Week-In-Review: Happy Memorial Day! Now Stay Export Competitive

As we give thanks to all of the service men and women who defended our freedom today, let us also remember the international trade pacts and enforcement bodies created to keep wars and conflicts from ever being fought again over such things as one nation illegally exporting millions of tons of its products into another nation. Which only happened at least nine times before.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Here at the MetalMiner week-in-review, let’s give thanks that such wars are no longer fought in anything but the World Trade Organization and look back at some of the very, very cold trade wars looming and what can be done about them now.

China Now Admitting Dumping

The Chinese have previously taken the tack of apologizing for their domestic steel industry. Highly subsidized at the state and national level, Chinese steel companies have been accused of dumping in the US, EU and elsewhere. Previously, officials from Beijing have thrown their hands up and essentially said “we’re trying to get the situation under control.”

That all changed last week. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang said the rise in steel exports is due to higher global demand and is a result of Chinese steel products having strong “export competitiveness.” [click to continue…]

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China has changed its tack on steel exports.

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In previous years it has sought a more conciliatory position to complaints by trade partners, a WSJ article says in the past CISA, China’s steel trade association, has sought to persuade local steel mills to curb exports and show restraint but this year, in the face of an unprecedented surge in volumes, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang is quoted as taking a much more defensive line saying the rise in steel exports is due to higher global demand and is a result of Chinese steel products having strong “export competitiveness.”

Chinese Now Say Exports ‘Justifiable’

Set against a backdrop of the EU’s recent investigation into dumping of cold-rolled coil from China and Russia, Shen is reported to have come out fighting, saying “Under such circumstances (demand and competitive pricing), I feel that it’s quite normal for Chinese steel exports to these countries to be rising, and it’s quite justifiable.”

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Autodesk Releases 2016 Building Design Suite, Further Integrates Advance Steel

by Jeff Yoders May 22, 2015 Company News
Autodesk Releases 2016 Building Design Suite, Further Integrates Advance Steel

Autodesk, Inc. announced the release of its 2016 Design Suites at a launch event in Boston this week, offering more control over all aspects of the design-build process through a connected desktop and cloud user experience.

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For structural steel, the main difference in the 2016 suite of software products is a much tighter integration of the Advance Steel, a 2013 acquisition, and the Revit 2016 3D building information modeling platform.

“The means of production – how we think about and deliver buildings and infrastructure, both intellectually and physically, is changing,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of Autodesk’s information modeling and product group. “By 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices in use, with the number rising by 20 billion per year. Buildings are joining the digital world.”

New Rendering Engines

The 2016 version of Revit has new rendering engines that can deliver a rendered scene in minutes instead of hours under the old engine. It also has linked model cropping and better support of the open-source IFC file format.

“Customers don’t want to work in a different environment when doing design and detailing,” said Jim Lynch, vice president of Autodesk’s building group. “No longer have to use (a separate design tool) for detailing. Steel, cast-in-place concrete can all be done in Revit. The plan is to integrate (Advance Steel’s design tools) into Revit. We will keep Advance Steel as a separate product but WILL make it work seamlessly in the Revit environment.”

Better Integrated

Plant 3D, a plant design product, and Advance Steel have also been integrated so you can bring Advance Steel content into Plant 3D.

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Federal Reserve: No June Interest Rate Hike, ‘Too Soon’

by Jeff Yoders May 22, 2015 Commodities
Federal Reserve: No June Interest Rate Hike, ‘Too Soon’

Minutes were recently released of the Federal Reserve Board’s most recent meeting and another rosy forecast for the US construction market was released.

Construction Starts About to Surge?

Construction starts for residential and nonresidential construction in the second quarter should improve after weak numbers in the first quarter, according to a forecast by consultancy CMD.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

However, construction starts overall in the US could rise 9.2% this year, even though both residential and nonresidential starts have been downgraded, CMD said. The CMD forecast is derived by combining proprietary data with macroeconomic factors.

No June Rate Hike

Federal Reserve officials believed it would be premature to hike interest rates in June even though most felt the US economy was set to rebound from a dismal start to the year, according to minutes from their April policy meeting released on Wednesday.

The central bank debated whether a slew of disappointing data, including weak consumer spending, signaled a temporary slump or evidence of a longer-lasting slowdown, with most participants agreeing economic growth would climb to a healthier pace and the labor market would strengthen.

The US economy grew an anemic 0.1% in the first quarter, according to the most recent government data.

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Understanding TPP and TTIP: The Wheels of Trade Grind Slowly for Lawmakers

by Stuart Burns May 21, 2015 Global Trade

There is a lot of talk in the business press about trade agreements.

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Most of us skip such articles on our way to the sports pages as it’s that impacts on such a macro scale that it is of little relevance to us day to day, but that is to overlook the massive impact trade liberalization has had on our lives over the last twenty years.

Although the low-hanging fruit has already been plucked, further agreements could yet impact, for good and bad, in the years to come. Lawmakers are split on many lines over the issue. Some are intrinsically against liberalization on the basis that it can expose domestic industries to unfair competition from abroad, that by reducing trade barriers, it encourages off shoring and the export of jobs overseas.

What is Trade Liberalization?

Others say trade liberalization raises GDP for all and the rising tide lifts the boats of everyone’s income levels, in developed and developing markets. The experience of the last 20 years can be used to support both arguments and, in reality, both are true to a greater or lesser extent.

Currently considerable argument rages about the President’s two plurilateral (by which we mean between a limited number of partners) trade agreements known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Why Only Certain ‘Partners?’

The fact these agreements will be between a limited number of countries is itself a bone of contention. Many argue only multilateral agreements such as the failed Doha negotiations are the way to go because they encourage a universal set of rules and standards, but with the more readily agreed issues resolved further progress is proving increasingly difficult and acrimonious.

The FT did a quick idiot’s guide to the TPP and TTIP summarizing them as follows. The TPP is a negotiation with 11 countries, most importantly Japan. Its partners account for 36% of world output, 11% of population and about one-third of merchandise trade. The TTIP is between the US and the EU, which accounts for 46% of global output and 28% of merchandise trade.

The main partner not included in these negotiations is, of course, China. Import tariffs are only a part, arguably a small part of what these agreements are about. In the FT’s analysis, the agreements are more about making rules more compatible with one another and more transparent for business, particularly around intellectual property rights.

Not a Trade Booster, An IP Defender

They are an effort to shape the rules of international commerce, the FT argues and quotes Pascal Lamy, former director-general of the World Trade Organization, saying that “TPP is mostly, though not only, about classical protection-related market access issues . . . TTIP is mostly, though not only, about . . . .  regulatory convergence.”

The benefits of each to national incomes is small. Even supporters do not claim the level seen in earlier trade agreements. The FT quotes independent analysis suggesting between 0.4% and less than 1% rise in national incomes as a result, with the US-EU TTIP towards the upper end of the range and the US-Asia TPP towards the lower end. The most reliable guess is they will be positive but modest. That will make the President’s job correspondingly harder to get past a skeptical Congress.

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The Tiger and the Dragon II: Miners Try to Take Advantage of China’s Slowdown

by Sohrab Darabshaw May 21, 2015 Commodities

According to a report, crude-steel output in China dropped 1.3% to 270.07 million metric tons in the first four months of 2015 as compared to the same period in 2014. The World Steel Association has forecast that China will end up using far less steel this year and maybe even the next. Which again means more supply and far less demand.

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The report quoted Alan Chirgwin, BHP Billiton iron ore marketing vice president, as saying steel supply was expected to rise by about 110 million metric tons this year, exceeding demand growth by around 40 mmt.

Yet this has not fazed Rio Tinto Group, for example, which recently announced it would continue with its plan to produce iron ore at full capacity despite the fall in prices. While BHP and Brazil’s Vale SA have, for now, stepped on the brakes vis-à-vis their medium-term plans, team Rio, on the other hand, thinks reducing production costs will help it hang on to its lead…and profits.

Betting on a Comeback

Rio Tinto sees China coming back with renewed vigor and driving global iron ore demand through 2030.

Where does that leave India? So far as iron ore or even steel consumption is concerned, China is miles ahead of India, even in the fatigued condition it finds itself today. India, as reported by MetalMiner, drew a blank for about two years due to a court-imposed ban on ore mining, which left its steel companies at the mercy of imports, something that they continue to rely on even today.

That had also affected its iron ore exports, especially from the ore-rich provinces of Goa and Odisha. India’s iron ore imports went up dramatically to a record 6.76 million tons in the first 7 months of the 2014-15 fiscal year. Once, the country was the third-largest supplier of iron ore to the world, but, because of the export duty and a national mining ban, it had turned into an importer.

Analysts predict India was likely to remain a net importer of iron ore in 2015-16 as well, no thanks to the continued drop in falling international rates. The only silver lining, claimed analysts, could be that due to the resumption in the domestic production of iron ore, the quantity of imports may not be as high as the last fiscal year.

Captive Market

India’s steel companies do not have captive mines, so they have to get their average 95 mmt a year of iron ore from elsewhere. With international price of ore hovering today at about $50 per mt for high-grade ore, it is too attractive a deal for Indian steel mills to be passed on. As reference points, last year, iron ore imports happened when rates had touched $90 per mt.

In all this, Australia, a country that sells about 80% of its ore to China, sits in a happy position. While it hopes that the recent cuts in interest rates will revive the Chinese economy, and thus its demand for iron ore and coking coke, it is also looking increasingly to India to pick up its stock. Last year, for example, as reported by MetalMiner Australia had approved Adani Group’s approximate $15.5-billion (AUS $16.5 billion) Carmichael coal project in Queensland that could yield up to 60 million mt of coal per year. That was just the beginning. For the Aussies, if the dragon’s appetite for iron ore and coking coal is satiated, the hungry tiger is always lurking in the background.

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The Tiger and the Dragon: India and China Promise More Steel, Energy Cooperation

by Sohrab Darabshaw May 21, 2015 Commodities
The Tiger and the Dragon: India and China Promise More Steel, Energy Cooperation

When the Tiger and the Dragon dine together the world sits up and takes note.

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Signing business agreements worth $22 billion is a big deal so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China made big, bold headlines here. Some of India’s old, and some not so old (Adani, Bhusan Power and Steel), players in the steel and power sectors, were signatories to the 26 deals.

Steel and Energy Deals

The notable contracts included the one between India’s IL&FS Energy Development Co. and China Huaneng Group for a 4,000-megawatt thermal power project, and India’s Bhushan Power and Steel sealing a pact with China National Technical Import and Export Corporation for an integrated steel project in Indian province of Gujarat.

So here were two Asian, nee global, giants, breaking bread and talking business at the same table, sending analysts scurrying to their laptops to chalk out spreadsheets and draw pie charts in an effort to understand the impact of all this in the long term.

While business leaders of both nations, including Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma, spoke of long-term interests, such talk brought the arclight swinging back to the present and short-term situation currently prevailing in the Asian region, especially in iron ore and coking coke, two crucial ingredients in making steel.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that steel is the mainstay of Asia’s infrastructure, a fact that has had iron ore and coal miners — and even steel majors in China, India and as so far as Australia — jockeying for a major piece of new market share. With demand from Europe and the US lacking, suppliers in all three countries are walking a thinly veiled tight rope to ensure their survival.

Wither Demand

Once a destination of hope, the Chinese dragon, for now, has lost some of its hunger. Some say next-door neighbor India is where one can find fresh action. The jury’s honestly still out on that one, though. But the slowdown in China’s economy means less need for steel, in turn, lowering the demand for ore and coking coal. Leaving miners re-tweaking their business plans.

Last year, for example, the Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton Ltd. in Australia, and Vale SA of Brazil, to stem the tide, had stepped up low-cost output to pump up volumes, leading to a glut. Now, everybody’s mantra seems to be – cut production costs faster than the falling prices.

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House Passes Two-Month Highway Trust Fund Extension, AK Steel Pays Severstal’s Bill

by Jeff Yoders May 21, 2015 Automotive

The transportation funding can got kicked down the road in Washington and a major steel company agreed to pay for a predecessor’s Michigan environmental infractions.

House Passes Short-Term Highway Bill

The House voted Tuesday to extend federal transportation funding for two months, in an attempt to prevent an interruption in the nation’s infrastructure funding at month’s end, the Hill reported.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The decision to punt a long-term funding extension to the summer was approved by a 387-35 vote, over the objection of Democrats, who argued Congress should have found a way to pay for a longer-term extension.

Twelve Republicans and 23 Democrats voted against the bill. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) voted “present.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, White House officials said President Obama is willing to sign the temporary transportation funding extension if it is passes the Senate later this week, even though he would prefer a longer-term solution.

AK Steel Dearborn Pays Severstal’s Fines

AK Steel will pay $1.35 million to settle alleged air pollution violations at a Dearborn plant previously owned by the American subsidiary of Russia-based Severstal.

The Justice Department announced the agreement among the steelmaker, the federal government and the State of Michigan Wednesday, saying it settles 42 violations alleged by the state Department of Environmental Quality and two notices issued by the Environmental Protection Agency against Severstal North America.

AK Steel, based in Ohio, announced last summer its intention to purchase Severstal’s Dearborn coke-making facility and other assets for $700 million. Following the sale, completed in September of last year, AK Steel took responsibility for past violations.

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Precious Metals: Shy Recovery Thanks To a Weaker Dollar

by Raul de Frutos May 20, 2015 Commodities

The US dollar index has declined 6% since its peak in mid-March.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

This decline gave a boost to commodities and, of course, precious metals were not left behind. However, their upside moves look anything but impressive. Despite the weaker dollar, it seems as if precious metals are having a hard time moving away from their lows.

Gold prices rose a shy 6% since mid-May. The yellow metal is still near record lows. A bit more encouraging is the move silver is making, up 12% since mid-May. The grey metal, however, is still near record lows as well. The metal is trading at $17.71/oz and we’ll see if it can break medium-term resistance at $18.5/oz.

A bit more encouraging is the move silver is making, up 12% since mid-May. The gray metal, however, is still near record lows as well. The metal is trading at $17.71/oz and we’ll see if it can break medium-term resistance at $18.5/oz.

Platinum is up 7%. A very small movement compared to its huge decline since summer last year. The metal has a long way up to reach last year’s levels.

Palladium rose 8% after making a 1-year low in March. Palladium is clearly the best performer among precious metals but since summer of last year is also being dragged down with the rest of precious metals.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Recent weakness in the dollar is giving a boost to precious metals. However, these price movements have been quite shy so far. It still makes sense to be long-term bullish on the dollar and bearish on precious metals.

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LNG Investments Quietly Transforming Transportation Infrastructure, Overseas Markets

by Jeff Yoders May 20, 2015 Commodities
LNG Investments Quietly Transforming Transportation Infrastructure, Overseas Markets

ast week UGI Energy Services announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas production facility in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The facility will draw Marcellus Shale gas from UGI’s Auburn gathering system, then chill it to produce up to 120,000 gallons per day in liquid form. While we have regularly reported the slowdown in both new shale oil and LNG projects in the US this year — and the subsequent cutbacks in oil country tubular goods production — investments are still being made, in the US and overseas, in drilling.

Plants, Projects Planned

Bloomberg Business reported this week that Anadarko Petroleum Corp. selected a group of developers including Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. for a potential $15 billion LNG project in Mozambique.

CBI’s joint venture with Japan-based Chiyoda Corp. and Saipem SpA, based in Italy, will work on the onshore project that includes two LNG units with 6 million metric tons of capacity each, Anadarko said Monday. Construction plans also include two LNG storage tanks, each with a capacity of 180,000 cubic meters, condensate storage, a multi-berth marine jetty and associated utilities and infrastructure, according to Texas-based Anadarko, which says it will make a final investment decision by the end of the year.

Last week, the Department of Energy gave Cheniere Energy Inc. final approval for the nation’s fifth major export terminal at Corpus Christi in Texas, which will ship the fuel from 2018.

What’s Driving Infrastructure Investment?

While oil prices have bounced back from lows seen earlier this year, it’s certainly not the market that’s driving these investments. While high-cost projects, such as those in Canada’s oil sands, have been canceled by oil exploration companies, relatively inexpensive projects with a quicker path to payback, such as these LNG projects, are still being funded.

The payback is diverse and not confined to domestic home heating. LNG has been priced at a fraction of diesel prices for the last four years. Domestic trucking (18-wheelers and other heavy consumers of diesel) have yet to make a large-scale commitment to LNG, and most places where fuel is dispensed have yet to put in expensive infrastructure to handle the product, but there has been enough success for UGI to justify committing resources to its adoption.

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