LME copper

Is this a serious rebound in copper prices? Hmm... we still doubt it.

The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 77 in May, an increase of 2.7% from 75 in April.

Not a Demand-Based Surge

Copper prices have surged so far this year but prices are still well below what they were just a year ago.

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Demand coming from China is still weak. We believe that traders likely won't get evidence of a meaningful uptick in demand as Chinese demand remains weak and not likely to make a significant comeback in the medium term. Therefore, demand alone has little chances of supporting prices through the balance of the year.

Supply Side? Nope

On the supply side, there have been some constraints in Chile (the largest copper producing nation) because of climate and labor problems. On the other hand, major copper miners are cutting costs. This helps miners keep producing even while copper prices fall, as major input costs like crude oil declined. Just this year, the industry’s total costs on average fell 6%. The industry seems well-supplied and at this point, we don't see warnings in the supply side with the potential to dramatically change the direction of prices.

What IS Causing the Rally?

With this said, two things seem to be causing the recent copper's rally:

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Seems that somebody forgot to tell the automotive metals that the bear market was still going on this month. Strong aluminum and high-strength steel demand, and end-user purchases, have again made auto the standout in a field of mostly down markets.

After flattening in April, the monthly automotive MMI® registered a value of 87 in May, an increase of 2.4% from 85 in April. A big factor was the performance of aluminum coil on the index, as its index broke resistance and soared as well.

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China removed export taxes on aluminum, opening more markets up to the automotive-grade sheet and coil prices that automakers in the West have been experimenting with for a decade now. Prices of palladium, lead and even copper also notched strong LME growth filling strong demand from domestic and foreign automakers.

Consumer Sales Rising

In the US market, April new car sales rose by 5% from a year ago, to more than 1.463 million units as predicted in a J.D. Power and LMC Automotive's mid-month auto sales forecast update. April's totals are anticipated to be the highest since April 2005.

SUVs and smaller "crossover utility vehicles" were the main leaders in the sales surge. While not all US automakers posted strong Q1 results, profits were generally up even if they were up lower than some analysts expected. General Motors' results were better than in the same period a year ago, when costs associated with safety recalls limited quarterly profit to $125 million.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a profit of $101.2 million (€92 million) d​uring the first quarter compared with a loss of $173 million (€190 million) during the same period last year.

What This Means for Automotive Buyers

Consumer demand for automobiles traditionally picks up in the summer months, so this could be the beginning of a big turnaround for our Automotive MMI®. Fundamentals continue to look strong as the index had better supply and demand numbers than other metals even when it was losing price ground. Stay tuned.

For actual prices of the automotive metals this month, read the full article by logging in or signing up to become a MM member.

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The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 75 in April, an increase of 2.7% from 73 in March.

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The suspicious copper rally is still in place. Copper has rallied as much as 17% since it hit its trough in February. The move might seem impressive for the non-trained eye, but copper is just zigzagging.

Copper's Selling, But We're Not Buying

After the huge drop during the second half of last year, we believe that there is no point in freaking out over this two-month rally. Picking bottoms is very hard and definitely not a good strategy for metal buyers. Was February the bottom of copper's bearish market? Nobody knows. But we do know that trying to guess what was the bottom is a terrible strategy to take with copper since 2011. Prices have kept on falling, trough after trough... after trough.

In the fundamentals side, we don't see any game-changing factor that could drive a significant upturn in copper prices. The market remains far from being in deficit and the macroeconomic outlook from China remains poor. Copper demand is lacking momentum.

Now, with the fundamental picture being dormant, at best, can we expect copper prices to rise above last year's levels? That seems very unlikely. Especially while a strong dollar and low oil prices are having a depressing effect on commodities, and many other base metals are making record lows.

Before copper is ready to turn around, we'll have to see more price strength changes in the demand outlook and commodity markets. Both need to turn upward. We believe that the last four years gave copper buyers reasons enough to wait for real signs of strength before making large volume commitments.

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With April's reading, MetalMiner's monthly price index tracking metals used in the automotive industry has stanched its general downward slide – the index dipped below the baseline of 100 in February 2014 and has been trending down since. The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 85 in April, on par with March's value (check out last month's report). But with most base metals markets in a bearish mode, this index may have further to fall.

The downward slide had particularly begun accelerating in Q4 of last year and has continued through Q1 2015, a sign that the auto index's basket of metals has seen the same bearish treatment as the Raw Steels, Stainless and Aluminum MMIs.

US Auto Sales 'n Oil Prices–March 2015

Of the US Big Three, GM and Ford's March sales both dropped this year compared to March 2014, while Chrysler gained nearly 2% in its monthly sales over last year. However, both GM and Chrysler's year-to-date sales so far in 2015 are quite robust over the same amount of time in 2014 (5.3% and 6.5%, respectively), while Ford's YTD sales are also in the green.

Bargain-basement oil prices have helped consumers at the gas pump, which in turn has spurred sales. Light truck sales, for example, have been outpacing car sales for the past 15 months, and have spiked to their highest level in several years in March 2015. Primary metal producers are on the bullish demand bandwagon as well – Alcoa recently received the promise of government cash for lightweight auto-grade aluminum production.

Essentially, the automotive OEMs and their suppliers should be paying close attention to our Automotive MMI® trend – with finished steel, aluminum, platinum and palladium at multi-month lows, while consumer vehicle demand appears to be high, some spot buying could be in order...but we can't say for sure how much further this index has to fall. MetalMiner will, however, be offering an exclusive automotive metal market outlook...

SRM Automotive Summit

If you happen to be in Southeast Michigan in May – and chances are, if you work for an auto OEM or many of their suppliers, you already will be – join MetalMiner Executive Editor Lisa Reisman at the POOL4TOOL SRM Automotive Summit, to be held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham on Friday, May 22.

Lisa will present "Sourcing Strategies for the Automotive Metals: H2 2015." Don't miss out this analysis and a great overall event – register here.

This Month's Actual Metal Prices: Automotive MMI®

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LME copper prices, Chinese lead prices, and Korean aluminum premium prices rose this week, while US HDG steel prices and US palladium prices dropped. For exact price points of all of these and more, click below!

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The US dollar weakened and eased concerns about its impact on corporate profits, while the euro recovered from a 12-year low in trading today.

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After months of strong jobs data, expectations have been growing that the Federal Reserve would signal a June rate rise at a meeting that begins on Tuesday. A stronger dollar erodes purchasing power for commodities. That, plus questions over China's economic growth after comments by Premier Li Keqiang added headwinds to copper, analyst Joel Crane of Morgan Stanley in Melbourne told Reuters.

"What we've seen on China's data indicators so far is fairly negative, so it's not surprising that people would be worried about whether the post-New Year recovery is underway," Crane said.

Premier Li vowed to keep China's economy growing at a reasonable speed, even as he also said authorities could do more to stoke growth, which triggered a rally in Chinese equities.

The prospect of more Chinese stimulus, and a rise in interest rates in the US, helped copper to a weekly gain. Prices have been gaining ground as China's factories ramp up after the Lunar New Year, climbing from 5-1/2 year lows of under $5,400 a metric t0n in January, but slowing economic growth and ample refined supply has blunted momentum.

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3-month copper surged to a six-week high on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said it was preparing to consider rate rises on a meeting-by-meeting basis. Greece also secured its bailout extension from the EU and oil prices rebounded.

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Yellen said it would be several months before the Fed expects to raise interest rates but the consideration was now on the table. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange jumped to a session peak of $5,846 a metric ton today, the strongest since Jan. 13, and closed 2% higher at $5,785.

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The monthly Copper MMI® ticked up to 73 in March – after its fall off a tall building down to 70 in February, copper's dead cat bounced impressively 4.3% from its big drop.

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While it's one of only two indexes up this month, you shouldn't read too much into this bounce:

On the London Metal Exchange, itself, copper rose 7% in the month of February. This move shouldn't come as a surprise, either. Copper fell 25% since July 2015 and it needs some time to digest its super-sized feast of loss. Remember, prices don't move in a straight line, they move in a zig-zag.

Therefore, this move should be taken as a normal reaction within a falling trend – simply a temporary recovery from a prolonged decline or bear market, followed by the continuation of the downtrend. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that copper has eight more lives after this dead cat bounces.

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North American Palladium's stock rose by 51.8% in the past month. This combination of strong price performance and favorable technical data, could suggest that the stock is on the right path.

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North American is an established PGM producer that has been operating its main revenue source, its Lac des Iles mine in northern Ontario, Canada, since 1993.

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A. Gary Shilling writes that copper's fall will continue because producers have a great incentive to increase output despite low market prices.

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In his Bloomberg View piece, Investment and Money Manager Shilling blames the commodity boom of the early 2000s that led to massive building and expansion in China.

"It’s not economical to suspend some of these projects due to high sunk costs and shutdown expenses," Shilling writes. "Some producers, moreover, may not be free to slash output as prices swoon, especially if they’re government-controlled and need foreign exchange to service sovereign debts."

Copper is produced mainly in the developing countries of Chile, Peru, Congo, Zambia and Russia. China is a net exporter of aluminum but an importer of copper. The International Copper Study Group, made up of copper-producing and consuming countries, says demand will rise just 1.1% this year while output jumps 4.3%.

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