Aluminum Update

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We don’t necessarily share the analysts‘ predictions that there is an imminent risk of aluminum rising to $3300/mt and beyond this summer — but we can see good support for the metal around current levels af $2900/mt. Where slowing demand is finally resulting in an easing of prices for most metals, aluminum is exposed to the risk of power brown outs disrupting supplies in many markets: Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa and most notably China. Consumption is forecast to grow in China, although we doubt the figure noted of 20-30% will be met this year as the economy cools slightly. Demand is softening in western markets, which will partially counterbalance Asian demand growth, but aluminum is almost uniquely sensitive to power costs as on average one third of the final ingot price is down to electricity. China is particularly at risk as the country has invested heavily in smelter capacity, currently 12.5 million tons per annum, on the back of historically cheap power. With power costs rising on the back of oil, gas increases, and most importantly thermal coal increases, many of these smelters could be marginal as the latest price rises feed through this year.

If capacity is idled and China becomes a net importer, the availability of metal on the world stage will change from the current comfortable balance to dwindling stocks in short order. It’s the risk which is giving aluminum its support.

–Stuart Burns

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