steel price

The London Metal Exchange steel scrap contract is coming of age much more rapidly than the old steel billet contract did. Unlike its older sibling, the steel scrap contract has the prospect of becoming a meaningful and valuable tool both for the trade but also for analysts and financial players.

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The LME Ferrous Monthly Update report for February reported there was steady uptake of both scrap and steel rebar contracts last year and that there was  a surge of activity in January, for both February dates and out to September of this year. LME Steel Scrap and LME Steel Rebar both traded record volumes last month. LME Steel Scrap traded the equivalent of 262,450 metric tons composed of almost 2,500 individual trades, the LME reports.

Source London Metal Exchange

As volume and liquidity builds, the contract will become more representative of real market prices and as a result increasingly relevant as a viable tool. One measure of liquidity is the narrowing of bid/offer spreads. In a non-liquid market buyers and sellers are harder to find and spreads tend to be wider, but as volume has built market makers have been able to narrow the spreads reducing trading costs and increasing the attractiveness of the contract for hedging. Read more

Much to the delight of not only its executives and employees but both the global steel sector and even stock markets, the Luxembourg-based steel giant ArcelorMittal has posted its first annual profit in more than five years, registering the biggest jump in earnings in the same period.

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The world’s largest steelmaker by output swung from a $7.9 billion net loss in 2015 to a net profit of $1.8 billion last year. Read more

All work has stopped at Freeport-McMoran‘s giant Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia, just over a month after the country halted exports of copper concentrate to boost domestic industries.

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Freeport had said the suspension would require the mine to slash output by 60% to approximately 70 million pounds of metal per month if it did not get an export permit by mid-February, due to limited storage. A strike at Freeport’s sole domestic taker of copper concentrate, PT Smelting is expected to last at least until March and has limited Freeport’s output options as Grasberg’s storage sites are now full.

Nippon Exec: Chinese Steel Prices Will Hold Firm

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., Japan’s biggest steelmaker, expects steel prices in top consumer China to hold firm at least until its Communist Party congress late this year, amid solid demand that is underpinning coking coal and iron ore markets.

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Chinese futures contracts for steel rebar used in construction have already risen 17% in 2017, on top of a gain of more than 60% last year

Slowly but surely, India seems to be shifting the goal posts on its minimum import price policy designed to protect the domestic steel industry.

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India recently extended the anti-dumping duty on cold-rolled flat steel products from four nations, including China, Brazil and South Korea to guard the domestic steel industry from cheap imports for another two months. The duty was expected to expire after six months and was recently extended to give it a total duration of eight.

Domestic Indian steelmakers could see their protective minimum import prices for steel products lifted. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010.

India had previously imposed a minimum import prices (MIP) to protect the steel industry and the cold-rolled duties came in addition to the MIP. The policy was described as a short-term emergency measure while anti-dumping duties are a long-term measure to protect the country’s trade.

Yet, according to a recent media report, India’s steel secretary Aruna Sharma said there would be no minimum import price (MIP) extension for 19 steel products.

How the MIP Started

India started imposing an anti-dumping duty of $474-$557 per metric ton on hot-rolled flat products of alloy and non-alloy steel imported from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia in August. Read more

The Trump administration is exploring the idea of classifying currency manipulation, such as when China sets the value of the yuan/renminbi deliberately low to promote exports, as an unfair trade government subsidy that U.S. manufacturers can then petition the Commerce Department for redress against.

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The Wall Street Journal reported that, under the plan, the Commerce Secretary (Trump has nominated Wilbur Ross for the job) would designate the practice of currency manipulation as an unfair subsidy when employed by any nation. This plan would not single out China, or any other country, but rather give U.S. companies the opportunity to pursue trade remedies such as countervailing duties on imports from nations that artificially set currency values low.

Dollar vs. RMB

The value of the renminbi against the US dollar has consistently fallen since China removed its peg. Chart: Jeff Yoders/MetalMiner.

Last year, we created an interactive narrative experience showing how China has changed its currency values since it joined the World Trade Organization. Many countries and the WTO, itself, have wrestled with how to deal with Chinese exports in recent years but no country has considered creating a currency manipulation category for dumping of foreign exports that would, presumably, be enforceable under current WTO rules.

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The currency plans, according to the WSJ, are part of a China strategy being put together by the White House’s National Trade Council, led by economist Peter Navarro. The policy seeks to balance the administration’s dual goals of challenging China on trade while still keeping relations  — and most trade — with the massive country on a fairly even keel. That’s why the policy does not single out China and would apply to all nations that reset the values of their currency without direction from an independent body such as the European Central Bank or Federal Reserve.

The difficulty in enforcing such a policy would be that nations such as China could cry foul at the WTO and say that the ECB or Fed are not really independent. A definition of what is an independent central bank might be challenged in the WTO.

When it comes to providing stimulus to meet growth targets, you can’t bet against China. But when it comes to cutting output, things can get obscure… literally.

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new report by Greenpeace East Asia and Chinese consultancy Custeel says that despite China’s high-profile efforts to tackle overcapacity, China’s operating steel capacity increased in 2016. The report states that 73% of the announced cuts in capacity were already idle — in other words the plants were not operating. Only 23 million metric tons of cut capacity involved shutting down production plants that were operating.

Meanwhile, some 49 mmt of capacity that had previously been suspended was restarted, and 12 mmt of new operating capacity came online. That means that China added 37 million metric tons additional operating capacity in 2016. 

Production Up, Prices Up

Chinese Hot-rolled coil price climbs. Source: MetalMiner IndX.

After falling in 2015, Chinese crude steel output is now rising again at a healthy clip — it was up 4% on the year in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, hot-rolled coil prices in China rose near 70% for the year. Despite resilient output, demand growth has been much more significant. As a result, Chinese steel exports have fallen double digits for four consecutive months.

Can Just Promises Sustain Rising Prices?

Sentiment in the steel industry is also bullish thanks to expectations of lower output this year. In January, China unleashed its boldest reform plan so far for its bloated steel sector, saying it will eliminate all production of low-quality steel products by the end of June.

Eliminating excess steel capacity and restructuring the industry has enormous environmental significance because the steel industry is the second-largest emitter of air pollution in China. This is another reason to believe Beijing will strengthen its supply-side reforms this year.

However, according to the report most of the capacity elimination target set for the 2016-2020 period has, technically, already been achieved in 2016, meaning that capacity elimination in 2017-2020 will be much more modest unless targets are increased. Meanwhile, a 21 mmt capacity increase is still in the pipeline from new projects, and there is at least 42 mmt of existing idle capacity that could be used to fulfill the capacity elimination targets.

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These numbers give us reasons to doubt on what China can deliver this year. China is now under pressure to demonstrate progress on capacity cuts. But financial and legal incentives to keep marginal firms running will cause regulators to struggle to enforce capacity cuts. Chinese steel mills are so hard to get rid of as they are often a key source of local tax revenue and employment.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

The sustainability of the ongoing rising trend in steel prices will much depend on China. Buyers will need to keep a close eye on how much growth can China deliver and how much of the promised production cuts will actually materialize this year. The problem is that growth without controlling steel out will only translate into severe air pollution.

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.

You may feel it cynical to say anyone would engage in a blue sky thinking if someone else is going to pay for it, but you have to question whether Voestalpine AG and its partners would be embarking on a research program that appears to have little prospect of economic viability in the next 20 years if the European Union was not funding the lion’s share of €18 million.

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The Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine, Siemens of Germany and Austrian renewable energy company Verbund party are building an experimental facility to economically produce hydrogen from water, which would then be used in place of coking coal for steelmaking. You may remember that my colleague, Jeff Yoders, noted that Voestalpine touted research into using hydrogen to reduce iron ore at its new DRI facility in Texas when the facility opened last year.

Voestalpine Corpus Christi

Voestalpine’s $750 million direct-reduced iron ore facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, could one day be fueled by hydrogen and not natural gas. Image: Jeff Yoders.

By the consortium’s own admission, an economically viable hydrogen process could take 20 years but should it eventually prove successful the benefits in decarbonizing a range of energy intensive industries such as ceramics, aluminum, glass, and cement in addition to steel could dramatically reduce emissions from one of the largest sources of industrial CO2 emissions. Read more

The American Iron and Steel Institute reported that for the month of December 2016, U.S. steel mills shipped 7,173,245 net tons, a 6.7% increase from the 6,724,277 nt shipped in the previous month, November 2016, and a 9.4% increase from the 6,556,342 nt shipped in December 2015.  Shipments for full year 2016 are 86,533,341 nt – a slight change from shipments of 86,546,657 nt for full year 2015.

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A comparison of December 2016 shipments to the previous month shows the following changes: hot-rolled sheet, up 11%; cold-rolled sheet, up 4%, and hot-dipped galvanized sheet and strip, down 3%.

Manufacturing PMI Hits a 2-year High

The January 2017 Institute for Supply Management Purchasing Managers’ Index and Non-Manufacturing Index, released on February 1 and February 3, respectively, reveal a surging manufacturing sector in the U.S., with slowing growth in the services sector.

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The PMI® jumped 1.5 percentage points to 56.0, its highest level in more than two years. At 56.5, the NMI® declined by one-tenth of a percentage point, indicating slowing growth in the non-manufacturing portion of the economy.

The GOES M3 MMI took another jump this past month moving from 192 to 200 for a 4+% increase. Last month the index made a 5% gain.

Last month, MetalMiner examined the Trump administration’s stance on trade policy and likely impact on GOES markets (and concluded that GOES prices would not see too much of an impact since most of the imported GOES material comes from Japan, Russia and the U.K.) In other words, even in a trade war with China, we don’t expect that to drive GOES price momentum.

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However, and as one of our readers pointed out, our story failed to address “Buy America” requirements which, indeed, could impact GOES markets.

We know President Trump implemented Buy America requirements for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines including all new pipelines and retrofits (even slab imports are disqualified for domestic producers with only rolling operations here in the U.S.) Could Trump implement Buy America requirements for transformers? The answer to that question: absolutely! It’s clear that Trump will act aggressively to promote Buy America requirements. These requirements will serve as a bullish indicator for GOES prices.

In the aftermath of the GOES domestic anti-dumping case, many large equipment manufacturers moved production of stacked and wound cores as well as laminations to suppliers in Mexico and Canada in anticipation of significant duties being placed on GOES imports here in the U.S. Those duties did not materialize. Nevertheless, production moved to NAFTA countries anyway.

Which brings us to NAFTA. President Trump has promised to renegotiate NAFTA. But in truth, NAFTA has not been bad for the domestic steel industry. It remains unclear what specific changes the President will attempt to renegotiate. Furthermore, AK Steel could find itself in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, from an overall perspective, AK Steel has probably benefited from NAFTA as the agreement currently stands, though its GOES business, in particular, may have suffered as AK customers moved operations to Canada and Mexico. As the sole remaining domestic GOES producer, AK Steel may need to walk a fine line between what it lobbies for in terms of Buy America and what it has gained with NAFTA.

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Meanwhile, the industry should pay close attention to Big River Steel which reported record first-month production for a flat-rolled mini mill. BRS has publicly stated that they will add GOES capacity at a later stage. Aperam South America has started a GOES line out of Brazil. Imports from South America could increase just as BRS is starting its GOES line.

Meanwhile, what’s driving GOES price momentum right now?

According to a recent TEX report, orders that are typically placed during the summer months did not get placed which created a surplus. Since January, buying organizations have come back into the market including: Chinese, Korean and U.S. customers. In addition, a large tender for the Middle East will soak up some extra capacity which has caused market entrants to secure material before that tender is released. This has likely caused some price momentum as Baosteel raised prices for February shipments.

U.S. import levels have also increased during January supporting the notion that demand has increased.

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