China

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This morning in metal news, a new report paints a positive picture for jobs in the renewables sector, Moody’s downgrades China’s credit rating, and the results of the OPEC meeting are in. The current supply cuts will be extended for another nine months, and oil prices tumbled on the news.

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OPEC Agrees on 9-Month Extension of Supply Cuts

Let’s start with the big headline of the morning. As expected, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has agreed to extend supply cuts for another nine months, until March 2018.

After OPEC wrapped up its first meeting in Vienna around 3:30pm CEDT (8:30am CDT), oil prices responded over the next few hours by sliding 4.5% to $51.60 per barrel. Some industry analysts think OPEC should have agreed to deeper cuts. As The Guardian reported, OPEC is “sticking to the 1.8 [million] barrel a deal first agreed in late November.” Russia and other oil producing non-OPEC members are also expected to go along with the supply cuts.

Forget Bringing Back Coal Jobs

The burgeoning renewable energy sector employed 9.8 million people in 2016, according to the latest annual report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Global employment in the sector has been growing every year since 2013, and there may be as many as 24 million renewables workers worldwide by 2030. Read more

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What happens when an illegal business practice becomes so common and virtually accepted that it ultimately gets difficult to break?

Many U.S. manufacturers would argue that we’re in a period of global trade that features one such practice: trade circumvention. The most slippery aspect of ferreting out circumvention is first defining which segment of industry gets harmed the most, before even knowing what to do about it. Is it the upstream sector, including primary steel, textiles or plastics production? Or the downstream sector, such as the residential washing machine business?

MetalMiner Executive Editor Lisa Reisman makes the case that the lines between upstream and downstream manufacturing have blurred in this new report, Rules-Based Trade Remains Critical to Manufacturing Health.

But first we must understand the basics. Here’s an excerpt from that paper defining the landscape of trade circumvention in a short primer.

What is Trade Circumvention?

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, circumvention refers to “getting around commitments in the WTO such as commitments to limit agricultural export subsidies. It includes: avoiding quotas and other restrictions by altering the country of origin of a product; measures taken by exporters to evade anti-dumping or countervailing duties.”

Four steel producers filed a petition last September, charging China with circumventing anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders for corrosion-resistant carbon steel and cold-rolled carbon steel by sending substrate materials to Vietnam for processing and re-export. The claim appears to be supported by trade data (as shown by an spike in Vietnamese cold-rolled and CORE imports after November 2015 while the same Chinese imports drastically decreased after duties were imposed on the latter, for example). Read more

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Last month, China announced plans to build a new megacity from scratch. Since the city will be twice the size of New York City, analysts expect the project to require huge amounts of steel and other industrial metals such as aluminum and copper.

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According to Citi Research analysts, 12-14 million tons of extra steel will be required annually to build this new development. Since the country’s current domestic demand is about 700 million tons, that would lift Chinese steel demand by 2% per year over the next 10 years.

But are the analysts correct? Should we expect a steel demand boost over the next 10-15 years?

Although building this city from scratch will indeed require a lot of steel, analysts are making the mistake of missing the forest for the trees. The key driver for steel demand in China is the net migration from the countryside to cities. It doesn’t really matter whether China builds a new megacity or it expands its city limits. The key measure is the rate of urbanization in the country at a national level.

Urban and rural population in China. Source: China’s Economy book by Arthur R.Kroeber

China’s urban share has grown quickly over the past two decades since its rural population peaked in 1995. Last year, China’s urban population share reached 57.9%. The share, however, is still small given the country’s income level. Read more

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This morning in metals news, we have the latest rankings of promising renewables markets from EY, a continued decline in U.S. oil supply, and a weaker U.S. dollar.

The Renewables Race

China and India took the top spots on consultancy EY’s 2017 Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI), edging past the United States, which had fallen from first to third place. The downward shift for the U.S. is largely due to the expected demise of the Clean Power Plan.

Free Download: The May 2017 MMI Report

Since taking office in 2014, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has been nothing but ambitious in his plans to reduce the country’s dependency on coal and ramp up renewable energy capacity. India’s current renewables capacity stands at 57 GW, and Modi’s plan is to reach 175 GW by 2022, including 100 GW of solar. Read more

So much has been written in recent months about China and the Chinese aluminum market that we are in danger of losing sight of the performance of major producers outside of that market.

Free Download: The May 2017 MMI Report

The position of producers like Alcoa and Rusal arguably have more impact and more significance for Western consumers than those behind the tariff barrier walls of China’s borders. The Financial Times reported last week that Rusal (still the world’s second largest producer, according to Statista) is in robust health and has reported rising profits on the back of stronger first quarter prices.

According to the FT, net profit for the first three months of the year was $187 million, up 48% from $126 million in the same period last year, on the back of 20% rise in revenue to $2.3 billion. While not quite reaching analysts’ predictions, it allowed the firm to reduce debt levels and encouragingly was achieved on the back of only a modest 0.7% increase in production to 910,000 metric tons. Likewise, alumina production was up a correspondingly small 0.9% to 1.889 million tons.

Costs, however, have remained a bugbear with electricity prices, transportation – principally railways, and other raw material costs rising in Q1, in part due to rising commodity prices but also due to a 6.7% strengthening of the ruble.

Nevertheless, demand growth remains robust, and supply outside China remains relatively tight with the forward market spreads not favouring the roll-over of stock and trade storage of primary metal with only a 3.5% margin over 18 months.

Much will depend on China going forward and how seriously Beijing continues to pursue its policy of clamping down on environmental non-compliance and limiting new smelter investment. Aluminum demand in China grew at 7.5% in the first quarter, according to Aluminium Insider, and it is growing at 5.0% in the rest of the world.

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Prices may have slipped back of late but that was probably to be expected after the surge of enthusiasm following Beijing’s clampdown. As the realisation sinks in that China’s winter heating period closures are still six months away, some softening is to be expected.

Regular readers of The Telegraph, arguably Britain’s only remaining decent broadsheet paper, will be familiar with the writings of Ambrose Evans Prichard, the international business editor.

It has to be said that he has a slightly sensationalist reporting style, but his articles are always liberally supported with facts and figures. Even though he seems to argue more often than not that markets about to drop off the edge of a cliff, he has, at times, been right. Yet an article this week titled “Commodities slump on China tremors and OPEC failure,” while making a plausible argument based on the facts and figures presented, could equally have an alternate explanation if one looks over a slightly longer timeframe.

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Clyde Russel of Reuters takes just such an approach in an article posted just a day or so later, which all goes to underline the challenge for buyers in interpreting fundamental supply and demand data and extrapolating workable strategies.

Source: The Telegraph

The Telegraph looks at a gradually sinking Brent oil price coupled with falling Chinese crude oil imports, and it suggests that the former is in part a result of the latter. Reuters looks at the same data, and whilst the article acknowledges that imports are down in April, it goes on to look at the last 12 months trend line.

Reuters notes that in the first four months of 2017, crude oil imports were up 12.5% from the same period last year to around 8.46 million bpd. The article goes on to point out that this is also substantially higher than the 7.6 million bpd imports averaged for 2016, suggesting that China’s appetite for crude has jumped substantially so far this year, notwithstanding the pullback in April. Read more

Earlier this decade, there was no lack of hype around electric and hybrid cars. Sales were expected to take off, driving demand for lithium, nickel, cobalt and a host of rare earth elements above supply.

That was, in part, motivation for a rare earths bubble, but demand have remained manageable as high sales of electric vehicles have failed to materialise. In reality, electric and hybrid cars have gained traction only gradually as the range of EVs grew and as hybrids struggled to make dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency resulting from advances in internal combustion, particularly diesel engine technology.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Sooner or later, however, a combination of improving technology and pressure from legislation forcing changes in buyer choices should result in electric vehicles merging into the mainstream. A sure sign that the day is drawing nearer would be when established main brands set targets for themselves.

Well, this week Volkswagen did just that. The Financial Times covered an announcement made by Herbert Diess, head of the VW brand (the largest part of the VW Group), that the brand would sell one million electric cars by 2025 and leapfrog Tesla as the world’s premier volume EV manufacturer. As part of VW’s central plan, the FT reports, the firm is going to sell electric cars at the price of today’s diesel models and intends the entire electric fleet to be profitable from day one. Read more

Commodities gave important signals in April/May. The performance of commodity markets has a heavy impact on the price movements on any industrial metal. If you are a metal buyer, it doesn’t matter if you buy aluminum, copper, steel or tin. The information in this article is important for you.

Reuters/Jefferies CRB commodity index. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com

About a month ago I noted that while industrial metals were on the rise, commodities were range-bound, a sign of sluggish global demand. As I had written, “a healthy bull market in base metals should be accompanied by a bull market in other commodity markets.” Commodities not only have struggled to make new headway but in the past few days they weakened significantly. Recent moves in China have caused a significant shift of sentiment in financial markets.

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China Curbs on Credit

Interest rates in China have risen to the highest level in two years amid the country’s tough talks on curbing credit. China is putting on the brakes on credit growth, and the effects of those policies are already starting to be felt. As the Financial Times reported, “China Vanke, one of China’s biggest property developers, was [recently] forced to drop a bond sale… blaming changes in market conditions.”

The noticeable tightening in Chinese monetary policy is bad news for its property markets. The country has also pledged to halt risky local funding for the construction of infrastructure projects. Investors know that this will hurt demand for commodities and industrial metals. Read more

President Donald Trump has come in for a fair amount of criticism for his perceived failure to achieve many of his campaign promises in the 100-day deadline he set himself (and now denies, but that’s another issue).

Implementation of a case against China as a currency manipulator and building the U.S.-Mexico border wall has given way to the greater pragmatism of coercing China to put pressure on North Korea with both carrot and stick incentives, and of a “last minute” retraction of a supposed imminent announcement to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) last month as a precursor to talks down the line.

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The Economist, as usual, gives an impartial and balanced assessment of events in two recent articles. The first reports that although the president has not been able to implement much of the headline objectives, the combination of executive orders, tweets and off-the-cuff announcements have set in motion a number of significant developments.

Pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) gave a clear message from day one that here was a president who meant what he said — that you took all the bluster as hot air at your peril. The very uncertainty in his lack of planned policy and spur-of-the-moment reaction to events has put trade partners, friends and enemies alike on uncertain ground — not a bad negotiating position to force on the other side, if you see all interaction as a negotiation.

More significantly, the U.S. has started an investigation into whether steel imports are a threat to national security and followed up with a similar probe, announced late last month, into aluminium imports. Trade negotiators at home and abroad are said to be aghast at the former leader of the rules-based trading system and a major backer of the World Trade Organization completely shunning the system it created and resorting to obscure legislation to achieve the president’s promises. Read more

Aluminum Rod

Goldman Sachs is bullish on aluminum, projecting it to rise following China’s supply-side reforms.

According to a recent report from CNBC, Goldman expects aluminum prices to hit the $2,000 per metric ton point in six months and $2,100 per ton in a year.

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Year-to-date, aluminum prices have outperformed other industrial metals, climbing roughly 15% compared to steel and 3% compared to copper, the news source stated.

“In our view, this strong performance has reflected an increase in the potential for aluminum to be the next target of supply-side reform in China, a tightening ex-China balance, and rising costs of production,” wrote the bank’s analysts. “Further, global political developments may also be supportive of capacity and production cuts, given the two leaders of the U.S. and China launched a 100-day (trade) plan on April 7. These developments support our existing view that aluminum is the next target for supply-side reform in China,” they added. Read more