Regardless of which newspaper or journal you read, it seems to be one story after another about the relentless record commodity price highs often in the face of fundamentals that suggest the market should be going in the other direction. We feel tin may be one metal that has peaked and will be on its way down this year after prices have doubled over the last 18 months.
Tin rose from $12,000/ton to $16,000/ton during 2007 only to power onwards to nearly $21,000/ton in the first quarter of this year. Prices have been inflated by speculative money but supported by low inventory, a reduction in Chinese exports following the 10% export tax applied from Jan 1 and production losses due to bad weather which turned China into a net importer this year.
Steelmakers are looking to boost demand for tin cans following years of losing out to aluminum but this isn’t where the recent increase in western demand has been coming from. The 2% increase in consumption seen in the USA during 2007 came mostly from the use of tin as a substitute for lead in solders due to fears of lead toxicity and to meet RoHS compliance.
Developed world demand is set to soften this year so with the exception of speculative funds, support for prices will come from restrictions in supply. China’s severe winter certainly had a huge effect on the country’s trade balance for tin, resulting in a 16% fall in production as we mentioned above but production has now returned to previous levels. In addition, Indonesian supplies have been reduced by a government crackdown on illegal mining as has the government of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) who suspended all mining in the Walikale mining sector. Of course the intent in both cases is not to permanently halt all exports – merely to ensure they go through legal channels so the government can extract tax revenues. Control is the first step and this may continue to hamper exports for the rest of the year.
Analysts differ on which will carry the day, reduced demand or restricted supply. Our take is we will not see prices crash. Demand for tin (as with most metals) is sufficiently robust to support high prices for the foreseeable future. Indeed many have argued, that current prices levels are where all metals should be and the low prices of the 1990’s were the exception and ultimately unsustainable. Tin though has probably been over done and, like nickel last year, is probably due for a correction and retreat to more sustainable levels later in the year.