china aluminum

The monthly Aluminum MMI® registered a value of 77 in September, a decrease of 3.8% from 80 in August.

Aluminum_Chart_September-2015_FNLThe 3-month London Metal Exchange aluminum price fell as low as $1,506/mt, the lowest level in more than 6 years as the continuous sell-off in Chinese shares is raising worries about a slump in aluminum demand from the world’s largest aluminum consumer.

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The latest trade data provided more negative news from China for the commodity sector, showing that China’s industrial slowdown is sharpening. Weaker demand from overseas buyers helped to further aggravate the trade slide in August.

Production Correction

Aluminum production in China fell 1.3% in July from a record in June, showing that the lowest prices in 6 years are forcing some smelters to cut output. Chinese smelters proposed to cut the less cost-efficient plants and delay the opening of new facilities. These cuts will take time to help aluminum prices as Chinese smelters already ramped up output this year with new lower-cost capacity.

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Like with other base metals, the low prices are hurting aluminum producers who are now facing one of the most painful periods in years. Century Aluminum Co. said in August that it would begin cutting production in October, blaming low aluminum prices caused by low-priced Chinese exports. The company’s stock price is down an astonishing 80% on the year to date.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Like with other base metals, low prices will eventually cause producers to shut down capacity. However, with a bearish commodity environment, a strong dollar and weak global demand, it is hard to tell when prices will make a comeback. We could see more price declines before we see the bottom of this commodity market cycle.

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As if we needed any reminder of how close the link is between energy and aluminum smelting a Financial Times report this week reveals details of how Beijing has engineered the transfer of assets between a cash strapped power generation group, the State Power Investment Group (SPIC ), and a loss-making alumina and aluminum smelting group Aluminum Corp. of China (Chinalco).

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In the process, Chinalco will become the world’s biggest aluminum company by production leap-frogging from third place over the US’ Alcoa, Inc., and Russia’s UC Rusal to take the number one spot. According to the FT, Chinalco will add 2.7 million metric tons of annual smelting capacity to its present 3.8 million metric tons when it inherits SPIC’s smelters, easily pushing it ahead of Rusal and Alcoa. Read more

The China Non-Ferrous Association announced this week that leading Chinese aluminum smelters intend to axe 2.4 million metric tons of capacity in the next couple of months.

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Nearly all the world’s net gain in production capacity has come from China this year and, while estimates vary, a portion of the industry, even in China, is certainly losing money at current prices.

That is the case in the rest of the world, too, with UC Rusal and Alcoa, Inc. both contemplating further closures. Inside China, the growth of new smelter capacity has been in the northwest, often based on captive, low-cost coal deposits for power generation and utilizing the latest smelter technology that, combined with large economies of scale, has made these Chinese smelters some of the lowest cost of production in the world.


The aluminum surplus, and a weak economy at home, have finally forced Chinese smelters to cut production.

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


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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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.


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.

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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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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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MetalMiner’s aluminum price index, the monthly Aluminum MMI®, registered a value of 90 in May, a significant increase of 2.3% from 88 in April.

Aluminum on the London Metal Exchange is back above $1,900 per metric ton, breaking short-term resistance to hit a four-month high.

China Ends Export Taxes

China erasing aluminum export taxes didn’t seem to weigh down on prices; however, aluminum premiums took a beating when the news of China’s removal of export taxes came.

As my colleague Stuart Burns wrote in a recent article, the tax removal should reduce the domestic surplus of metal, supporting domestic prices and depressing prices in overseas markets. With current primary production counting for about 75% of total primary capacity, Chinese producers will have the ability to increase production without creating any shortages in China’s domestic market.

Even outside China, production has been ramping up over the past six months. UC Rusal and Alcoa, Inc. have responded by closing older and less-efficient capacity, but even so, both they and other primary producers are investing in new capacity at the same time. Demand for aluminum remains robust, but the excess of supply is something that is clearly bugging aluminum producers.

Certainly, the supply outlook doesn’t explain the recent price increase. However, the recent weakness in the dollar does. The dollar index is experiencing some turbulence for the first time in more than 9 months and that supported aluminum and most industrial metal prices in April.

Battery Research Continues

In other aluminum news this month we also had Stanford University  building an aluminum-ion battery prototype that offers various improvements over lithium-ion batteries. These aluminum-ion batteries will potentially make consumer electronics safer, charge faster and allow thinner or even flexible-form factors.

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Several recent news articles have led with comments made by UC Rusal executives regarding the price of aluminum. The FT led with Rusal battles with LME on aluminum price and Reuters added Rusal plays down concerns of Chinese aluminum flooding market.

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All of which says to me, Rusal is worried sick that a combination of falling physical delivery premiums and rising Chinese product exports are going to depress aluminum prices this year and into the medium term. The fact is, there is no shortage of aluminum and, although demand continues to grow robustly, supply is growing faster.

Primary Producers Opening New Capacity

Mills such as Rusal’s and Alcoa, Inc.‘s have manfully responded by closing older, less-efficient, higher-cost capacity but even so both they, and other primary producers, are investing in new capacity at the same time. Production outside of China has been creeping higher over the last five months.

Reuters’ Andy Home tells us it’s creeping up to the tune of an annualized 650,000 metric tons. Part of this is older European plants being purchased and restarted by smaller players. Part is new capacity such as Alcoa’s Ma’aden joint venture plant in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, while Rusal has closed older, higher-cost plants it is now talking about a ramp up of it’s 600,000-mt per year Boguchansk plant in Siberia, although, admittedly, only the first 150,000 mt phase for next year.

Semi-Finished, Completely Sold and Shipped

Meanwhile, China exported 1.07 million mt of mostly semi-finished products in the first quarter of this year, representing a year-on-year increase of 353,000 mt. Although December’s almost 500,000 mt was an outlier, the removal of a 13% export tax on May 1st and the consideration of further tariff reductions signals that Beijing has no intention of reining in this overcapacity, but rather is setting course to support domestic producers as domestic demand slows.

Rusal may talk about primary product as if it is separate from semis, but in truth it isn’t. That primary demand is partially for the production of semis China is in the process of replacing. To the extent that Chinese semi shipments rise, production will be displaced in the US, Europe and elsewhere in Asia.

Physical delivery premiums have already tumbled in the US, down nearly half to around $0.12 per lb. or $265 per mt for two months out. Primary metal is flooding into the US, from Canada, Europe, even India and the strong dollar is hindering US producers’ ability to export semi-finished and finished products. However much Rusal may like to talk up the market, I wouldn’t be going long on aluminum at present. Primary or semis.

Aluminum has slowly and quietly regained some of the price strength it closed out 2014 with, but that might not be enough to pull the light metal out of this bear market.

The monthly Aluminum MMI® registered a value of 88 in April, an increase of 1.1% from 87 in March.

The Strongest of A Weak Metals Field

Aluminum prices remained rangebound in March. Compared to the rest of base metals, though, aluminum is holding its price very well. Indeed, aluminum and zinc are the only metals that haven’t made multi-year lows yet in 2015. Demand growth in the automotive and aerospace sectors has helped the metal to hold onto its value.

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Aluminum lost most of its gains in the second half of 2014. In Q1 2015, prices remained rangebound as oil prices stabilized and the dollar caught a breath. What should we expect for the rest of the year?

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Alcoa Inc. said it would acquire Pittsburgh-based RTI International Metals Inc., one of the world’s biggest makers of fabricated titanium products for the aerospace and automotive industries, in a transaction with an enterprise value of $1.5 billion.

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For New York-based Alcoa, the world’s biggest aluminum producer by value, the stock-for-stock deal is part of its strategy to focus more on manufactured products for the aerospace and automotive industries.

Alcoa wants to become less reliant on its old-fashioned smelting business, which is suffering from weak prices for raw aluminum. Alcoa on Friday said it would look at closing up to 14% of raw smelting capacity. Since 2007, it has taken almost a third of its smelting capacity out of production.

RTI shareholders will receive 2.8315 Alcoa shares for each RTI share, representing a value of $41 per RTI share based on Alcoa’s closing price on Friday. RTI shares, which closed Friday at $27.28, jumped 28% to $35 in premarket trading Monday

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