Stainless Steel

Our June MMI Report is in the books, and there’s a lot to unpack.

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Out of 10 MMI sub-indexes, four posted no movement from our May MMIs. That wasn’t true for all, though, as the report shows promising signs for construction (compared with last year). Like the Construction MMI, growth in the automotive sector slowed a bit, but still performed better than at the same time last year.

In terms of policy, several things happening around the world will have macroscopic effects on these industries.

Domestically, the Trump administration’s ongoing Section 232 investigation into steel imports will have ripple effects at home and abroad (namely in the Chinese steel market).

In the U.K., the recent shocker of a parliamentary election leaves question marks regarding the way forward — is it going to be a “hard” or “soft” Brexit? Does Theresa May have the political capital to make a hard Brexit happen? It seems unlikely now, but that situation continues to develop. In terms of business and metal markets, whichever iteration of Brexit takes hold will have effects on the ways in which British companies do business with Europe.

In China, many analysts expect growth to slow in the second half of 2017 as the government aims to put the squeeze on credit growth. (Moody’s recently downgraded China’s credit rating for the first time since 1989.)

While several MMI sub-indexes did not go up or down this past month, there was still quite a bit going on in each sector. You can fill yourself in by downloading our June MMI Report, which offers all of the storylines and trends for our 10 MMI sub-indexes, presented in one convenient place.

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Our Stainless MMI lost 3 points in March, essentially losing what it gained in February.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Industrial metals continued their rally during the first quarter but nickel didn’t fare as well. Prices are still significantly higher than they were one year ago, but investors are now finding little reason to be any more bullish than bearish due to a complex supply narrative.

The Philippines

On March 13, The Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to stop all mining in the country. Despite the potential for more closures, investors doubted that Duterte would enforce such strict regulations. Duterte still supports Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez. The Philippines’ mining industry hoped for the Commission on Appointments (CA) to reject Lopez as the Environment secretary in March.

However, lawmakers opted to postpone a decision to confirm or reject Lopez as the head of that department. Further confirmation hearings are expected to take place in May.

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Most base metals will finish the first quarter up, but nickel is one of those exceptions to the rule.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The metal has traded up and down to finish the first quarter close to flat. Nickel prices are significantly higher than they were one year ago and traders are now finding little reason to be any more bullish than bearish due to a mix of news that helps both positions.

Nickel prices finish Q1 close to flat. Source: Fastmarkets.com.

Philippines Threatens to Stop All Mining

On March 13, The Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte “threatened to stop all mining in the country,” according to an article in Economic Calendar, while reiterating his support for Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez. Philippine lawmakers recently opted to postpone a decision to confirm or reject the ardent environmentalist as the head of the department. Further confirmation hearings are expected to take place in May. The country’s miners hope Duterte won’t reappoint Lopez and instead find someone more moderate.

Indonesia to Restart Exports

Despite additional closures last month and the potential for more, nickel prices fell this month. It could be that traders doubt that Duterte will enforce such strict regulations, but it also has to do with fears that the “resumption of exports from Indonesia will compensate” for any supply shortfall in The Philippines, according to Economic Calendar. Read more

Our March price trends report, which analyzes the entire month of February’s price data from the MetalMiner IndX, shows robust price increases in metals markets that are still running with the bulls.

March Price Trends

Our Stainless MMI led the pack, increasing 6.8%, but the copper, raw steels, aluminum and rare earths sub-indexes all showed strong gains, as well.

One area of concern this month is that oil prices have fallen back below $50 per barrel as U.S.
shale producers beat expectations by adding 8.2 million barrels to existing reserves. Low oil
prices would benefit metals producers by keeping energy and transportation costs lower, but
they also may drag down other commodities with them.

We don’t usually see investment metals such as platinum and gold increasing at the same time
as base metals, either, but positive sentiment about the economy had both increasing this month. So, until we see anything that points otherwise, a rising tide is still lifting all the (metals) boats.

CME Group and Thomson Reuters will step down from providing the LBMA silver price benchmark auction, the London Bullion Market Association said on Friday, less than three years after they successfully bid to provide the process.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

“In consultation with the LBMA, CME Group and Thomson Reuters have decided to step down from their respective roles in relation to the LBMA Silver Price auction,” the LBMA said in a members update seen by Reuters.

The two will continue to operate and administer the silver auction until a new provider is appointed, the LBMA said. It will launch a new tender to appoint an alternative provider to operate the process “shortly”, it said.

“We would be looking to identify a new provider in the summer, and have the new platform up and running in the autumn,” an LBMA spokesman said.

The two companies launched the LBMA silver price in August 2014 to replace the telephone-based London silver “fix,” which had been in operation for more than a century, with an electronic, auction-based and auditable alternative.

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CME Group provides the electronic auction platform for the benchmark, while Thomson Reuters is responsible for administration and governance. The LBMA owns the intellectual property rights.

Philippines Might Consider Indonesia-Style Ore Export Ban

The Philippines may consider banning exports of raw minerals to encourage domestic processing and boost the value of shipments, an environment official said on Friday, as the government looks to extract more from its mining sector after a crackdown.

We warned last month that the mostly small losses the prices our MetalMiner IndX experienced were caused by investors taking profits.

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Our suspicions were confirmed when almost all of our sub-indexes had big price rebounds this month. The Automotive MMI jumped 12.2% Raw Steels 8% and Aluminum 6%. Even our Stainless Steel MMI only dropped 1.7% and has taken off since February 1 as nickel supply is even more in question now with both the Philippines and Indonesia’s raw ore exports in question.

The bull market is on for the entire industrial metals complex. Last month’s pause was necessary for markets to digest gains but the strong positive sentiment for both manufacturing and construction shows no signs of ebbing in the U.S. and Chinese markets.

Our Stainless MMI inched lower in January but it’s already working higher in February as nickel prices rebound.

That Other Ban

In mid-January, Indonesia issued significant new mining rules that will relax its ban on exports of raw nickel ore.

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The revisions to the earlier regulation will allow miners to only export low-grade ore (defined as metal content of 1.7% or less) as long as they express a commitment to build their own smelters within five years and are able to supply domestic smelters with enough low-grade ore to meet at least 30% of the country’s input capacity.

Stainless MMI

This distinction between low-grade and high-grade ore (1.7% or more metal content) is important. Lower-grade ore increases the cost base for Chinese nickel pig-iron. In addition, NPI and ferronickel are more energy intensive than the higher grade refined nickel. Therefore, the greater use of lower grade nickel leads to more pollution, an issue that China is currently tackling.

According to a Reuter’s report citing Indonesia’s mining minister, of the 17 mmt of nickel ore produced by Indonesia each year 10 mmt is considered low grade while nickel smelting capacity stands at 16 mmt currently but could grow to 18 mmt this year.

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As its mining minister puts it, under the new rules, Indonesia could export up to 5.2 mmt of nickel ore in 2017. This is less than 9% of what the country used to export prior to the ban. Although this is important information to take into account, Indonesia’s easing will not flood the global market as many feared.

More Shutdowns In The Philippines

On February second, the Philippines ordered the closure of 21 mines, and seven others could be suspended. The nickel mines recently ordered to shut down account for about 50% of the country’s annual output. Prices rose sharply on the news as the mining shutdowns in the Philippines seem likely to be a to greater driver of price movements than the easing of Indonesia’s export ban.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

If we narrow our view to the supply/demand fundamentals of the nickel industry, the picture looks bullish, but rather complex. However, we need to widen our view to the whole industrial metals spectrum, and that picture looks quite bullish. Industrial metals continue to rise on robust demand and shrinking supply. The bullish sentiment across the metal complex, combined with more nickel mine closures should support prices in the mid-term.

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Yesterday, the Department of Commerce placed final, affirmative anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports of stainless steel sheet and strip from China.

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Commerce 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 final dumping margin of 63.86% for the non-China-wide respondents eligible for a separate rate. Commerce 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. Read more

On Thursday, the Philippines ordered the closure of 21 mines, and seven others could be suspended. The country previously suspended nickel mines last year. The nickel mines recently ordered to shut down account for about 50% of the country’s annual output.

Nickel Prices Rebound

Nickel Rebounds on news of the Philippines’ shutdowns. Source: MetalMiner analysis of fastmarkets.com data.

Nickel rose sharply on the news. Over the last few weeks, nickel prices were struggling to make headway as investors feared that the easing of the Indonesian export ban would bring more ore supply into global markets.

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Now we have two factors, Indonesia’s easing of its export ban and the Philippines’ shutdowns, that could drive prices in opposite directions. However, as we explained recently, the mining shutdowns in the Philippines are likely to be a greater driver of prices.

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Or at least if that wasn’t the intent, it’s likely how the smelters feel.

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In an about face on Indonesia’s 2014 export ban across a range of minerals, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan said this week that local miners might be allowed to export up to 5.2 million tons of low-grade nickel ore a year, partially reversing the ban intended to force buyers to set up value-add refining facilities in Indonesia.

The export ban has been relatively successful. Export volumes, of course, plummeted from about 60 million metric tons before the 2014 ban was enforced but new refineries have been set up and refined volumes of value-add material have increased. Read more