The lightweight metals center will produce proprietary titanium, nickel and aluminum powders optimized for 3D printed aerospace parts. Alcoa has invested in a range of technologies to further develop additive manufacturing processes, product design and qualification.
The Alcoa Technology Center near Pittsburgh has been expanded to accommodate new research into 3D printing technology. Source: Alcoa
“Alcoa is forging a leadership path in additive manufacturing with a sharp focus on the critical input material—metal powders,” said Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld. “We are combining our expertise in metallurgy, manufacturing, design and product qualification to push beyond the possibilities of today’s 3D printing technologies for aerospace and other growth markets.”
Arconic Will Inherit 3D Printing Research
The facility will form part of the spin-off, value-added metals company Arconicfollowing separation from Alcoa’s traditional commodity business in the second half of 2016. The plant is part of a $60 million investment in 3D printing materials and processes that builds on the Alcoa’ 3D printing capabilities in California, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. Read more
Yes, by some accounts nickel swung into deficit this year after five years of surpluses as global demand rose by some 4% and supply has been constrained by a lack of new investment, Indonesia’s export ban on nickel ore exports and, more recently, a fall in exports from challenger Chinese supplier, the Philippines where low prices have reduced output.
Investors Are Cashing In
The euphoria among investors is not simply due to a change in outlook. Nickel prices have surged this year by some 13% according to the Financial Times with the latest boost coming from the Philippines’ new environmentalist mining minister Gina Lopez, who has announced plans to audit domestic mines for compliance with environmental standards, the expectation is up to 70% could fail resulting in them potentially having their licenses revoked. Two have already lost their licenses. Read more
Our Stainless MMI rose to 55 points in July thanks to a recovery in nickel prices. Nickel finally climbed to five-digit territory in July, trading near $10,000 per metric ton on the London Metal Exchange, its highest level in eight months.
A factor supporting nickel prices this year is expectations of lower nickel pig-iron ore exports from the Philippines. Ore producers in the Philippines warned earlier this year that they would cut production due to low prices. So far, Chinese imports of Philippine ore fell by 27% in the first five months of the year.
But price momentum picked up last month following recent news that the Philippine government would review all mining operations in the country. The new President-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, ran on an anti-mining platform and could impose an Indonesian-style raw ore ban, which could potentially disrupt supplies for Chinese buyers.
New Philippine Government
In addition, the new mining minister, Regina Lopez — a committed environmentalist — provided the latest trigger for a rally after saying that there would be a ban on fresh mining exploration in the country for a month while all existing mines are being reviewed.
The expectation is that mines could potentially have their licenses revoked. At the beginning of July, the Philippines already ordered the suspension of operations at two nickel ore mines for environmental violations and the government halted the issuance of exploration permits as a nationwide crackdown led by the mining minister begins.
Nickel’s Bullish Backers
This bullish price action also follows a broad recovery in the whole metal complex this year, which gives more credibility to nickel’s bulls. Our historical analysis shows that a metal has far greater upside potential when the overall commodities market is in bullish mode, while its chances of going down increase in a falling commodities market. While we continue to see bullish sentiment in commodity markets, investors will continue to react in a bullish manner on news like potential supply cuts in the Philippines.
On the other hand, not everything is bullish about nickel. Most analysts call for a deficit this year due to stainless mills having to rely more on refined nickel. This deficit would follow a five-year period of surplus but estimates are for a deficit of less than 100,000 mt this year. That is not a big number considering that LME and Shanghai Futures Exchange inventories currently account for around 500,000 mt combined, at least five times more than the expected deficit.
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This week was more about markets shaking out from the initial shock of the U.K. actually voting to leave the European Union. U.K. politicians tried to stress stability, assuring India’s Tata Steel that the nation is still offering a lucrative equity stake and pension relief deal to keep the company’s sprawling Port Talbot, South Wales, steelworks open. Of course, Tata’s not buying it. At least not yet, as the whole steel deal making landscape has shifted in Europe. Could be that Tata just realized it has all of the leverage right now and U.K. politicians will have to sweeten the pot to keep Port Talbot’s doors open.
Gold is up as investors look to shield their money from volatile stock markets. Source: Adobe Stock/Nikonomad.
But things aren’t all unicorns and rainbows back in the E.U., either. Regulators in Germany are investigating the novel idea of a buyers’ price fixing cartel. You heard that right. Not a conspiracy of sellers to fix prices — like when Apple and several publishers colluded to set e-book prices and we all got Amazon credits for it — but one by German automakers and original equipment manufacturers such as BMW, Volkswagen, Robert Bosch, ZF Friedrichshafen and Daimler to somehow fix prices of the steel that they buy to create the cars they sell.
The fact that the buyers don’t have the power to set prices like sellers do did not deter the Federal Cartel Office, also known as the Bundeskartellamt, an independent “higher federal authority” established to protect competition in Germany.
MetalMiner Executive Editor and Co-Founder Lisa Reisman pointed out that it’s highly unlikely that all six companies decided that they would collude to extract steel price concessions from Germany’s largest steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG, leaving ThyssenKrupp without a home for all of that hot-dipped galvanized steel it’s trying to sell to automakers. In that scenario, where would Germany’s automakers go for all of their steel? China? The U.S.? Good luck with your investigation, Bundeskartellamt.
The Industrial Metals ETF hits an 11-month high. Source: Stockcharts.com
Our historical analysis shows that a metal has far greater upside potential when the overall commodities market is in bullish mode, while its chances of going down increase in a falling commodities market. Although nickel’s fundamentals don’t look that bullish, the metal is definitely getting a boost as more investors jump into the industrial metal complex. In the chart above we see how base metals are on the rise since January.
Another factor helping nickel prices are expectations of lower nickel pig-iron exports from the Philippines. Ore producers in the Philippines warned earlier this year that they would cut production due to low prices. So far, Chinese imports of Philippine ore fell by 27% in the first five months of the year. Read more
Nickel ore shipments from the Philippines could be in trouble after a new president’s appointment of an anti-mining presence that could spell disaster for Chinese buyers.
According to a recent report from Bloomberg, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is prioritizing the nation’s stance on mining by appointing a new head for its environment department. This maneuver has the potential to disrupt supplies to buyers in China.
The London Metal Exchange echoed those concerns as nickel closed up nearly half a percent this week, indicating this new government will limit nickel ore exports.
“We might see an imminent crackdown on the Philippines’ small mines,” said Sam Xia, an analyst at China Merchants Futures Ltd. “This will reduce its nickel ore exports, including to China.”
The Philippines is now a key supplier of nickel ore to Asia’s leading economy after Indonesia stopped shipments in January 2014. Meanwhile, China’s nickel ore imports from the Philippines increased to 3 million metric tons this May, its highest point in seven months. That figure accounted for 97% of its total purchases.
Nickel Hits Six-Week High This Week
Our own Raul de Frutos recently highlighted that nickel prices hit a six-week high following a notable recovery from May’s price sell-off.
de Frutos wrote: “The metal benefited from a positive swing in investor sentiment toward commodities in June, stemming from a weaker dollar and the ongoing recovery in oil prices. Nickel has climbed steadily after hitting multiyear lows in February, but the move isn’t big enough to impress the market yet.”
You can find a more in-depth nickel price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. Check it out to receive short- and long-term buying strategies with specific price thresholds.
The metal benefited from a positive swing in investor sentiment toward commodities in June, stemming from a weaker dollar and the ongoing recovery in oil prices. Nickel has climbed steadily after hitting multiyear lows in February, but the move isn’t big enough to impress the market yet.
Three-month London Metal Exchange nickel hits a six-week high. Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets.com data.
Chinese Ore Imports Falling
Nickel ore is the essential ingredient for China’s massive nickel pig-iron production sector. Imports for the first four months totaled 4.16 million metric tons, a 38% decline compared to the same period last year. Indonesian imports have been non-existent since the country imposed its exports ban on unprocessed minerals. Although the Philippines has managed to fill part of the gap, it hasn’t been enough. Read more
Similar to copper, nickel is not metal investors’ favorite child right now. While oversupply is still and issue, only a weaker dollar and further Chinese stimulus could lift prices. However, that wasn’t the case during the month of May, driving prices down. Our Stainless MMI was no exception, falling 4%.
For the past six months, every time three-month London Metal Exchange primary nickel approached $9,500 per metric ton, prices fell short. It happened in March and again in May.
Recently, Russia’s Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel miner, said that in order for a sustained recovery to happen, more cuts will have to materialize. That’s a very unusual statement for a metal producer as they tend to talk up the market. According to the company, over 20% of the global nickel supply needs to be cut if we want to see a sustained recovery in prices.
If Norilsk has it right, it will take some time until we see a significant recovery in prices since, so far this year, there hasn’t been any supply cut announcements. The latest significant production cut was announced late in 2015. Despite its non-optimistic outlook, the company is moving ahead with the development of new projects. Norilsk Nickel is still profitable, aided and abetted by co-mined minerals and the depreciation of the Russian Ruble.
U.S. Prices Buck Global Trend
Not only Norilsk but producers that are loss-making at current prices seem redundant to shut down capacity. Glencore and fellow Australian miner BHP Billiton have recently said no more than they “may” close capacity at Murrin Murrin and Nickel West, respectively.
Here in the U.S., however, anti-dumping actions are having an effect and stainless, cold-rolled prices have been steadily rising this year. The three base price increases for 2016 have been firmly implemented on spot business. Although contractual business may have been protected from immediate base price increases, the next contract periods will definitely reflect the higher base prices.
U.S. mills have been trying all year to recoup unrealistically low base prices from 2015. The anti-dumping and countervailing duty actions filed by U.S. stainless mills against China have solidified the base price increases as well as disrupted the supply of several niche products.
All 200, 300 and 400 series alloys have been impacted by the 2016 base price increases. The three stainless base price increases for 2016 have cumulatively impacted 304 stainless base prices by at least $0.10 per pound on base gauge and almost $0.13 on 22 gauge. 430 stainless has risen by close to $0.08 per pound. 409 has risen by $0.06 per pound. Several sources speculate that there could be another round of increases on the horizon because U.S. cold-rolled stainless supply is tight.
U.S. Supplies Tighten
Mill lead times remain extended with North American Stainless (NAS) maintaining a controlled-order-entry mechanism. Some service centers also report that the light gauge stainless is limited and available only for customers who also place base gauge volumes.
Buyers of metal need to have well-established supply chains for all of their cold-rolled stainless products. NAS and Outokumpu Coil Americas remain the core suppliers of austenitic commodity products.
Two Producers Inherit Commodity Stainless Market
AK Steel is not focused on nickel-bearing commodity stainless grades. Allegheny Technologies’ Flat-Rolled Products segment continues to seek higher-value stainless and has limited its exposure to commodity stainless.
In theory, Allegheny and AK Steel could relieve some of the long lead times metal buyers are experiencing, but their mill capacity is focused on supplying other products or has been idled. The anti-dumping and countervailing lawsuits against China have impacted the Asian supply of cold rolled stainless. For instance, Taiwanese rerollers using Chinese hot band for bright annealed have limited new offers.
POSCO, which has South Korean and Vietnamese stainless mills, is being cautious with offers into the U.S. market. Bright annealed and light-gauge, cold-rolled stainless remain the product categories most impacted by the trade cases.
Stainless flat-rolled pricing remains poised for further base price increases. Stainless demand is expected to remain around the same volume in the U.S. The trade cases against China are proceeding in a multitude of steel products, not just stainless. Although domestic mills are capable of producing more stainless volume, the appetite for AK Steel and Allegheny does not appear to be there yet. Until then, NAS and Outokumpu will be the core commodity stainless producers. Metal buyers will need to look to alternative sources for niche products and perhaps should look to European mills such as Aperam or ThyssenKrupp AST as Asian importers are spooked by the trade cases against China.
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Owners of shares in nickel mines shouldn’t start popping the champagne corks just yet, it’s going to be a slow burn rise but the landscape appears to be shifting and it is because of, as usual, China. First and foremost, there is a trend among stainless producers this year, particularly in China, to produce more 300 series nickel-bearing grades than last year.
Real Demand is Up
Just as mills and consumers shifted wholesale from 300 to 400 series grades when nickel prices went through the roof in 2010-11, a prolonged period of falling prices has encouraged consumers and designers to switch back to higher-quality grades.
Macquarie Bank is quoted by Reuters saying global nickel demand will grow by 4.4% this year, largely on the back of a predicted 4% rise in Chinese 300 series stainless production. Likewise, the INSG estimates the global market will fall into a small 600-ton deficit in Q1 of this year, although it must be said the market remains well supplied by huge global stocks. Read more
Steel imports into the U.S. were down in April and, if the numbers are able to be believed, China is importing more nickel ore than ever before.
Steel Imports Down in April
Based on preliminary Census Bureau data, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported that the U.S. imported a total of 2,456,000 net tons of steel in April 2016, including 2,014,000 nt of finished steel (down 5.6% and 4.1%, respectively, vs. March final data).
Year-to-date through four months of 2016 total and finished steel imports are 9,982,000 and 8,442,000 nt, respectively, down 34% and 33% vs. the same period in 2015.
Annualized total and finished steel imports in 2016 would be 29.9 and 25.3 million nt, down 23% and 20% respectively vs. 2015. Finished steel import market share was an estimated 24% in April and is estimated at 25% on the year-to-date.
Key finished steel products with a significant import increase in April compared to March are line pipe (up 38%), hot rolled bars (up 35%), structural pipe and tube (up 27%), standard pipe (up 17%) and cold-rolled sheets (up 15%).
Chinese Nickel Imports
China is importing more nickel than ever before. Headline imports of refined metal hit a new all-time record high of 49,012 metric tons in April. The cumulative tally of 157,600 mt over the first four months of the year represents a 115,000-mt increase over the same period of last year.