stainless steel price

We rarely see such positive growth in metal prices as we did in the August MMI Price Trends Report.

MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_August2016_FNL-TOPVALUE100

All the metals we track were up save for Aluminum, which fell only 1.3%, and renewables and rare earths, which held flat. The Stainless Steel MMI increased 9% amid uncertainty about Chinese nickel ore supply after mining crackdowns in top supplier, the Philippines.

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Meanwhile, the most bullish of bull runs continued for our Global Precious MMI which added a 7.2% increase to its jump last month to knock on the door of the top 10% of the IndX. The platinum group metals had strong increases along with gold and silver this month.

Wall Street Bull

“Hey metal buyers, remember me?” Wall Street bull courtesy of iStock.

Palladium, particularly, made higher highs and stumbled to lower lows in classic bull market fashion.

So buy quickly before prices increase more, right? Wrong. Our Raw Steels MMI posted a healthy 4% increase, but it’s still heavily dependent on China’s stimulus programs to keep demand up in the largest global consumer of steel products. If there is a pullback in stimulus, prices could fall dramatically. The same is true for copper.

Unlike diamonds, bullish trends in commodities and industrial metals don’t last forever. Continue to make informed buying decisions in this thriving market — watch China’s stimulus program and the strength of the U.S. dollar post- Brexit — and remember that today’s price strength might be tomorrow’s carpet getting pulled out from under your feet.

Nickel, the main price driver of stainless steel, scored gains of 11% during the month of July causing our stainless MMI to surge by 9%.

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Industrial metals entered bull market territory earlier this year and that puts the wind behind nickel’s back. Apart from the more bullish macro environment, we are witnessing two key developments within nickel’s industry that are undoubtedly adding fuel to this rally.

Tighter Environmental Rules

The Philippines isn’t joking around about tightening its environmental rules. On the first of the month, the Philippines new President, Rodrigo Duterte, used some bold words against his country’s miners: “We will survive as a nation without you. Either you follow strictly government standards or you close down.”

Stainless_Chart_August-2016_FNL

The country has so far suspended the operations of seven domestic nickel mines for failure to comply with environmental regulations. Moreover, the new mining minister, Regina Lopez — a committed environmentalist — recently vowed to close more nickel mines causing environmental destruction.

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The Philippines is the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top consumer China since Indonesia banned shipments of unprocessed mineral ores back in 2014. The recent suspension of mines and the risk of more closures lifted nickel prices over the past few weeks.

Surge in Nickel Imports

Although the metal has benefited for the most part from a bull narrative of supply shortfall this year. The bulls are finding more reasons to bet on nickel amid growth in Chinese demand, which is being reflected in the surge in Chinese imports this year. Refined nickel imports in China have surged by 189% to a record 226,100 metric tons in the first half of the year.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

The Philippines is the top supplier of nickel ore to China and these new developments have sparked concerns about ore supply. Moreover, demand seems solid thanks to China’s stimulus measures. These two factors, combined with a bull sentiment across the industrial metals complex, have given buyers enough reason to take risk off the table as prices could continue to trend up.

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Vale SA is looking to sell part of its future iron ore output for Chinese cash today and the Philippines’ nickel mining crackdown has claimed its seventh victim.

Vale Brings in Chinese Investors

Brazil’s Vale SA is considering raising as much as $10 billion from the sale of up to 3% of future iron ore output to undisclosed Chinese companies, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

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Under terms of the deal, Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, would receive streaming financing from the companies.

Philippines’ Crackdown Claims 7th Nickel Miner

The Philippine government has suspended the operations of a seventh nickel miner, Claver Mineral Development Corp., a minister said on Thursday, deepening an environmental crackdown that has caused jitters in global nickel markets.

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The Philippines is the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top market China and the suspension of some mines and the risk of more closures sent global nickel prices to an 11-month high of $10,900 a metric ton on July 21.

The Commerce Department said construction spending declined 0.6% to its lowest level since June 2015 after dipping 0.1% in May. June marked the third straight month of declines in outlays.

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Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending increasing 0.5% in June after a previously reported 0.8% drop in May. Their June estimates were largely based on the government’s assumptions for private residential and nonresidential construction spending in the advance GDP report.

Construction_Chart_August_2016_FNL

Weak nonresidential spending and a pullback in home building were credited for the drop. Our Construction MMI still increased from 66 to 67 this month, largely based on jumps in still-in-demand steel products such as rebar and H-beams. Those prices made up for steep drops elsewhere to eke out the 1.5% increase.

However, weak U.S. economic growth seems to have finally hit the construction industry, previously a bright spot of the U.S. economy. A third straight month of declining construction spending will certainly be reflected soon in overall purchasing.

“It’s a deceleration process after two years of fairly decent growth,” Robert Murray, chief economist of Dodge Data & Analytics, told Reuters.

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The slowdown can be seen in construction payrolls. Adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, the number of people working in construction has dropped by 22,000 since hitting a post-recession peak in March of about 6.7 million.

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Today, the Dept. of Commerce placed import duties on stainless steel sheet and strip from China to counteract Chinese government subsidies.

Non-coil stainless is included in a new anti-dumping petition. Source Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

The merchandise covered by this investigation is stainless steel sheet and strip, whether in coils or straight lengths. Source Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

The countervailing tariffs are initial duties placed on the imports due to a preliminary affirmative investigation showing that there was subsidization by several levels of government in China.

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Commerce calculated a preliminary subsidy rate of 57.30% for mandatory respondent Shanxi Taigang Stainless Steel Co. Ltd. Mandatory respondents Ningbo Baoxin Stainless Steel Co., Ltd. (and its cross-owned companies Baosteel Stainless Steel Co., Ltd., Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., Baosteel Desheng Stainless Steel Co., Ltd., Baosteel Co., Ltd., Bayi Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., Ningbo Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., Shaoguan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., Guangdong Shaoguan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., and Zhanjiang Iron & Steel Co., Ltd.) and Daming International Import Export Co. Ltd. (and its cross-owned company Tianjin Taigang Daming Metal Product Co., Ltd.) either notified Commerce that they would not participate in this investigation or did not, in fact, participate in the investigation. Read more

Our Stainless MMI rose 6% to 54 points in May. Similar to copper prices, nickel prices are showing a recovery this year, but the gains have been small compared to other industrial metals.

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Nickel’s price fall last year caused some miners to curb production. Some of these production cuts went into effect in 2015, helping prices to find a floor this year. However, the cuts haven’t been enough for the markets to really make a bull run. Global nickel supply is still running strong as the supply side has proved quite inelastic to low prices with most producers hanging on while they hope Chinese pig-iron producers will close down first.

Stainless_Chart_May-2016_FNL

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. 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. However, we have yet to see anything close to that since, so far this year, there haven’t been any supply cut announcements. The latest significant production cut was announced late in 2015. Read more

The monthly Stainless MMI® registered a value of 59 in September, a decrease of 7.8% from 64 in August.

Stainless_Chart_September-2015_FNLEver since nickel peaked in May of last year, prices have already halved this year to date. In August, prices fell as low as $9,100/metric ton, below the $10,0000/mt psychological support level. Prices now are very close of breaking the record low of $8,850/mt set in 2009. Nickel would be the first base metal to do that.

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Just about a year ago, nickel miners were rubbing their hands in glee, expecting that the Indonesian export ban would put the market in deficit. However, Philippine suppliers have taken up the shortfall. This made nickel prices fall more sharply than other metals this year, as prices were inflated after expectations of a shortfall couldn’t be met.

China Still Overproducing

As my colleague Stuart Burns pointed out recently: The pressure is on Chinese stainless producers to curb production and, although recent purchasing managers index data is encouraging for the US and Europe, growth there is unlikely to exceed the drop in Chinese demand.

With large inventory of nickel ore, of refined metal on exchanges and adequate supply of ferro-nickel, there doesn’t appear to be a strong argument for nickel prices to rise anytime soon.

Prices Are Just Information

Pundits have been suggesting that prices will rise since current prices are below the cost of production. And yes, we agree with them. The cure for low prices is always lower prices. Long-term, this causes the supply business to be less attractive, changing the supply & demand equation.

However, when will prices start reacting? That’s something that we can’t predict at this point. The truth is that investors are fearing a slowdown in China and while nickel is in the same elevator with the rest of base metals, it’s hard to tell on which floor they will get off.

In this extremely volatile market, the best thing buyers can do is to forget about predictions: Have a strategy and react on new market signals.

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The monthly Stainless MMI® registered a value of 64 in August, a decrease of 5.9% from 68 in July and another all-time low in this month where all but one index we track fell to, what we hope, is a new bottom.

Stainless_Chart_August-2015_FNL

Ever since nickel broke a key support level back in March prices have done nothing but free fall, putting nickel at its lowest level since 2009.

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Not only nickel but aluminum, copper and tin have also fallen to levels not since 2009. No one can deny the strong relationship among industrial metal prices.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Just about a year ago, nickel miners were rubbing their hands in glee, expecting that the Indonesian export ban would put the market in deficit. However, Philippine suppliers have taken up the shortfall. Moreover, a strong dollar, record nickel stockpiles and weaker than expected demand from China helped in the decline.

The slump in prices now has nickel miners rethinking output. Australian miner Mincor Resources said in July that it will reduce production by 56% during the second half, as its operations can’t be sustained at current price levels.

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Poseidon Nickel, another Australian miner also gave in after saying that its Lake Johnson mine would be put into care and maintenance.

Many are arguing that prices will rise since they are below producers’ costs, however, we have previously pointed out that production costs do not determine prices, investors do.

What This Means for Stainless Steel Buyers

We recommend our readers be careful when fishing for a price bottom based on production costs. With commodity prices falling across the board, and weak demand from key consumer China, we might see a few more closures before the upside comes.

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The Stainless MMI® collects and weights 14 global stainless steel and raw material price points to provide a unique view into stainless steel price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Stainless MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Nickel on the London Metal Exchange fell to a fresh low this week, trading as low as $10,440 per metric ton on Tuesday.

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The metal is experiencing huge sell-offs as the Chinese stock market plunges. We can’t really put all the blame on nickel since this is not the only metal falling. Weakness in China and a strong dollar keep punishing commodities and, even more stridently, industrial metals.

Stainless_Chart_July-2015_FNL

The monthly Stainless MMI® registered a value of 68 in July, a decrease of 6.8% from 73 in June.

Bearish Fundamentals, Too

Nickel’s supply and demand fundamentals, however, agree with the bearish picture the market is painting. We see a couple of factors weighing on prices:

  • First, the Indonesian government banned unprocessed mineral exports in January. The ban on unprocessed nickel and aluminum exports still remains in place. However, after the country already relaxed restrictions on exports of copper, the Indonesian government is considering a relaxation of export restrictions on aluminum and it’s possible that nickel will be the next unprocessed ore to have its ban lifted.
  • Second, most analysts were expecting that LME stockpiles would level off. However, nickel stockpiles surged in June, adding to concerns that production is outstripping consumption. Although we’ve pointed out before that there is not always a good correlation between stockpiles and metal prices, many people might be pointing out that the underlying demand isn’t that strong.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

As nickel free-falls, prices are approaching the record low levels of 2009. Nickel could be the first base metal hit that floor. Nickel would have to fall another 17%, but with the pace we are seeing prices falling, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this happen at some point…

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The Stainless MMI® collects and weights 14 global stainless steel and raw material price points to provide a unique view into stainless steel price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Stainless MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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The monthly Stainless MMI® registered a value of 73 in June, a decrease of 3.9% from 76 in May.

Stainless_Chart_June-2015_FNL

After a small price increase in April, nickel prices fell again in May. Prices are now trading near their lowest levels in six years. Meanwhile, nickel inventories jumped to a fresh highs, accentuating an overhead of supply and cutting expectations of the bulls that expected a deficit to develop.

Demand Cannot Outstrip Supply

Although stainless demand is expected to grow moderately, service centers have plenty of inventory and that is putting pressure on US mills. Moreover, a stronger dollar last month sent most base metal prices down, including nickel.

Aluminum is one metal showing similar behavior. The demand outlook for both metals was quite optimistic. That brought bulls in to support prices from falling. However, the bearish commodity market (there’s a serious lack of demand) and a strong dollar made these two metals give up all their gains from 2014.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

It’s not that stainless demand is weak, it’s just far from being strong enough to overcome the excess of inventory, increased imports and a strong dollar. While the macro picture stays the same, expect prices to remain range-bound at best.

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