Stainless Steel

Dutch 3D printing technology firm MX3D is close to beginning construction on its stainless steel, 3D-printed pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam.

We wrote about the bridge and its design in 2015. MX3D Co-Founder and CMO Gijs van der Velden recently explained to me at the Autodesk University trade show in Las Vegas where the project is at and why they expect construction (via giant welder robots who will weld individual parts “printed” in mX3D’s facility together) to start in early 2017.

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“We’re at the point where we’ve printed every critical part of the bridge and all we need is approval from the engineers,” van der Velden said. “Our design is quite elaborate and all the diameters change everywhere and we use 3D printed parts. We’re getting pretty close and once they approve we have agreed with the City government that once we do a full load-bearing test it will be acceptable. It’s not the normal procedure but the city was very helpful in accommodating us.”

The bridge, which will be made of stainless steel 316 alloy, will be installed in a public park in Amsterdam and cross one of the city’s famous canals.

yoders_MX3D_stainless_bridge_550_112816

One of the stainless steel supports of MX3D’s 3D-printed pedestrian bridge that will soon be assembled and welded together in Amsterdam. Source: Jeff Yoders.

“(We chose 316 stainless) because it’s highest grade standard and not too expensive,” van der Velden said. “We want to make this technique available for other professions — other than aerospace (where it’s already being used) — so, we want to work in steel, stainless steel, bronze, aluminum.”

Our Stainless MMI inched up 2% in October. However, it was at the beginning of November when prices surged. Three-month London Metal Exchange nickel jumped above $11,000/mt, the highest level since August 2015. By the way, we predicted this move just a few weeks ago.

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Robust Chinese demand for nickel and other metals has broadly supported a price rebound from multiyear lows that were hit earlier this year. Not only nickel, but the whole metal complex is hitting new highs. When investors turn bullish in the metal sector, any bullish news can make the individual metal increase in price and, nickel is particularly enjoying a bull narrative.

Bullish Industry Fundamentals

First, Indonesia recently announced that the country will “almost definitely” keep in place a ban on nickel ore and bauxite exports. Just a few days ago, nickel investors were concerned that Indonesia was considering lifting the ban. Now that those fears have waned, investors seem willing to chase prices higher.

Stainless_Chart_November-2016_FNL

Second, The Philippines announced that it will prolong the ban on new mines, reviewing all environmental permits previously granted to nickel producers. The announcement dashes industry hopes that some restrictions may be lifted following the audit that was finished in August.

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The news come after a quarter of the country’s miners have been closed with another 20 of them under the risk of suspension.

Bullish Price Action

On top of the above, we are seeing a very constructive price action. After nickel jumped 25% from June to August prices rested in a narrow range for the next three months. Despite a strong dollar in October, investors were unwilling to sell nickel. Now that momentum for investing in the industrial metals complex is picking up again, we expect nickel prices to work higher into 2017.

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Most base metals fell this month, pressured by a rising U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, Nickel prices traded almost flat. Why does this matter? This means that despite downward pressure in the metal complex this month, investors are not giving much ground on nickel.

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This price action seems very constructive and chances are that nickel is setting up for a new rally after this consolidation. On top of that, nickel’s fundamentals also favor a move higher:

Nickel prices holding well, setting up for an upside move. Source: MetalMiner analysis of fast markets.com data

Nickel prices are holding well, setting up for an upside move. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com data.

First, Indonesia recently announced that the country will “almost definitely” keep in place a ban on nickel ore and bauxite exports. Just a few days ago, nickel investors were concerned that Indonesia was considering lifting the ban. Now that those fears have waned, investors might be more inclined to chase prices higher.

Free Download: The October 2016 MMI Report

Second, The Philippines announced that it will prolong the ban on new mines, reviewing all environmental permits previously granted to nickel producers. The announcement dashes industry hopes that some restrictions may be lifted following the audit that finished in August. The news come after a quarter of the country’s miners have been closed with another 20 of them under the risk of suspension.

What This Means For Nickel Buyers

Nickel prices might be setting up for a move higher. At least both the price action and fundamentals seem to agree with that. Buyers should have a good plan in order to protect margins in case of a price increase.

Allegheny Technologies, Inc. shares tumbled 15% Tuesday after the Pittsburgh-based specialty metals producer reported a larger than expected third quarter loss and missed analyst revenue estimates as well.

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The company lost $530.8 million, or $4.95 per share, vs. a loss of $144.6 million, or $1.35 per share, in the year-ago quarter. Sales fell 7% to $770.5 million. Analysts had expected the company to report an adjusted loss of 10 cents per share and revenue of $822 million.

ATI also announced the permanent closing of the idled Midland stainless steel melt shop and finishing operation in Beaver County, Pa.

It also permanently closed its Bagdad plant in Gilpin, Pa., whichemployed about 225 people. It produced grain-oriented electrical steel prior to the start of the six-month lockout of union workers in August 2015. Midland employed around 250 workers.

“The decision helps provide clarity to some of the people who had hoped that there would be a restart,” ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said.

In December, the company announced it was mothballing both facilities with the possibility that they would reopen if market conditions for those products improved.

Free Download: The October 2016 MMI Report

Richard Harshman, ATI’s chief executive officer, said that has not happened. He announced the move as part of the company’s third-quarter earnings statement.

Our monthly MMI saw a boost in October as three metals tied for the biggest gain and markets seemed to tighten as manufacturers started to make decisions for their end of year and early 2017 spending.

MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_October2016_FNL-TOPVALUE100

There seemed to be a Q4 tightening across most of the metal markets we follow. Sure, the Rare Earths and Renewables MMIs were flat as a board yet again, but Copper, Aluminum, Stainless and Raw Steels all saw strong gains. Our Global Precious MMI gained again but almost immediately suffered a pullback after talk of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike in December and renewed strength from the U.S. dollar.

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As always, we exercise caution when buying. Today’s gain could be tomorrow’s loss.

Our Stainless MMI rose 4% in September. The complexity and uncertainty of the supply equation is giving support to nickel prices, so far, this year.

Philippines To Close More Mines

Philippine nickel production is down 24% for the first seven months of this year. The Philippines had already suspended eight nickel mines in previous months and more suspensions were expected. On September 27th, the government announced that 20 more of its mines would be suspended for environmental violations.

Stainless_Chart_October-2016_FNL

The suspended mines and those at risk represent nearly 60% of output in the Philippines, the world’s largest producer of nickel ore and top supplier to top buyer China. China’s imports of nickel ore and concentrates from the Philippines fell 21.3% in the first eight months of year to 17.99 million metric tons.The uncertainty surrounding Philippines’s output is the bullish side of nickel’s story.

Indonesia in Play

Meanwhile, it looks like Indonesian production is now in recovery mode. Indonesian supply rose 30% in the first seven months this year. Ferronickel is an intermediate stage product between ore and refined metal, and Indonesian exports of ferronickel to China have surged this year.

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At the same time as refined nickel production in Indonesia is rising, as the popualce wanted, Indonesia is also considering whether to resume raw nickel ore exports. The decision is expected within weeks. Nickel smelters now fear the rule changes as they could weaken nickel prices, especially those companies that make semi-finished and refined metal.

Price Outlook

It’s worth noting that while nickel has performed strongly this year, it’s still well below the levels five years ago when the metal peaked near $29,000/mt. It seems that prices have room on the outside but more tightness is needed in nickel markets.

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Indonesia relaxing the 2014 export ban could add pressure to nickel prices. On the other hand, prices might continue to get a boost while The Philippines keeps on punishing mines that don’t meet environmental standards.

Stainless Markets

The Department of Commerce found that Chinese stainless steel sheet and strip producers illegally dumped — sold at less than fair value — their products in the U.S, assigning a preliminarily dumping margin of 64-77%.

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The Department of Commerce placed anti-dumping duty and countervailing duties on imports of welded stainless pressure pipe from India today. This was a final determination that affirmed Commerce’s previous preliminary determination in March.

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In the countervailing duties investigation, Commerce found that mandatory respondent Steamline Industries Limited received countervailable subsidies at a rate of 3.13% and that mandatory respondent Sunrise Stainless Private Limited, Sun Mark Stainless Pvt. Ltd., and Shah Foils Ltd. (collectively, “Sunrise Group”) received countervailable subsidies at a rate of 6.22%. Commerce assigned a final subsidy rate of 4.65% for all other producers/exporters in India.

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As a result of the affirmative final determinations, Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits equal to the applicable weighted-average dumping and subsidy margins.

The Department of Commerce has preliminarily found that Chinese stainless steel sheet and strip producers illegally dumped — sold at less than fair value — their products in the U.S.

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Commerce preliminarily found that dumping occurred by mandatory respondents, Shanxi Taigang Stainless Steel Co., Ltd. and Tianjin Taigang Daming Metal Product Co., Ltd. Commerce also determined that the mandatory respondents are not eligible for a separate rate, and therefore part of the China-wide entity.

Commerce calculated a preliminary dumping margin of 63.86% for the non-selected respondents eligible for a separate rate. Commerce preliminarily assigned a dumping margin of 76.64% based on adverse facts available for all other producers/exporters in China that are part of the China-wide entity due to their failure to respond to Commerce’s requests for information.

As a result of the preliminary affirmative determination, Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits based on these preliminary rates.

The petitioners for this investigation are AK Steel Corporation, Allegheny Ludlum, LLC d/b/a ATI Flat Rolled Products, North American Stainless, and Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC.

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Commerce is scheduled to announce its final determination on or about November 25.

After gaining sharply in June and July, our Stainless MMI retraced last month. Nickel’s rally cooled down in August after a pick up in Indonesian ferronickel supply rekindled previous fears of a global supply shortage.

Philippines Supply Declines

In June and July, nickel rallied as the Philippines reviewed all existing mines in order to close those that had adverse impacts on the environment.

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At least eight nickel mines have been shut down so far this year, cutting around 10% of the country’s capacity.

Stainless_Chart_September-2016_FNL

The Philippines is by far the largest nickel ore supplier to China since Indonesia imposed an export ban for unprocessed material back in 2014. Recent numbers are already showing this decline in production. For the first seven months, China imported 13.84 million metric tons from the Philippines, down 27% from the same period last year.

The current disruptions in the Philippines have no doubt tightened the market for nickel ore triggering a price rally this year. However, in August investors questioned whether this shortage in China’s nickel-pig iron industry will actually translate into a shortage of nickel in the global market.

Indonesian Refined Nickel Supply Picks Up

While supply of nickel ore to China is declining due to current disruptions in the Philippines, supply of refined nickel to China is rising as Indonesia ramps up production.

China’s imports of ferronickel from Indonesia came at a five-times higher-rate than the amount taken in the same month a year earlier. For the first seven months, China’s imports of ferronickel from Indonesia surged more than four-fold to 390,700 mt. Comparing apples to apples, the nickel content of the year to date of ferronickel exports equals about 4 million mt of nickel, slightly less than the 4.13 mmt loss in the Philippines so far this year.

For this reason, we hear some analysts saying that China isn’t importing less nickel, it is just changing the form in which it imports the metal. And, as prices retrace, it’s no wonder that this reminds us to what happened just two years ago when nickel prices soared to then fall precipitously.

Is This Time Different?

Back 2014, nickel prices surged as Indonesia prohibited ore exports. However, prices sold-off later on as miners in the Philippines moved into the trade. This time, it’s the other way around. Environmental restrictions are shrinking supply in the Philippines while Indonesia is making up for that loss.

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While prices fell in August, we need to be reminded that prices don’t move in a straight line and that, so far, the decline seems like normal after nickel gained over 30% in June and July. Also, there are two other factors that make us think that the decline won’t be as severe as back in 2014:

  • Back in 2014, nickel prices rose independently while the rest of the industrial metal complex was falling. This time, it’s not only nickel but we also see many industrial metals rising. The bullish sentiment on base metals this year should help limit nickel’s fall.
  • It’s barely been a month since the Philippines started to shut down mines and volumes may be squeezed further after the shutdowns accounting for about 15% of output. Recently, the Philippines’ mining minister said that there will absolutely be more suspensions following the eight already suspended.

For these reasons, we wouldn’t turn bearish on nickel just yet…

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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.