Steel

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This morning in metals news, LME copper had a quieter Wednesday, Mexico looks to formulate a backup plan for a potential life after NAFTA and steelmakers are looking to maintain their market share in the world of skyscrapers.

LME Copper Hangs Near Three-Year High

LME copper didn’t have as big of a day on Wednesday as it did on Tuesday — nonetheless, the metal is still close to its three-year high.

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According to Reuters, a bounceback in the dollar slowed momentum gained from growth in China’s housing and manufacturing sectors.

Life After NAFTA? Mexico Considers It

As President Donald Trump in recent weeks has resumed threats of terminating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico is looking to formulate a backup plan.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo called the talks to renegotiate the deal a “roller coaster,” according to Reuters.

With the rhetoric from Trump picking up, it’s not surprising that Mexico is planning for a situation in which Trump pulls the plug on the 23-year-old trade deal.

Steelmakers with Eyes to the Skies

Concrete is becoming increasingly popular as a building material — so much so that steelmakers are  working hard to preserve their construction market share.

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According to a Bloomberg report: “Since 2000, steelmakers outside China expanded output of structural beams and columns at only about half the pace of rods, or rebar, used to reinforce concrete, the World Steel Association says.”

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Several sources are leading on news that President Trump has twice rejected a Chinese proposal to cut steel overcapacity, despite the endorsement of some of his top advisors.

An agreement reached between U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Chinese officials last month agreed a cut of 150 million tons per annum of capacity by 2022 was vetoed by the president, apparently because he preferred a more “disruptive strategy,” according to Reuters and the Financial Times.

The articles suggested the 22% rise in steel imports through July of this year compared to a year ago, reported by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), spurred calls for action from U.S. steel producers to apply tariffs. Those calls may have influenced Trump’s position, as may the input of Steve Bannon, since fired, and Peter Navarro, an economic assistant to the president on trade matters.

The rejection of a deal brokered by Ross’ team seems to have undermined his position and probably leaves little room for further negotiation. The Chinese have gone away to consider their options, but rumors reported in the Financial Times suggest retaliatory action seems the most likely.

But while picking a fight with China probably makes for good headlines, at least as far as U.S. imports are concerned, is it the primary antagonist?

Not if you look at the AISI data.

Their findings suggest Taiwan and Turkey were the countries making up much of the increase. There was a sizeable increase from other countries, too, meaning Germany, up nearly 60%, and Brazil, up 80%, on three-month rolling average measures.

At 83,000 tons, China’s share of finished steel imports is a fraction of South Korea’s 352,000 tons, Turkey’s 245,000 tons or Japan and Germany’s about 138,000 tons.

Unless the administration plans on tackling these suppliers, picking out China seems a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.

We would hope that Trump’s presidency ends much better than Nero’s both for the man and the country, but picking fights that have a pragmatic strategy rather than catching headlines would be a good first step.

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This morning in metals news, production of raw steel in the U.S. is up for the year, President Donald Trump reportedly rejected a Chinese proposal to cut its steel excess capacity and copper approached a three-year high.

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Steel Production Up 3% Year-Over-Year: AISI

According to data released by the American Iron and Steel Institute on Monday, U.S. raw steel production for the week ending Aug. 26 was down 1.3% from the previous week.

However, compared to the same week in 2016, production was up 5.1%.

In the year to date, production through Aug. 26 amounted to 59,153,000 net tons, up 3% from the 57,416,000 net tons during the same period last year.

Trump Reportedly Rejects China’s Capacity Cut Proposal

Given how much ink has been spilled and time spent talking about Chinese excess steel capacity and its effect on the global market, one would think any proposals from China aimed at cutting capacity would be welcomed.

Apparently not.

According to reporting from the Financial Times, President Trump rejected a Chinese proposal to cut its excess capacity. China proposed cutting 150 million tons by 2022, but Trump instead directed advisors to find ways to impose tariffs on imports, according to the report.

As has been discussed ad nauseam, China’s overcapacity has been the focal point of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports.

Copper Continues Rise

Copper rose nearly to a three-hear high Tuesday on falling inventories and a dropping dollar, Reuters reported.

The metal reached $6,825 per ton, its highest since October 2014, according to the report.

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India’s protectionist measures to safeguard its steel industry seem to be paying off.

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As reported consistently by AG Metal Miner, the Indian government, responding to the call of its steelmakers, had time and again imposed various forms of anti-dumping measures and fines to stop cheap imports of steel — especially from the world’s steel manufacturing leader, China.

Along with the U.S. and Brazil, India was said to be one of the world’s leading initiators of anti-dumping investigations, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Well, now, all this has resulted in India’s steel exports doubling to 8.2 million tons and imports have been slashed by about one-third in 2016-17.

As per a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), quoting from portions of the released Economic Survey, the rise in exports of steel could also wipe away the excess capacity built up in the steel sector. The mid-year survey by the government said steel imports had declined in 2016-17, while exports of steel had doubled.

Alloy imports dipped by 36.6% to 7.4 million tons in 2016- 17 against 11.7 million tons in the previous fiscal year. Exports doubled to 8.2 million tons last fiscal year, over 4.1 million tons in the corresponding year.

The news was welcomed by steel companies like Tata Steel. T.V. Narendran, managing director for Tata Steel India and South East Asia, told newsmen that steel demand in India was increasing, making it just right to make future investments. Stability was being witnessed in the steel sector globally, though it had faced some problem two years ago, Narendran told reporters.

Ironically, much of Indian steel joy stems from its traditional rival China, where there’s been a visible improvement in the economy — which meant much of its steel being produced was once again being used within the country. It was against the backdrop of China’s economic slowdown that the global steel industry had faced distress due to decline in global demand.

The Indian survey report said, in response to the dumping of cheap imports, the government in 2016 introduced a host of measures like raising Basic Customs Duty, imposition of Minimum Import Price (MIP) and anti-dumping duties in order to shield domestic producers. The government imposed the MIP for steel in February 2016 for a period of one year.

On April 12, 2016, India initiated countervailing duty investigation concerning imports of certain hot-rolled and cold-rolled stainless steel flat products originating in China.

According to the WTO, India’s share in total global steel exports increased from 1.1% in 2000 to 2.8% in 2016. During this period, China’s share in total steel exports rose from 3.7% in 2000 to 19.2% in 2016. Japan’s share in total steel exports in 2000 which was 12.2%, but fell to 9.1% in 2016.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. share in total steel imports was 17.0% in 2000, but has since come down to 12.1% in 2016.

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This afternoon in metals news, supply-side reform in China is having significant effects on global markets, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calls for trade action to combat cheap imports of steel and aluminum from China and other countries, and scientists have resolved a long-standing mystery about a prehistoric copper smelting event.

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Chinese Supply-Side Reforms Leave Their Mark

There are many who question the impact of China’s efforts to curtail excess production, but according to a report by Platts, supply-side reforms in the country are having major impacts around the world.

China’s net steel exports through the first seven months of the year were down almost a third, according to the report. Hot rolled coil prices have also risen in the process, reaching their highest point since 2013.

“Given the current protectionist bent that seems to span the globe, it will be interesting to see how China’s metal exports will be perceived in a few years’ time,” the Platts report concludes. “In the US, for example, there is not enough steel capacity to deliver upon the infra-build being promised by President Trump, should Section 232 be imposed, and the build go ahead.”

Schumer Calls for Action on Cheap Steel, Aluminum Imports

The Trump administration launched Section 232 investigations into imports of steel and aluminum, with a particular focus on China.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, sounded a similar note, according to a report in the Watertown Daily Times.

“There are top notch manufactures like Alcoa and Nucor ready to provide high-quality aluminum and steel to businesses in and around the country, but China’s overproduction has resulted in a substantial threat to Upstate New York’s metal industry by making it almost impossible for companies that play by the rules to compete,” Schumer said in a statement.

According to the report, Schumer has sent letters to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the matter.

Scientists Resolve Ancient Copper Smelting Mystery

For more than half a century, the origins of a copper smelting event at a prehistoric archaeological site has remained a mystery.

But recently, a team of scientists hit paydirt at the Late Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey.

“Scholars have been hotly debating the origins and spread of metallurgy for decades, mainly due to the relationship this technology had with the rise of social complexity and economy of the world’s first civilisations in the Near East,” according to a report in phys.org.

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According to the report, a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science concludes that that after “the re-examination of a c. 8,500-year-old by-product from metal smelting, or ‘slag’, from the site of Çatalhöyük presents the conclusive reconstruction of events that led to the firing of a small handful of green copper minerals.”

Unlike the steel mergers of the mid-noughties, the mergers currently in the news are born out of weakness, not strength, a recent Financial Times article suggests.

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According to the piece, profitability among the continent’s steelmakers plunged from a peak in the third quarter of 2008 — when each ton shipped delivered on average €215 in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization — to just €46/tonne in the first quarter of 2016, according to calculations by UBS.

The figure has recovered since to about €83/tonne in the first quarter of 2017, but at the cost of 86,000 job losses since the financial crisis and years of losses contributing to the bankruptcy of the continent’s largest steel production plant, Ilva, in Italy.

Source Financial Times

Despite years of suboptimal capacity utilization, there has been limited rationalization of production continentwide, with governments fiercly opposing job losses in their backyard and steelmakers hoping the other guy will make the cuts. Even Ilva is now being taken over by ArcelorMittal rather than closing completely, and following a major investment will be back in production next year.

Source Financial Times

Although the industry acknowledges Europe will never need as much steel as it once did, ArcelorMittal is quoted as saying the industry is looking to governments to do more to stem imports from Russia and China, and facilitate the planned and phased closure of persistently loss-making plants. Less foreign competition and more consolidation is the agenda in the hope fewer more-consolidated steelmakers can achieve greater clout with buyers in a more constrained market, forcing through higher prices.

Source Financial Times

When ArcelorMittal’s takeover of Ilva is complete, the combined entity will control some 30% of European flat-rolled steel production, up from 26.5% for ArcelorMittal now. While Tata Steel’s proposed and much-delayed merger with ThyssenKrupp’s steel division — currently Europe’s second-largest steel producer — would raise their combined market share for hot-rolled flat products to over 20%.

Steel prices are already up nearly 60% from the bottom in 2015 on the back of improved recovery in steel demand and a gradual increase in anti-dumping legislation restricting some types of steel imports into Europe. Producers would like to see this go a lot further, of course, but consumers are fighting to keep the import market open, fearing — with some justification — that more action will reduce competition and result in significantly higher prices.

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For the first time in years, steelmakers at least seem to have a plan and are actively pursuing it. Whether that plan is to the eventual benefit or detriment of consumers remains to be seen — but a healthier domestic steel industry must certainly be advantageous to all.

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This morning in metals news, China pressured iron ore traders not to buy from North Korea even before the newest round of U.N. sanctions were imposed, a Chilean copper company is preparing to invest in Mongolia and China produced a record amount of steel in July.

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China Puts Pressure on N. Korean Iron Ore Business

As the political situation on the Korean peninsula continues to intensify and President Donald Trump criticizes China for allegedly not doing enough to rein in North Korea, a Reuters report indicates China has taken some action against North Korean interests.

According to Reuters, China pressured its iron ore traders not to buy North Korea iron ore, pressure that even preceded the latest round of U.N. sanctions.

Per two traders Reuters spoke to, the Chinese government stopped issuing permits to bring in iron ore “several weeks ago.”

Codelco Looks to Make Investment in Mongolia

Chilean state miner Codelco is planing to make an investment in faraway Mongolia, Codelco’s chief executive told Reuters on Friday.

According to CEO Nelson Pizarro, the company is looking for medium-term investments in the country, which may have untapped copper deposits.

Chinese Steel Output Hits 74M Tons in July

Chinese steel producers had a prolific July, churning out  a record 74 millions tons, Reuters reported.

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The output bested the previous month’s then-record total of 73.23 million tons, reached in spite of government efforts to combat pollution.

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This morning in metals news, steel prices in China are up and the government is looking to strike a balance, German company Thyssenkrupp isn’t in a rush to forge a merger with the European business of India’s Tata Steel and China responds to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s ruling this week regarding Chinese aluminum foil, which the DOC determined was being unfairly subsidized by the government.

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Steel Prices On the Way Up in China

Rising steel prices have Beijing looking for ways to adapt, according to a CNBC report.

On the heels of efforts to cut excess Chinese steel production, prices are rising — but the government is looking to strike a balance.

“For Beijing, it’s a tough situation: tackle steel overcapacity, rebalance economic growth, control environmental pollution and also manage market stability — especially in advance of a leadership shuffle due in the fall,” CNBC’s Sophia Yan writes.

No Rush to Merge, Thyssenkrupp CFO Says

Talks of a merger between the European businesses of Thyssenkrupp and India’s Tata Steel have hung around since last year.

They even seemed to get a boost in light of news reported yesterday about Tata’s plans to separate its British pension scheme from its businesses.

Despite that step, Thyssenkrupp CFO Guido Kerkhoff says not so fast.

Kerkhoff told reporters Thursday that while they prefer a “fast solution” in potential merger talks, quality comes first.

China Warns U.S. After DOC’s Aluminum Foil Ruling

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. aluminum industry applauded the Department of Commerce’s preliminary determination Tuesday regarding Chinese aluminum foil.

Also unsurprisingly, China had something to say about it, too.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce wrote in a statement on its website that the DOC’s claims were “without foundation” and urged the U.S. to “act cautiously and make a fair decision to avoid any negative impact on the normal economic and trade exchanges between China and the U.S.”

On Tuesday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the findings of the countervailing duties investigation, declaring that Chinese exporters of aluminum foil received countervailing subsidies of 16.56 to 80.97 percent. As a result, the U.S. could impose duties of up to 81 percent on Chinese foil in return.

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Meanwhile, the outcome of the Section 232 investigation into aluminum imports, however, remains pending.

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This morning in metals news, the still-pending Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports, raw steel production is up 2.7% in the U.S. year-over-year and aluminum has reached its highest point in 2.5 years.

Uncertainty Growing in Aluminum Market

It’s not exactly surprising that some in the aluminum and steel industries are feeling anxious about the Section 232 investigations, still unresolved, initiated by the Trump administration in April.

According to a report in Platts, that’s exactly how some are feeling on the aluminum side. Not only that, the uncertainty is making what was already considered a volatile aluminum market even more volatile.

Another potential consequence of the investigation? The cost of downstream products could go up, according to industry sources cited by Platts.

Raw Steel Production Down From Previous Week, Up For the Year

The American Iron and Steel Institute released its weekly raw steel production data on Monday, and the numbers are both up and down.

For the week ending Aug. 5, production was down 0.4% from the previous week ending July 29. Production for the week ending Aug. 5 amounted to 1,762,000 tons.

Production for the year to date, however, was up 2.7%, with 53,870,000 tons produced through Aug. 5 this year.

Aluminum Heats Up

The durable metal reached a 2.5-year high Tuesday on news of Chinese supply cuts and signs of strong Chinese demand, Reuters reported.

According to the report, 3.21 million tons of production will be shut down in China’s Shandong province.

LME aluminum eclipsed the $2,000/ton mark on Tuesday, reaching as high as $2,007 — the highest since December 2014, according to Reuters.

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This morning in metals news, Indian steel company JSW Steel Ltd. could partner with a Japanese firm to acquire distressed Indian companies, steel import permit applications fell 12.3% in the U.S. last month and Chinese aluminum capacity cuts are sending prices up.

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Steel Tycoon Sajjan Jindal Open to Partnership with JFE

A deal might be in the works between Indian and Japanese companies.

Bloomberg reported Sajjan Jindal and his JSW Steel Ltd. would be open to investment from the Japanese firm JFE Holdings Inc., per JSW Joint Managing Director Seshagiri Rao. According to the report, JSW is looking to acquire distressed companies in India.

With plants in southern and western India, JSW is looking to expand into the eastern half of the country.

Steel Imports Permit Applications Fall in July

According to the Commerce Department’s most recent Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) data, steel import permit applications fell 12.3% in July compared with the previous month.

According to a release from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), in July the largest finished steel import permit applications for offshore countries were for: South Korea (333,000 net tons, down 14% from June preliminary), Turkey (211,000 net tons, down 36%), Japan (149,000 net tons, up 20%), Germany (144,000 net tons, up 24%) and Taiwan (136,000 net tons, down 17%).

Through the first seven months of 2017, the largest offshore suppliers were South Korea (2,261,000 net tons, down 5% from the same period in 2016), Turkey (1,681,000 net tons, up 11%) and Japan (935,000 net tons, down 12%).

Chinese Capacity Cuts Lead to Rising Aluminum Prices

The longevity of the positive effects of China’s capacity cuts has been debated here and elsewhere. In some cases, capacity cuts have simply given way to new capacity elsewhere, effectively negating the initial cuts’ support of aluminum prices.

For now, however, the most recent round of aluminum capacity cuts in China has been good news for the metal’s price, which has risen in recent days.

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According to Reuters, China is “forcing the suspension of aluminum plants that have not obtained proper permits to build or expand, or that have not met strict environmental standards.”

According to Reuters, shares of Aluminium Corp of China rose 47 percent since the start of July. Shares in Shenzhen-listed Yunnan Aluminium rose even more, by a whopping 55 percent.