Alternative Strategies in Rising Metals Markets

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I am reminded every day how sourcing strategies in today’s red hot metals markets don’t really resemble the strategies of just a couple of years ago. Today, we learned of a company whose China supplier needed to execute a contract cancellation clause because it couldn’t purchase its raw materials at a price to supply profitably. It’s no surprise as everyone can attest. In addition to rising costs for non-ferrous and ferrous metals, many of the metals needed to make other metals such as cobalt, beryllium, tin, titanium and molybdenum are also in short supply.

So besides signing long term agreements, many western firms use forward contracts, options, swaps etc. But this is not a practice that appears “typical” in most Chinese operations. The notion of Risk Management has yet to hit many global suppliers. Luckily the buying organization, whose contract had been canceled, already developed several alternatives and the impact of the cancelled contract will likely be minimal.

Forward contracts, options, swaps etc are the stuff made of traders but they are also the “new tools” of buyers and suppliers around the world. Check out this post from affiliate blog Spend Matters. New steel futures contracts will create more opportunities for steel buyers. Watch this space for information on NYMEX’s new hot rolled steel futures market to open later this year.

But I digress. I wasn’t going to write about metals futures contracts.

Even though we still predict some metals prices to drop later this year, I can’t help but wonder how purchasing organizations have modified their negotiation strategies. Or, in some cases, how they may not. According to another post on Spend Matters, “historically, the standard approach to reducing commodity price volatility in the supply tiers was to hammer and threaten individual suppliers in the hopes of avoiding price increases. This often involved threatening the use of “reverse auctions” when market conditions change. Other options included purchasing on the spot market whenever conditions looked unfavorable for on-contract spend and relying on trading companies to individually quote the best possible piece-part price on items. Perhaps the last ditch option was to pass along price increases to customers by increasing the amount you charged for products.”

So what do you do if your supplier cancels a contract because of rising raw material costs? If you re-negotiate with the incumbent supplier but agree upon a higher price – because alternatives may be too difficult to implement – are you perceived ‘as caving in’ to the supplier? In the case of a supply relationship a buying organization hopes to develop for the long term, how would this be perceived in terms of future negotiations? The whole notion of game theory changes when markets shift from buyer to supplier. Buyer sourcing tactics change too. But one thing is for sure, when overseas suppliers start canceling export contracts, a heavy hammer will do no good.

–Lisa Reisman

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