Steel

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This morning in metals news, copper hits a two-year high, economic signals in July for China were a bit of a mixed bag and the London Metal Exchange continues a balancing act between tradition and change.

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Copper Reaches Highest Point in 2 Years

It’s been a big year for copper.

Copper reached a two-year peak on Monday, partially a result of solid manufacturing data in China, Reuters reported.

LME copper reached $6,431 per ton, its highest since May 2015.

Construction Up in China

Speaking of China, July saw a dip in factory growth but a surge in construction, Reuters reported.

China’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) remained above 50, however, as the Chinese government spent money on construction, fueling demand for building materials.

The Chinese steel industry, for example, had its strongest month of growth since April 2016.

Changing Times at the LME

Matthew Chamberlain became the boss of the world-famous London Metal Exchange at age 34.

A lot has changed for the LME, which was founded in 1877.

The exchange was sold to HKEX in 2012, and is currently engaging in efforts to bring back volumes, The Guardian reports.

The so-called “ring” where LME traders do their work is governed by a set of long-standing rules, like the prohibition on chewing gum. According to the report, Chamberlain says those rules aren’t likely to change.

However, he also acknowledges that the LME needs to be prepared to deal with changing demands — for instance, for cobalt and lithium to be used in electric car batteries.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Felipe Peroni and Ana Paula Camargo of MetalBulletin spoke July 19 during a webinar about the Brazilian steel market — particularly, the slab market and hot-rolled coil (HRC).

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Brazil is the largest steel exporter in South America, with increasing production this year. Brazil exports primarily to the U.S. and Mexico, with Mexico serving as the second-largest steel producer in South America. According to preliminary U.S. Census Bureau for June 2017, the U.S. imported 590,473 metric tons of steel from Brazil, up significantly from the 259,285 metric tons imported in June 2016.

Source: TradingEconomics

Macroeconomics in Brazil

Brazil’s political crisis resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff at the end of August 2016, which negatively impacted the economy and reduced investment activity in Brazil.

The lack of investments and spending have negatively impacted steel demand.

Although many expect demand to improve in the next few years, the Brazilian economy has not yet rebounded.  The recovery has taken longer than expected.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of MetalBulletin data

Brazilian GDP from construction has decreased since 2013. As construction activity has shown weaknesses, steel long products demand remains weak, as well.

Source: TradingEconomics

Even Brazilian auto sales remain in a downtrend since 2013 (when they last peaked).

Positive auto sector activity would positively impact flat steel market demand. Auto sales have increased by 22% this month. We’d expect to see more robust demand for hot-dip galvanized (HDG) and cold-rolled coil (CRC) steel.

Source: TradingEconomics

Brazilian Steel Drivers

In terms of domestic Brazilian steel prices, China is the main driver of the steel industry.

Both Chinese CRC and HRC prices have increased since April of this year. Considering a long-term perspective, the uptrend started in February 2016. Chinese steel prices, like they do in the U.S., also drive other domestic steel markets, including Brazil’s.

The latest increase in Chinese prices gave upward price momentum to Brazilian steel prices, together with the recovery of the steel industry. Brazilian mills increased margins to remain profitable.

Source: MetalMiner data

Iron ore prices also support the steel price uptrend. An increase in raw materials commonly goes along with an increase in steel prices, as production costs are higher. Oil and coking coal prices have also increased during July, adding price support.

Even though the Brazilian steel industry is recovering from its previous downtrend, it does not yet appear anywhere on the list of the top steel producers around the world. According to the Top Steelmakers 2017 edition published by MetalBulletin, the top Brazilian mill took 20th place.

What This Means For Industrial Buying Organizations

Even if Brazil is not currently a top producer of steel, the country currently exports steel to the U.S. If prices increase in Brazil, we expect U.S. buying organizations to source elsewhere.

In fact, buying organizations have reported to MetalMiner that prices for steel in Italy and Spain are some of the lowest in the world.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Moreover, rising Brazilian steel prices point toward a general uptrend. Specific price dynamics will depend on the specific form of steel.

Further analysis and industrial buying strategies can be found in the Monthly Outlook Report.

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The U.S. steel industry upped its production levels during the week ending July 22.

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In total, U.S. raw steel manufacturers produced 1.77 million net tons for that week, according to weekly data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Compared with the previous week (ending July 15), that figure makes for a 0.6% increase.

Meanwhile, compared with the same week in 2016, production was up 6.4%.

Production is also up when comparing the year to date (until July 22) with the same time frame last year. Thus far in 2017, U.S. steel amounts to 50.3 million net tons, a 2.5% increase from the 49.1 million net tons in 2016.

The weekly AISI report also breaks down production by region. Once again, the Great Lakes region came in first with 677,000 net tons, followed by the Southern region (637,000), Northeast (214,000), Midwest (166,000) and Western (79,000).

Of course, the elephant in the room continues to be the Section 232 investigation into steel imports.  The results of the Department of Commerce probe were expected to be announced by the end of June, but that has long come and gone.

Most have speculated that the administration will opt to slap tariffs on steel imports in an effort to combat excess capacity from China.

It remains to be seen when the administration will announce anything on Section 232. However, if tariffs come to pass, other steel-producing nations will likely have something to say about it. As reported yesterday, Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, warned of the opening of a Pandora’s box — meaning, nations might retaliate by placing tariffs on other products.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

That is on top of comments made in June by European Commission Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom regarding the EU’s intent to retaliate in the face of U.S. steel tariffs.

According to preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. imported 3.1 million tons of steel, with a monetary value of about $2.6 billion. The preliminary May data show Canada leading the way in steel exports to the U.S. (514,488 tons). Mexico shipped 266,544 tons, while Germany (135,279), Turkey (139,728), Korea (298,527) and Brazil (513,889) featured near the top of the list. China, meanwhile, exported 73,594 tons, according to the preliminary May data.

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This morning in metals news, the chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation warns that U.S. tariffs on its steel imports could lead to retaliation, copper hit its five-month high and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro expects 2017 to present a balanced aluminum market.

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Section 232 Tariffs, If Instituted, Could Lead to Blowback

The world continues to wait for the Trump administration’s announcement regarding the conclusion of its Section 232 investigation into steel imports. Most, however, predict that tariffs will be the remedy President Donald Trump chooses, a course of action which EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in recent weeks said would lead to retaliatory measures from the EU.

Japan has also joined the fray in warning of retaliation if tariffs are slapped onto steel coming into the U.S.

In a report from Industry Week, Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, told reporters Monday that other countries could respond with protectionism on products other than steel, opening Pandora’s box.

Copper Riding High

Copper continues its strong run, hitting a five-month high Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Positive news on the Chinese economy and a weak U.S. dollar contributed to the rise for copper.

Earlier today, our Stuart Burns wrote about copper’s big year to date.

A Balanced Market

Norsk Hydro CEO and President Svein Richard Brandtzaeg said he expects a “largely balanced” global aluminum market this year.

“We see a global primary aluminium deficit in the quarter. This is driven by increasing deficit outside China. For the full year, we are maintaining our 4-6 percent annual aluminium demand growth outlook for 2017 and expect a largely balanced, global aluminium market,” Brandtzæg said in the aluminum producer’s second-quarter results announcement.

Hydro, which earlier this month announced the acquisition of Sapa, reported second-quarter earnings of NOK 2,930 million.

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Before we dive into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week in metals news:

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  • Our Stuart Burns started out the week with a piece on confirmation bias and how those in the media and metal-buying communities can sometimes let bias affect their interpretation of data.
  • What’s the diagnosis for the ailing U.K. steel industry? According to Burns, it’s a product of a lack of government support and global oversupply. A recent report showed that the U.K. steel industry has declined in monetary output value by 30% from 1990 to 2013.
  • In case you missed it, our July MMI report has long been in the books. You can download it here.
  • What did the recent G20 summit in Germany mean for India? Our Sohrab Darabshaw touched on the subject this week.
  • What’s up with oil prices? Unsurprisingly, as with the metal markets, prices are so low because there is just so much of the stuff out there. Burns dug deeper into oil price trends in a piece earlier this week.
  • What’s a Section 332? In short, it’s a fact-finding investigation by the United States International Trade Commission, which recently conducted a large-scale look into the competitive factors affecting the U.S. aluminum industry.
  • Another big story, the ongoing debate regarding a potential renegotiation of NAFTA, got an update this week when it was announced that the U.S., Canada and Mexico will come together for talks beginning Aug. 16.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

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This morning in metals news, the EU is planning to impose heavy duties on steel from several countries, copper is down on gains by the U.S. dollar and June was a good month for U.S. service center  shipments of steel and aluminum.

Participate in MetalMiner’s Budgeting Workshop on July 26 to help set your 2018 metals budget

EU Gets Defensive on Steel

In the world of trade measures, most eyes are on the U.S.’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports. However, the U.S. is certainly not the only entity looking to protect its products.

The European Union plans to impose heavy duties on hot-rolled coil steel from Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Brazil, a measure to counter what it sees as unfairly low prices, Reuters reported Wednesday.

According to documents seen by Reuters, the EU plans on imposing duties of up to 33%. Just last month, the EU imposed duties of 35.9% on Chinese steel, according to the report.

Dollar Up, Copper Down

Copper had a strong start to the week, hitting its highest price since early May, but that optimism has started to temper.

Prices of the metals trended downward Wednesday after the U.S. dollar rose, Reuters reported.

The metal struggled to hold onto gains above $6,000, even with good news regarding Chinese demand, Danske Bank analyst Jens Pedersen told Reuters.

Steel, Aluminum Shipments Up in June

U.S. steel shipments were up in June, according to a Metals Service Center Institute report released Tuesday.

Shipments in June 2017 increased by 1.1% from June 2016. In addition, steel product inventories decreased 4.9% from June a year ago.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Aluminum shipments were also up compared with the same month last year. Shipments of aluminum products increased by 10.3% from the same month in 2016. Inventories of aluminum products increased 0.2% from June a year ago.

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This morning in metals news, the Section 232 steel investigation is reportedly in its final stages, better-than-expected data on the Chinese economy buoyed copper prices and a 3-D printing startup got a rich vote of confidence.

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Section 232 Steel Conclusion: Almost There?

The Section 232 investigations launched by the Trump administration in April have been the talk of the metals world.

While the announcement of the steel investigation was previously expected to happen by the end of June, the administration blew past that self-imposed deadline. Now, however, American Metal Market reports a “key report in the US Commerce Department’s Section 232 investigation into steel imports is nearly complete,” according to a department spokesman.

The announcement would come as tension continues to rise between the U.S. and China. Reuters reported yesterday that China had a record June for steel and aluminum production, which surely won’t do much to dissuade the Trump administration from imposing tariffs or quotas to combat global excess supply from China.

China Data Good For Copper

Reuters reported faster-than-expected Chinese economic growth led to copper prices holding steady Tuesday.

Despite a strong second quarter for the Chinese economy, many analysts predicted a second-half slowdown as the government looks to put the squeeze on credit growth. With that said, Chinese growth exceeded expectations, so perhaps the slowdown will not be as significant as expected.

The next dominoes to drop — the Section 232 investigations — may also have significant ripple effects for not only China, but the global economy.

Big Investment in Metal 3-D Printing

Desktop Metal announced it secured $115 million in funding, according to Fortune, a funding sum that includes backing from a number of big-name investors.

The 3-D printing startup, founded in 2015, aims “to make metal 3D printing accessible for engineering teams,” according to the company’s website.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

In terms of the regular, everyday consumer, 3-D printing still has a long way to go.

From the industrial side, however, money talks.

In this case, the $115 million investment is saying that some major players believe in the technology and see a bright future in it.

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Defining the root cause of Britain’s predicament is not as simple as a sweeping “foreign competition” argument. But there’s no doubt that is part of the problem, as Britain’s steel industry has been decimated over the last 25 years.

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A House of Commons report last year said output from the UK steel industry was £2.2 billion in 1990, compared to £1.6 billion in 2015, a 30% fall (in 2013 prices).

Source: House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No. 07317, Oct. 28, 2016

The decline has left the U.K. producing just 11 million tons of steel, compared to 166 million tons for the EU as a whole and 804 million tons from China. A combination of global excess supply and lackluster government support has left the U.K. as the fifth-largest steel producer in the EU, after Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

In line with most European producers, surviving U.K. steelmakers have had to move up the value chain in order to remain profitable. Inevitably, however, the market for more value add, niche product areas is smaller than the bulk commodities end of the market.

The U.K., in turn, is a relatively small consumer of steel products, as medium to heavier industry has also declined over the years. As a result, the U.K. has lost the ability to make some of the grades or forms necessary for more demanding or critical applications.

Read more

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This morning in metals news, China hit record steel and aluminum production numbers in June as the world awaits the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigation results, the copper deficit could deepen amid further strikes and things are looking good for gold on Monday.

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China Posts Record Steel, Aluminum Outputs in June

Ever since the Trump administration announced its opening of Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports in April, the world has waited to see whether new tariffs or import quotas could be on their way.

The major focus of the investigations has been Chinese excess capacity in the global market, which the administration might strike at via protectionist measures.

The Chinese steel and aluminum industries, meanwhile, showed no signs of slowing down in June.

According to Reuters, China produced record amounts of the metals last month: 73.23 million tons of steel and 2.93 million tons of aluminum.

Copper Deficit Deepens

According to Reuters, the copper deficit is likely to deepen this year as further strikes are expected in South America; however, those strikes have already been priced in, according to the report.

Even so, the strikes are not likely to produce a rise in the copper price, according to a Reuters poll of 26 analysts.

According to the report, LME copper is up 8% on the year.

Gold Looking Up

Gold might be in for some good news during the remainder of 2017.

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According to Reuters, gold broke its 200-day moving average and could be in for further gains as a result of a slumping dollar.

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Anxiety is rising among Europe’s steelmakers that a potential U.S. plan to levy steel tariffs, on national security grounds, could have a disastrous impact on the region’s sales into the market.

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Reuters reported that the European steel association Eurofer is worried that “….measures potentially stemming from the U.S. section 232 investigation may lead to a proliferation of disastrous global trade flow distortions.”

Eurofer is worried on two counts. First, it is worried that with China largely already cut out of the U.S. market by anti-dumping legislation, the axe will fall on imports from other regions, of which Europe is a major supplier. Many European countries are already experiencing steep declines in sales to the U.S. between 2015 and 2016 — in some cases of 50% — but the largest, Germany, remains the fifth-largest external supplier to the U.S. of flat-rolled products, according to International Trade Administration data.

The second worry is that should the investigation support bans or large duties, suppliers in the affected countries will look for alternative mature, high-value markets for their products, namely the EU. This would potentially flood an already overcrowded market with more low-priced material.

Having championed free trade in recent statements, Europe may have to eat its own words if it is forced to find ways to counter such a flood. Reuters reports that moves are already afoot, at the G20 summit in Germany last weekend, leaders from the world’s 20 leading economies set an August deadline for an OECD-led global forum to compile information about steel overcapacity. That also includes a report on potential solutions, due in November, which could result in the region acting of its own.

In reality, Europe may not be the primary target of the president’s 232 action. Supplies from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Russia dwarf those from Europe, but that will not necessarily stop the region from suffering considerable collateral damage.

The move would come at an unfortunate time for the European steel industry.

After prices rose nearly 50% last year, they have since fallen back some 10% this year, according to Reuters. Demand, however, is recovering with a 1.9% rise forecast for this year, according to Eurofer, suggesting prices could stabilize (although demand growth is expected to ease again next year, with only 1% growth forecast).

EU Strikes Back?

However, The Guardian reports Europe is also looking at retaliatory measures, should they suffer exclusion or tariffs because of the 232 action. The paper quotes the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is reported to have said that if the U.S. took measures against Germany and China’s steel industries, the EU would “react with counter-measures.”

The article says one industry in the Europeans’ crosshairs is Kentucky bourbon, worth $166 million to the state last year and directly employing some 17,500.

Kentucky was staunchly supportive of Trump during his campaign, with 62.5% of the electorate voting for him.

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“I am telling you this in the hope that all of this won’t be necessary,” Juncker said during the G20 summit. “But we are in an elevated battle mood.”

Bellicose talk, indeed.