Aluminum

Our Aluminum MMI inched lower in November. A rising dollar put some pressure but prices held well overall. Indeed, we see some potential on the upside.

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Something that has concerned aluminum investors throughout the year is the potential increase in Chinese aluminum production. However, restarts seem to be less than what the markets were expecting earlier. Rising costs of production will likely limit additional restarts.

Aluminum_Chart_December_2016_FNL

China’s clampdown on coal mining and supply disruptions in Australia has led to a spike in seaborne coal prices. Thermal coal prices in China have more than doubled this year. In addition, alumina, which is then processed to produce raw aluminum, has risen steeply in price over the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, even the most pessimistic estimates put the annual demand growth rate at about 4%. Not only that, but Chinese aluminum demand has been better than expected. Chinese demand from infrastructure and construction has been robust this year. The automotive sector, another big industry for aluminum demand, continues to look strong.

In October, China’s passenger car sales rose 20% from the same month last year, the sixth consecutive month that car sales have risen by double digits in China. Last year, China announced a 50% cut in the sales tax for cars with small engines to last until the end of this year. Some analysts expect that China will extend the tax cut to next year but if that’s not the case, we could see some moderation in China’s car sales numbers.

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Adding to the bull case for demand growth in China is the expected boost in U.S. infrastructure spending following republican nominee Donald Trump’s election victory. During the second half, aluminum prices took support above $1,600/mt from better-than-expected Chinese demand combined with lower-than-expected Chinese output. Trump’s election is helping fuel a rally across the industrial metals complex. It wouldn’t be a strange thing to see aluminum prices comfortably trading above $1,800/mt in 2017.

On another note, recently a massive stockpile of 500,000 metric tons of aluminum has been trucked out of the Mexican city of San José Iturbide and shipped to a remote port in Vietnam.The Wall Street Journal reports that the stockpile is believed to be related to the product of Chinese aluminum producer China Zhongwang. We don’t see this news impacting prices immediately but news like this could potentially bring up the case for increasing trade barriers between China and the U.S., especially under the lead of Trump, who has vowed to bring more jobs back home during his campaign.

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Long row of rolls of aluminum in production shop of plant.

Long row of rolls of aluminum in production shop of plant.

In a year that saw most industrial metals rally to record highs, aluminum has lagged behind. The reason? Oversupply.

According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, citing data from the International Aluminum Institute, global aluminum production grew to a record high of close to 5 million metric tons in October. It’s expected aluminum will continue to fall behind other metals in 2017 in terms of price growth as a result of oversupply.

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“As we expect to see further production increases in the next few months, a record-high quantity of aluminum is likely to be produced on a whole year basis,” states a Commerzbank report, according to the WSJ.

Chinese Aluminum Producer Moves Its Supply

Our own Raul de Frutos recently reported on a significant stockpile of 500,000 metric tons of aluminum that’s been shipped from Mexico to Vietnam. What will its impact on price be?

“Although the volume is pretty big, it’s immediate impact on global aluminum prices will likely be none. This is because the metal has already been produced and it’s just moving from one place to another before its final use. The metal is already there and it’s going to be consumed whether it is in the U.S. or in another country. Therefore, it’s all already factored into the price,” de Frutos wrote.

How will aluminum and base metals fare for the remainder of 2016 and into 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

 

 

The Census Bureau reported late last week that U.S. construction spending was up during October by 0.5% compared with the September total. Year-over-year, construction spending in October was up by 3.45. During the first 10 months of the year, construction spending amounted to $972.2 billion, 4.5% above the same period in 2015.

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Our Construction MMI was up 8.7% as domestic demand for construction metals shot up just as prices increased nearly across the board for the entire industrial metals complex.

Construction_Chart_December_2016_FNL

Construction demand in the world’s largest metals consumer, China, continues to grow even as the central government there tries to restrict home buying, the engine for that demand.

“It’s likely that the government will expand infrastructure investment to make up for the gap left by property-related investment falling,” Julia Wang, China economist at HSBC told the Financial Times.

What is buoying construction the most is an investor class now excited about all industrial and construction metals. The election of President-elect Donald Trump promises $1 trillion in U.S. infrastructure investment and stronger protections against dumping of foreign imports.

Trump’s policies, while still in their formative stages, are seen as bullish for public construction, particularly infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airports. Stocks of construction companies and materials providers also jumped after Trump’s election.

Public construction spending actually accounted for most of the increase in U.S. construction spending in October — unusually, since that sector has been contracting in recent years — gaining 2.8% compared to September. Spending on educational facilities was especially brisk, up 4.1% for the month, while highway construction gained 1.9%. Compared with last year, however, public construction spending as a whole was off 0.6%.

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While Chinese demand remains a concern, it’s a very good time to be a construction metals investor with positive sentiment nearly across the board when it comes to both construction and metals.

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Renewed economic confidence followed the election of republican nominee Donald Trump and Americans snapped up new vehicles at a rapid pace in November, giving the U.S. auto industry a chance of breaking its all-time record for full-year sales.

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The Automotive MMI was up, too, jumping 8%.

In November, U.S. auto sales rose 3.7% compared with a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. On an annualized basis, that equaled a rate of 17.87 million units. November sales growth projections had ranged from 2.7% at Edmunds.com to 4.2% at Kelley Blue Book. Total sales for November were 1.38 million, that shattered a record for the month that was set in November 2001.

Automotive_Chart_December-2016_FNL

The month’s annual sales rate, adjusted for two extra selling days this November, was 17.9 million vehicles, more than the 17.7 million average estimate.

A contributing factor to the solid month was the Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday sales, which are having an increasing effect on the month’s output. With one month to go, the auto industry has a decent chance to match or exceed its 2015 full-year record of 17.47 million vehicles sold.

Automotive sales and metals prices are both benefiting from bullish sentiment among buyers and investors. Steel companies stock prices have increased after Trump’s election just as aluminum and copper prices in the bullish metals markets.

Another factor in new car sales is the enduring low prices for both oil and gasoline, which might change soon now that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers such as Russia have finally agreed to a production freeze.

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Rising oil prices, however, might not be the detriment to auto sales that they have in the past. Hybrid vehicles and simply more efficient fuel consumption have blunted the impact of gasoline prices on new car sales. One of the reasons that the gas tax has become such a poor funding mechanism for the federal Highway Trust Fund is that motorists simply have to buy less gas for today’s efficient, newer vehicles.

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A massive stockpile of 500,000 metric tons of aluminum has been trucked out of the Mexican city of San José Iturbide and shipped to a remote port in Vietnam.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the stockpile is believed to be related to the product of Chinese aluminum producer China Zhongwang.

Zhongwang is a state-supported enterprise that has received large benefits and financing from the government of China. The company also has a long history of circumventing and evading duties in trade cases. Read more

A massive stockpile of 500,000 metric tons of aluminum has been trucked out of the Mexican city of San José Iturbide and shipped to a remote port in Vietnam, according to shipping records and people familiar with the matter.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the stockpile is believed to be related to or entirely the product of Chinese aluminum producer China Zhongwang. As a result of moving the massive stockpile, Vietnam has become a major importer of aluminum extrusions this year.

Preliminary Steel Exports Down

Based on preliminary Census Bureau data, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported that the U.S. imported a total of 2,682,000 net tons of steel in October, including 2,225,000 nt of finished steel (down 3.4% and up 4.7%, respectively, vs. September final data).

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On the year-to-date (YTD), through 10 months of 2016, total and finished steel imports are 27,486,000 and 22,017,000 nt, down 19% and 19.8%, respectively, vs. the same period in 2015. Annualized total and finished steel imports in 2016 would be 33.0 and 26.4 million nt, down 15% and 16.1%, respectively, vs. 2015. Finished steel import market share was an estimated 26% in October and is estimated at 25% on the year.

Global automotive giant Volvo is currently taking part in a European Union research project which involves replacing the various cables in trucks with wireless sensors.

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The result is expected to be a dramatic reduction in the amount of copper and plastic used. Every year the Volvo Group should be able to dispense with around 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) of cabling, which is the equivalent of 18 metric tons of copper and 33 metric tons of plastic.

Volvo is saying goodbye to miles of cabling in its truck division. Can IoT sensors replace all that expensive copper and plastic? Source: Volvo.

Volvo is saying goodbye to miles of cabling in its truck division. Can IoT sensors replace all that expensive copper and plastic? Source: Volvo.

“The savings could amount to a large number of hours, sometimes even days. In the factory, the cables are awkward to handle and time-consuming to fit in the right place,” said Jonas Hagerskans, a development engineer at the Volvo Group. “The wireless sensors are much simpler to install. The cables are also sensitive to dirt and rust and prone to faults. By replacing the cables with wireless sensors, it is possible to prevent all the potential cabling faults. When trucks come into the workshop for repairs, identifying faults in long cables that are difficult to access is very time-consuming. In the future, our customers could get their trucks back from the workshop more quickly.” Read more

This abridged, holiday week saw both the U.S. dollar, which recently hit a one-year high, and metals prices surge, abandoning their usual behavior, as investors grew excited about the prospects for both infrastructure spending and a stronger U.S. currency.

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How strong is the dollar? The predictions of a December Federal Reserve interest rate increase are above 90% and the euro is headed in the opposite direction as the currencies are already nearing parity.

The recent rise in metals prices has had some strange market effects. The supposedly more reliable “upstream business,” that Alcoa, Inc. recently separated its aerospace and automotive products into, Arconic, was expected to have a higher stock price and better prospects than the commodity aluminum business that retained the Alcoa name. So much so that CEO Klaus Kleinfeld left with Arconic. Well, Alcoa’s stock has soared since the October split became official. Arconic’s hasn’t.

Now might be the time to buy aluminum forward. We’re not so sure about the long-term prospects for copper, but it’s rise in the last two weeks has been meteoric, nonetheless.

Here in the U.S., we celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday and the traditional beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Retailers are offering big discounts as they hope that consumers, weary of the election that finally came early this month, are ready to spend, particularly on rare-earth-using electronics.

Online shopping was on pace to reach $2 billion on Thanksgiving Day, up 16% from a year ago, according to Adobe Systems Inc., which tracked visits to e-commerce sites. Even our friends in the U.K. are chasing the online deals.

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If consumer spending increases this season it will be another sign that the U.S. economy is ready to turn a page and maybe, just maybe, return to strong growth. We may have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

Just a few days after hitting a 15-month high, the aluminum rally cooled down as prices inched lower over the past few days.

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So, where are aluminum prices heading? Is it now a good time to hedge/buy forward? The short answers are: up and yes. But let’s explains this view a bit further.

A Bull Case

3M LME aluminum prices trending higher this year

3-Month LME aluminum prices trending higher this year. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com data.

Concerns about rising supply in China kept a lid on prices for most of this year. However, market dynamics have changed somewhat over the last few months. China’s aluminum supply has been in check, with data showing a slight decline in the country’s aluminum exports this year.

What’s Coal Got to Do With it?

Helping keep supply in check is the recent spike in coal prices as coal is used in alumina refining. Thermal coal prices in China have more than doubled this year. As energy prices increase, Chinese smelters are getting squeezed, making it tougher for them to keep up with production. In addition, alumina, which is then processed to produce raw aluminum, has risen steeply in price over the last couple of months. Read more

In October, Alcoa, Inc. divided the company into two separate entities. The split created a commodity-focused company which retains Alcoa’s name and its upstream business. The second entity, called Arconic, now operates as the company’s downstream business.

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When the split was announced last year, Arconic was supposed to drive value for shareholders once listed as a separate entity while Alcoa’s stock price was expected to remain depressed since, at the time the split was announced, aluminum prices were trading near their 2009 lows.

Alcoa shares have risen near 50% since the company split. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data

Alcoa shares have risen near 50% since the company split. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

Guess what happened? Read more