LME

Many active investors in the aluminim market will have watched, perplexed and confused, as to why the London Metal Exchange price continues to rise, yet the fundamental reality is one of, if not an oversupplied market, at least one with no shortage of metal in storage.

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Producers will claim some credit for cutting capacity and talking up demand, which — to be fair — both positions hold some water. Western smelters in the U.S. and Europe have been relentless in cutting uneconomic refining in the face of weak prices.

Aluminum Smelter Closures

Source: CRU

This graph from CRU shows the steady demise of the U.S. primary aluminum smelting industry and you only have to Google “closure of aluminum smelters” or something similar and you will get a litany of stories about smelters being closed or facing imminent closure around the world.

Production Overseas

At the same time, though, production in the Middle East has jumped from 0.9 million metric tons (mmt) in 1999 to an expected 5.7 mmt this year, and Chinese primary production has skyrocketed from 2.6 mmt in 1999 to reach 31.2 mmt in 2015, with more to be added in 2016. Read more

Copper has been on a bit of a roll this month. After a quiet summer, investors have been looking at growing concentrate imports in China and increased refining to pure copper as signs that Chinese demand is picking up.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

A recent article by Reuters throws some light on what is going on behind the scenes that suggests while demand from refiners is robust, it does not mean demand from China’s consumers is equally as strong and rising imports should not necessarily be seen as a bullish sign for copper.

Copper Price

Source: Kitco.com

The metal had hit a four-week high last week, approaching $4,800 per metric ton after better-than-expected Chinese data lifted sentiment. Read more

After a gap of 30 years, the London Metal Exchange is, in collaboration with the World Gold Council, getting back into precious metals. Not just because it sees an opportunity, but because the industry is in desperate need of an efficient and professional marketplace following the departure of principal banks from London’s Gold Fix in the wake of the Libor scandal and suggestions the Gold Fix could be manipulated.

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The LME announced this week it will launch centrally cleared gold and silver contracts on a platform called LMEprecious in the first half of next year, followed by platinum and palladium.

Gold bars

Gold will trade on the basis of London good-delivery 99.5% bars in 100 ounce lots. Source: Adobe Stock/misunseo.

According to Bloomberg, the new contracts are designed to complement London’s $5 trillion over-the-counter gold and silver market and will include contracts for spot, daily and monthly futures, options and calendar spread contracts, according to the statement.

Who’s Got the LME’s Back?

Trading house OSTC and banks Goldman Sachs Group Inc., ICBC Standard Bank Plc, Morgan Stanley, Natixis SA and Societe Generale SA will co-own the LMEprecious platform and will act as liquidity providers and some 30 firms have expressed a desire to be engaged from the initial offering. Read more

OPEC oil export revenue is down and if Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd. can’t bring China to the London Metal Exchange, it’ll bring the LME to China.

OPEC Export Revenues Down Again

OPEC’s full-year 2016 oil export revenues will probably fall 15%, down for the third straight year and possibly the lowest in more than a decade before rising in 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

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Members of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including Iran, will likely earn about $341 billion in 2016, about 15% below 2015 levels, based on projections of global oil prices and the group’s production levels, the U.S. government’s EIA said in a report.

HKEx Tries Bringing the LME to China

Some four years after shelling out a top-of-the-market $2.2 billion for the London Metal Exchange, it appears owners Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd. (HKEx) are still battling to make the venerable old Western institution work with China, the new and dominant center for metal demand.

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HKEx Chief Executive Charles Li used the LME Week Asia seminar today to tout the latest plan, which involves bringing the LME’s expertise in physical metals markets to China, where financial instruments dominate trade.

The fact the CME Group is looking to expand its warehouse network should come as no surprise, the fact it has taken it so long to do it should.

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The market has been ripe for CME to expand the physical delivery locations for the metals it trades in the wake of the last few years furor over long load-out queues at certain London Metal Exchange warehouses across the U.S. and Europe.

LMEring_550

Should the CME Group add a physical trading ring with red couches? Source: London Metal Exchange.

If the CME had a wider network with more tonnage in storage five years ago then, arguably, some of the LME warehouse operators would not have been able to game the system to the extent that they did. The recent launch of zinc and lead contracts by the CME has presumably been a spur to add more locations. Zinc was added last year and lead followed earlier this year.

Dynamic Approach

Yet, a new dynamism in the CME’s approach in recent years is also in evidence. The CME clearly has intentions to take on the older LME’s dominance of the physical trade market, particularly outside the CME’s home base of the U.S. Read more

Our Editor, Jeff Yoders recently reported on the launch of the CME Group’s new alloy 380 aluminum alloy contract, a product many in the domestic market have been eagerly awaiting and consider long overdue.

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Historically, consumers would have hedged their alloy ingot requirements against the London Metal Exchange contract but as the LME’s aluminum benchmark became increasingly disconnected the casting industry all but boycotted the LME’s Primary HG contract, making the case for the CME to step in even more compelling.

From a high point in 2011 the LME aluminum alloy contract has plunged in popularity with volume down year after year.

Source: LME Data

Source: LME Data

Although nearly all traded volumes are down in recent years on the LME, aluminum alloy has fallen further than most. The exact reasons for the LME’s wider decline in volumes is a subject of some debate.

The ‘Right Trades

Reuters recently reviewed several reasons, one of them is the rise of activity on the Shanghai Futures Exchange. This year the SHFE has seen an explosion in traded volumes although not of the kind the LME would have welcomed. The SHFE volumes have been driven by highly speculative trades. Worse still, much of it is retail in nature.

This has the effect of distorting real price discovery and would undermine the foundation of the LME which was set up and has operated for a century or more on the basis of price discovery for producers, processors and consumers, not what many unfamiliar with the market have on occasion alleged, to speculate.

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Increasing volumes on the CME pose more of a threat to the LME in terms of providing reliable price discovery and hedging for the trade, particularly in the North American market. Where the SHFE is so dominated by the speculative element, the CME’s cornerstone is more from trade participation… much like the LME.

Who Will Use the New Alloy Contract?

The CME’s aluminum alloy contract is not likely to garner support or participation from outside the North American market, but for consumers in the U.S. it should provide a welcome hedging and price discovery tool. Even if LME aluminum alloy volumes stabilize at current lower levels the CME, with a contract focused as it is on a specific part of the U.S. manufacturing base, has a solid role to play in the years ahead.

As if to underline just how much of the recent froth in commodity prices has been speculative, it took nothing more than a tightening of rules to bring the market off the boil.

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Iron ore, steel and non-ferrous metal markets in China — and by association the London Metal Exchange after opening — dropped following a decision by futures exchanges in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou to increase trading margins and fees. The most-traded contracts were down up to 4.6% in response.

Some Commodities Are Actually in Short Supply

Not all commodities dropped. Some experienced genuine supply tightness, such as coking coal wherein many of the domestic mines and ovens closed last year due to low prices, and bucked the reversal. Coking coal continued to rise and although iron ore did fall back. The fundamentals are a little more supportive following announcements by producers that they will limit output, but, in truth, even iron ore’s price increases are more due to speculative bullishness than a genuine tightness of supply. Read more

The London Metal Exchange‘s Hong Kong owners have seen revenues soar for the venerable metals exchange and Vale SA and BHP Billiton may have reached a deal with the Brazilian government over the deadly Samarco mine disaster.

LME Revenue Soars

The London Metal Exchange posted a 36% jump in revenue for 2015 to $223.15 million, as higher trading fees and tariffs helped it offset a drop in volumes, its owner — Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing  Ltd.— said on Wednesday.

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The revenue gains at its London unit were a key contributor to HKEx record net profit last year, showing the payback has begun from its $2.2 billion buyout of the 139-year old metals exchange near the height of the commodities boom in 2012.

Samarco Owners Reach Deal With Brazil

Samarco Mineracao SA will pay at least $5 billion over 15 years as part of a deal reached with the Brazilian government to settle a lawsuit for damages caused by a deadly dam spill at a mine in November, a government source told Reuters on Tuesday.

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Samarco, a joint venture between Vale SA and BHP Billiton, will pay 4.4 billion Brazilian reais in the three years following the agreement that is expected to be signed today.

 

Both OPEC and LME are dealing with unexpected price stability this morning.

Oil Output Falls

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil output has fallen in February from the highest monthly level in recent history, a Reuters survey found on Monday, due to a halt in Iraq’s northern exports and outages in other producers.

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The survey also found stable output in top exporter Saudi Arabia, an early sign that Riyadh is delivering on a Feb. 16 deal along with Venezuela, Qatar and non-member Russia to freeze output and support prices, which hit a 12-year low last month.

LME Rents

The London Metal Exchange on Monday confirmed that it will explore the idea of capping warehouse rent because the proposed rises from April are much higher than in previous years.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

The LME said it plans to publish a discussion paper outlining its options on “Charge Capping” in mid-March. “The LME is proposing, at a minimum, to explore the possibilities for implementing a longer-term solution to high charges.

The London Metal Exchange (LME) launched three new contracts this week — LME Aluminium Premiums, LME Steel Rebar and LME Steel Scrap, the first new contracts to be offered by the Exchange in more than five years.

You can now hedge aluminum physical delivery premiums using an LME contract. Source: iStock.

You can now hedge aluminum physical delivery premiums using an LME contract. Source: iStock.

The two steel contracts are cash-settled against physical Turkish scrap and rebar price indexes as opposed to the current steel billet contracts that are settled by physical delivery and have largely proved to be  a failure since launch.

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Why, we might ask, would these new contracts prove anymore successful? Well acknowledging the failure with billet, the LME has worked assiduously to garner industry support both in the shaping and specification of the new contracts. Goldman Sachs, for example, is on the LME’s steel committee and major trading firms like Stemcor have publicly stated they intend to be actively involved from day one, although they still add the caveat “subject to market conditions and liquidity.”

Liquidity was always a major issue for the billet contract. It never secured anywhere near enough interest from the trade to generate sufficient volume and, hence, a fair market price.

Rebar and Scrap

The steel scrap and rebar contracts will be traded on LME Select in small lots of just 10 metric tons making them more accessible for smaller market players, while, at the same time, the LME is offering discounts for volume trades to encourage liquidity. Read more