Copper

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This morning in metals news, the wait for Section 232 continues, investors are betting on copper as electric cars grow in popularity and palladium is having a record year.

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Section 232 Watch Drags On

These days, folks in the aluminum and steel industries are looking for any sliver of information regarding what the Trump administration will do with its Section 232 investigations.

Many expected the steel investigation results to be announced by the end of June, but that never happened. Regardless, on Wednesday President Trump told a reporter that tariffs on steel imports “could happen.”

Not exactly the most illuminating quote, but it’s something. Given Trump’s economic rhetoric, both as a candidate and as president, the likelihood of some form of protective measures being instituted seems fairly high.

Copper and Cars

As automotive companies, from Tesla to traditional automotive industry stalwarts, compete to develop next-generation vehicles, investors are betting on copper, according to a report in the Financial Times.

How much more copper will be needed to back the next wave of automotive production?

Estimates vary, but one thing is certain: copper will play a very big role and, as such, demand for it will be high.

Big Year for Palladium

It’s been an up-and-down year for some metals in 2017 — but not palladium.

In fact, palladium is expected to hit its highest annual average price on record this year, Reuters reports. Even more, platinum has outperformed platinum in a big way.

But the question is: Can it last?

“We remain constructive on palladium’s outlook,” Standard Chartered analyst Suki Cooper told Reuters. “Not only is the market set to deliver a deficit this year, but it looks set to be undersupplied over the coming years.”

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While it’s easy to look askance at something that shoots up in price so quickly, there are indications that palladium will continue to be a strong player in the market.

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This morning in metals news, the EU is planning to impose heavy duties on steel from several countries, copper is down on gains by the U.S. dollar and June was a good month for U.S. service center  shipments of steel and aluminum.

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EU Gets Defensive on Steel

In the world of trade measures, most eyes are on the U.S.’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports. However, the U.S. is certainly not the only entity looking to protect its products.

The European Union plans to impose heavy duties on hot-rolled coil steel from Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Brazil, a measure to counter what it sees as unfairly low prices, Reuters reported Wednesday.

According to documents seen by Reuters, the EU plans on imposing duties of up to 33%. Just last month, the EU imposed duties of 35.9% on Chinese steel, according to the report.

Dollar Up, Copper Down

Copper had a strong start to the week, hitting its highest price since early May, but that optimism has started to temper.

Prices of the metals trended downward Wednesday after the U.S. dollar rose, Reuters reported.

The metal struggled to hold onto gains above $6,000, even with good news regarding Chinese demand, Danske Bank analyst Jens Pedersen told Reuters.

Steel, Aluminum Shipments Up in June

U.S. steel shipments were up in June, according to a Metals Service Center Institute report released Tuesday.

Shipments in June 2017 increased by 1.1% from June 2016. In addition, steel product inventories decreased 4.9% from June a year ago.

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Aluminum shipments were also up compared with the same month last year. Shipments of aluminum products increased by 10.3% from the same month in 2016. Inventories of aluminum products increased 0.2% from June a year ago.

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This morning in metals news, the Section 232 steel investigation is reportedly in its final stages, better-than-expected data on the Chinese economy buoyed copper prices and a 3-D printing startup got a rich vote of confidence.

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Section 232 Steel Conclusion: Almost There?

The Section 232 investigations launched by the Trump administration in April have been the talk of the metals world.

While the announcement of the steel investigation was previously expected to happen by the end of June, the administration blew past that self-imposed deadline. Now, however, American Metal Market reports a “key report in the US Commerce Department’s Section 232 investigation into steel imports is nearly complete,” according to a department spokesman.

The announcement would come as tension continues to rise between the U.S. and China. Reuters reported yesterday that China had a record June for steel and aluminum production, which surely won’t do much to dissuade the Trump administration from imposing tariffs or quotas to combat global excess supply from China.

China Data Good For Copper

Reuters reported faster-than-expected Chinese economic growth led to copper prices holding steady Tuesday.

Despite a strong second quarter for the Chinese economy, many analysts predicted a second-half slowdown as the government looks to put the squeeze on credit growth. With that said, Chinese growth exceeded expectations, so perhaps the slowdown will not be as significant as expected.

The next dominoes to drop — the Section 232 investigations — may also have significant ripple effects for not only China, but the global economy.

Big Investment in Metal 3-D Printing

Desktop Metal announced it secured $115 million in funding, according to Fortune, a funding sum that includes backing from a number of big-name investors.

The 3-D printing startup, founded in 2015, aims “to make metal 3D printing accessible for engineering teams,” according to the company’s website.

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In terms of the regular, everyday consumer, 3-D printing still has a long way to go.

From the industrial side, however, money talks.

In this case, the $115 million investment is saying that some major players believe in the technology and see a bright future in it.

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This morning in metals news, China hit record steel and aluminum production numbers in June as the world awaits the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigation results, the copper deficit could deepen amid further strikes and things are looking good for gold on Monday.

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China Posts Record Steel, Aluminum Outputs in June

Ever since the Trump administration announced its opening of Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports in April, the world has waited to see whether new tariffs or import quotas could be on their way.

The major focus of the investigations has been Chinese excess capacity in the global market, which the administration might strike at via protectionist measures.

The Chinese steel and aluminum industries, meanwhile, showed no signs of slowing down in June.

According to Reuters, China produced record amounts of the metals last month: 73.23 million tons of steel and 2.93 million tons of aluminum.

Copper Deficit Deepens

According to Reuters, the copper deficit is likely to deepen this year as further strikes are expected in South America; however, those strikes have already been priced in, according to the report.

Even so, the strikes are not likely to produce a rise in the copper price, according to a Reuters poll of 26 analysts.

According to the report, LME copper is up 8% on the year.

Gold Looking Up

Gold might be in for some good news during the remainder of 2017.

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According to Reuters, gold broke its 200-day moving average and could be in for further gains as a result of a slumping dollar.

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On Monday, our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote about copper prices, which have been on a bullish run. Today, Stuart Burns writes about investors’ copper positions. 

Reuters reported last week that the LME copper price reached a three-month high after a surprise rise in China’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).

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Investors jumped into copper after the official Chinese PMI rose for an 11th consecutive month, to 51.7 in June. Hedge funds and other investors increased long positions by 9,531 contracts to 58,816. Reuters reported that net long copper positions are now nearly double the 29,787 contracts reported back at the beginning of May and a dramatic reversal from the net short position of 47,109 contracts just a year ago.

The jump in the LME price was short-lived, dropping back as the dollar strengthened and LME data showed copper stocks gaining, but the Reuters report went on to question whether the current bullish run for copper is likely part of a longer-term recovery or a short-term case of overexuberance.

Although Chinese PMI numbers are not an exact measure of copper demand, they have been a good indicator over time. But after nearly 12 months of positive PMI numbers, many analysts are said to be expecting weaker readings in the second half of the year.

Chinese stimulus measures have boosted growth for longer than most had expected, but cracks are beginning to show in the housing market and Beijing’s tightening of credit is impacting small- to medium-size enterprises. The performance of those enterprises are not reflected in the official PMI figures, which are focused more on the large corporate sector.

Smaller businesses are measured by the Caixin PMI, which fell to its lowest level this year in June and is now hovering around the break-even point between contraction and expansion.

With the impact of stimulus measures beginning to decline and global stocks of copper remaining plentiful, it’s hard to see a case for copper’s continued strength in the second half of the year, despite the bullish bets indicated by the increasing long positions.

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If Reuters’ analysis is correct, we can probably expect an easing of copper prices, if not during the summer then into the fall.

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This morning in metals news, the LME launched a bid to acquire a piece of the over-the-counter gold market, Chilean miners are set to go on strike and the Liberty House group has purchased two more steel mills from Indian firm Tata.

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LME Launches Gold Contract

The LME’s new LMEprecious spot contract saw more than two tons of gold traded in its first day, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, the suite of gold and silver contracts was formed via a group of backers, including big banks. The contracts launched at 0000 GMT Monday.

By the close of business Monday, approximately $91.3 million in gold had been traded on the LMEprecious spot contract, according to exchange data cited by Reuters.

“LMEprecious has been developed in response to market demand and in close consultation with key precious metals stakeholders,” the LMEprecious page on LME’s website reads. “Offering daily and monthly futures for both gold and silver, LMEprecious delivers greater choice for market participants, modernising the gold and silver markets to better reflect the needs of global players in precious metals markets.”

Strikes Pave Way for Higher Prices

With Chilean miners’ recent vote to go on strike, the price of copper will get a boost upward.

According to Reuters, a buildup of inventories since late June came to a stop and miners voted to strike on Tuesday, both factors which contributed to a rise in the price of copper.

LME copper was up 0.4% to $5,845.50, according to the report. However, an expected slowdown in Chinese economic growth and the strengthening of the U.S. dollar are factors behind why many analysts think the copper price will fall.

“Our forecasts suggest that most prices will fall from here,” Caroline Bain, a Capital Economics analyst, told Reuters.

Tata Deals Hartlepool Steel Mills

The Liberty House group purchased two of Indian company Tata’s steel mills, according to a report in The Telegraph.

According to the report, Liberty House signed a provisional deal to purchase the mills, located in Hartlepool, England, which produce heavy-duty 42-inch and 84-inch steel pipes used in the oil and gas industries.

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According to the report, Tata will retain a third Hartlepool mill, where 270 are employed and make 20-inch tubes.

Last March, Liberty House bought two Scottish steel mills Tata was preparing to shutter.

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This morning in metals news, gold isn’t so golden, U.S. sheet steel prices held steady as the Department of Commerce’s self-imposed Section 232 announcement deadline came and went, and mining operations in Chile could open back up, as the price of the metal has rebounded.

Steady as Steel

Friday, June 30, was the deadline set by the Department of Commerce for the announcement of its Section 232 investigation regarding steel imports.

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That self-imposed deadline came and went without an announcement from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Sheet steel prices held steady Friday, Platts reported, and price changes aren’t expected until the 232 investigation results are announced.

The steel industry has been waiting for the Trump administration’s policy decisions on the subject of steel imports. Apparently, the industry will have to wait a little while longer.

Gold Hits Seven-Week Low

Gold fell to its lowest spot price in seven weeks, Bloomberg reported.

Rises in the U.S. dollar and European stock markets led to decreased demand for so-called safe-haven metals (like gold), the outlet reported.

According to the article, June and July are typically “middling” months for the precious metal.

Chilean Copper Mines Could be Opening Back Up

With copper prices on the rise, mines in Chile may be ready to open back up, Reuters reported.

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Mines in Chile, a major copper producer, closed in recent years as a result of slumping prices. According to Reuters, copper prices have risen 7% in 2017.

The mines reopening is far from a sure thing, however. According to Reuters, some investment decisions will wait until after Chile’s presidential election in November.

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Copper is commonly considered to be a proxy for the general economy by metal analysts — hence the name “Dr. Copper.”

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During this last year, both political and supply and demand concerns have driven LME copper prices up. Despite a small price dip in May, those prices continued to increase in June.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

After Donald Trump won the presidential election, copper rallied and surpassed its previous psychological price ceiling of $6,000/metric ton.

However, copper has failed to continue that initial uptrend.

Although copper supply concerns during the first quarter helped sustain price momentum, these same supply concerns eased in April and slowed copper’s price rise.

Most copper analysts believe copper prices will likely increase on the basis of fundamentals like  supply and demand only. Alternatively, MetalMiner sees copper prices declining, not as a result of fundamentals, per se, but as a result of a rising U.S. dollar index (USD) and a falling commodities index (placing the historical inverse relationship between the USD index and commodities back in play).

Chinese demand has improved during June, and, consequently, prices increased this month. However, current economic indicators suggest this demand may fall, which would cause copper prices to slip.

Automotive sales within China have risen from April to May, which may have provided a short-term lift in copper prices. However, if analyzing automotive sales compared to last year’s data, sales have only held steady; therefore, we do not see a growing automotive sector or increased demand for copper and the subsequent lift in copper prices.

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It should come as no surprise then that even  “Dr. Copper” has reflected a price uptrend this June — but future prices may not be as bright as expected for copper traders.

Buying organizations will want to evaluate indicators this month and follow the detailed analysis in our monthly forecast reports.

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This morning in metals news, India looks to boost its steel output, China expresses concern about the Trump administration’s Section 232 probe into aluminum and steel imports, and researchers have discovered a new, environmentally friendly way to extract copper.

India Prepares for Surge of Steel Production

India is looking to ramp up its steel output to 300 million tons, according to a report in the Press Trust of India.

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Steel Minister Choudhary Birender Singh announced today the steps that will be taken to ramp up production. Two new policies aim to boost production to 300 million tons by 2030, according to the report.

Self-sufficiency is the objective of the new national steel policy. Singh added the government has reached out to Coal India Ltd. to assure that there will be enough fuel to support the uptick in production.

China Awaits U.S. 232 Investigation Verdicts

According to the Chinese Commerce Ministry, China is “concerned” about the impending result of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigation into aluminum imports — one for which China has been the central focus.

In a report from Reuters, Sun Jiwen, a spokesman for the Commerce Ministry, said the basis for the investigations — national security — is too broadly defined.

Yesterday, Reuters reported Trump was growing increasingly frustrated with China, particularly in reference to its handling of North Korea.

Unsurprisingly, there are tensions and concerns on both sides of the equation (although tariffs would affect other nations and not just China). Many expect the Trump administration to announce the Section 232 findings in the near future.

A New Way to Extract Copper

MIT researchers have discovered a way to separate pure copper from sulfur-based minerals while eliminating toxic byproducts in the process.

According to a report in MIT News, the research team identified the proper temperature and chemical mixture in order to “selectively separate pure copper and other metallic trace elements from sulfur-based minerals using molten electrolysis.”

The article notes: “Copper is in increasing demand for use in electric vehicles, solar energy, consumer electronics and other energy efficiency targets. Most current copper extraction processes burn sulfide minerals in air, which produces sulfur dioxide, a harmful air pollutant that has to be captured and reprocessed, but the new method produces elemental sulfur, which can be safely reused, for example, in fertilizers. The researchers also used electrolysis to produce rhenium and molybdenum, which are often found in copper sulfides at very small levels.”

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In addition to being a fascinating scientific discovery and process, a clean way to extract an increasingly important product like copper is a great development.

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This morning in metals news, a hearing on NAFTA and possible renegotiation of the 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement continues into its second day, the results of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports might be subject to readjustments and copper has proven to be as precious as gold in some ways.

NAFTA Talks Continue Into Day Two

The Office of the United States Trade Representative kicked off hearings on the subject of NAFTA, soliciting views on if (and how) the trade agreement should be renegotiated.

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Trump was was reportedly prepared to pull the U.S. out of the trade agreement in April before the Canadian and Mexican leaders convinced him otherwise.

For many, including those in metals industries, NAFTA has been mostly successful, but could be modernized.

The hearing continues today, having started at 9 a.m. ET and concluding at 6:30 p.m. ET. Yesterday’s hearing included comments from Hollie Noveletsky, CEO of Novel Iron Works, and Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

More than 1,400 public comments were submitted online ahead of the hearing.

A full list of scheduled speakers is available on the USTR website.

Malleable Situation: Prepping for 232 Recommendations

As the U.S. steel and aluminum industries await the announcements of the Trump administration’s policy recommendations following Section 232 investigations into imports of the metals, some industry organizations think the outcomes are subject to change.

Kevin Dempsey, senior vice president of public policy for AISI, told Platts there could be some fine-tuning of the administration’s announced course of trade actions.

As for retaliatory measures by other countries in the case of the Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs or quotas? Dempsey indicated to Platts the threat of retaliation in response to trade policy actions is always a possibility.

It has been 16 years since the last 232 investigation. What will happen this time around? Most are expecting tariffs, of course, but no one knows exactly what they will look like. In addition, the timeline for the announcement of the investigation’s findings is even murkier. According to Dempsey, the administration might even wait until after the G20 summit, which is scheduled to take place July 7-8.

Copper is Golden

When most people think of monetary stability, of safe-haven assets, they think of gold — and they’d be right to do so.

But when it comes to inflation, Bloomberg reports copper has actually kept up better.

According to a correlation analysis of total return commodity indexes compiled by Bloomberg, for every 1 percent annual increase in the consumer price index since 1992, copper jumped almost 18 percent, more than three times the 5.2 percent gain logged by gold.

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