abbott Point near Bowen.”

When fully operational, the mine will reportedly be the largest in Australia, involving the dredging 3.53 million cubic feet of soil near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The project will ensure Adani a steady supply of coal to be used for electricity generation, benefiting a hundred million Indians.

The proposed project ran afoul with green groups in Australia, quickly taking on a “jobs versus ecology” dimension. As per some claims, the project is likely to create at least 11,000 jobs, and the company has promised to farm these out to locals, and not bring in labor from abroad.

After getting approval, Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani met Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, amid protests from groups in Melbourne. Adani has said the project will start in the new year.

Supporters of the project insist mines such as these will provide an economic stimulus to North Queensland.

Matt Canavan, Minister for Northern Australia, was quoted in a section of the media as saying this would be the first time a new minerals basin would be opened up in 40 years.

Adani also announced that it will set up regional centers for providing vital support services for the project and associated infrastructure and headquarters for its rail and port operations.

Townsville would become Adani mining’s regional headquarters, while the Mackay-Bowen area would become the regional headquarters for its rail and port operations. Adani said its shift to the regional Queensland centres would allow it to more directly harness local skills.

The project has faced a lengthy environmental approval process and a number of court challenges. Earlier, this year, it finally got Queensland government approval to mine. Some say, however, that while the Carmichael mine has the final government approvals, there are still a few hurdles it has to surmount.

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An appeal has been lodged with Australia’s full Federal Court seeking to overturn the Commonwealth approval, and is due to be heard in March.

Two weeks ago, Japanese lenders and a hedge fund struck a deal to save Australia’s Lynas Corp., the only major rare earths producer outside China, from collapse. In doing so, they cut its interest costs and gave Lynas nearly four years breathing room to pay off its debt.

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State-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) and Sojitz Corp. did so to ensure a supply of rare earths from outside China, the world’s biggest producer of the elements. Japan’s interest is understandable. It’s the nation that Chinese producers unceremoniously boycotted in 2011 back when rare earths prices were flying high. Even though that’s not the case today, Japanese manufacturers have no interest in ever being dependent on China’s rare earths industry again. After the collapse of Molycorp, JOGMEC even agreed to slash the interest on its loan to Lynas to 2.5% from 6%.

Rare-Earths_Chart_November-2016_FNL

Lynas will not have to make any fixed repayments on the $203 million it owes to Sojitz and JOGMEC until 2020. It previously faced staged repayments up to 2018.

Our Rare Earths MMI held at 17 for the fourth straight month, the textbook example of a stagnant market with flat demand and more than enough supply.

The one bright spot in the sub-index continues to be the permanent magnets used in electric motors for wind turbines and other products. These elements include neodymium and samarium.

Research and Markets recently published its “Permanent Rare Earth Magnets Market – Drivers, Opportunities, Trends & Forecasts: 2015-2022” report. It said that the global permanent rare earth magnets market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.2% during the forecast period 2016-2022 to reach $41.41 billion by 2022.

For Lynas, and the companies that have invested in it, this market offers hope of salvation but we would exercise caution as always. China is attempting to consolidate its rare earths industry the same way it is attempting to do so with steel. The problem is that Beijing still exerts relatively little control over small, provincial mines that fly under the rardar of national mining standards.

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Permanent magnet demand has always been strong but it will need to grow by quite a bit to exhaust current Chinese production and, just like with steel, the consolidation process is slow and sure to be manipulated by the economic growth needs of the People’s Republic.

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Australia can’t believe its luck.

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The government is considering revamping the budget projections it only recently made on an iron ore price of $39 per metric ton. As Chinese steelmakers have ramped up production after their Lunar New Year break, the iron ore price has surged more than 13% so far this month to $47.

Iron Ore Prices Jump

In the first day after the lunar holidays ended, iron ore rose 5.6%, alone. It’s the first time the price has risen that much after the end of China’s festive season, according to Reuters. In Aussie there is talk about the impact the higher iron ore price could have on government coffers suggesting a sustained free-on-board price of about $44 could add a $1.2 billion windfall by the next mid-year budget, according to the Sidney Morning Herald.

Australia is suddenly awash in higher-priced iron ore at its mines. But is it a real price increase? Source: Adobe Stock/Imagevixen

Australia is suddenly awash in higher-priced iron ore at its mines. But is it a real price increase? Source: Adobe Stock/Imagevixen.

Share prices for BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have also risen, climbing 17% and 11% respectively in the last few weeks as some in the market take the price increase as a sign that global demand for iron ore could increase significantly in coming months. Read more

Home sales surged in May and major producer Australia cut its iron ore forecast further.

US Home Sales Hit 9-Year High

Contracts to buy existing homes in the US rose in May to their highest level in over nine years, boosting the housing market and the broader economic outlook.

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The National Association of Realtors said on Monday that its pending home sales index, based on contracts signed last month, increased 0.9% to 112.6, the highest level since April 2006. Contracts have now increased for five straight months.

Australia Cuts Iron Ore Price Forecast

Australia, on Tuesday, cut its price forecast for iron ore in 2015 by 10% to $54.40 a metric ton, citing a weak outlook for the commodity’s main market, China’s steel sector. The forecast by the Department of Industry and Science is a sharp decrease from the $60.40 per mt predicted three months ago and is way off the $94 a mt touted in January.

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A major aluminum producer challenged a US regulator’s authority to intervene in a foreign warehousing dispute and another nation placed tariffs on Chinese silicon this week.

Alcoa Challenges CFTC’s Authority

Alcoa Inc. on Monday challenged a federal commodities regulator’s authority to intervene in the contentious overhaul of the London Metal Exchange‘s warehouse policy that has caused an unprecedented drop in aluminum prices.

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In March, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission deferred a decision about the LME’s 2012 application to be registered as a “foreign board of trade,” telling the exchange it should do more to address concerns about long waiting queues.

Alcoa has questioned whether the agency even has the legal authority to intervene, and on Monday filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to find out what had caused the CFTC to delay its decision on the LME.

“Our goal is to learn the extent to which the CFTC has engaged in substantive discussions with the London Metal Exchange,” Alcoa said in a statement. “The CFTC should examine any LME aluminum contract performance issues only through an open, inclusive and transparent process where all affected market participants have the opportunity to present their views,” it said.

The CFTC declined to comment.

Australia Puts Tariffs on Chinese Silicon

Australia has issued an anti-dumping notice on silicon metal exported from China after an investigation into dumping and subsidization.

Following the investigation the Australian Government Anti-Dumping Commission set dumping and subsidy margins for Hua’an Linan Silicon Industry Co. Ltd., and Guizhou Liping Linan Silicon Industry Co. Ltd. at 18.3% and 6.3% respectively. Both companies will be subject to an effective rate of combined interim countervailing duty and interim dumping duty of 12%, according to a statement by the MOC trade remedy and investigation bureau.

The commission announced dumping margin and subsidy margin for “uncooperative, and all other exporters” of 27% and 37.6% respectively, with an effective rate of combined interim countervailing duty and interim dumping duty of 58.3%.

Australia began its investigation in February last year after allegations of dumping and subsidization of silicon metal goods that originated from China with a total value of $12.78 million dollars, according to the MOC statement.

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