This week, we saw nickel prices reach an eight-month high as metals suddenly became a sexy pick for investors again. Gold hit a two-year high as worried stockholders abandoned markets and looked for safe havens after the tempest created by Brexit.
This week was more about markets shaking out from the initial shock of the U.K. actually voting to leave the European Union. U.K. politicians tried to stress stability, assuring India’s Tata Steel that the nation is still offering a lucrative equity stake and pension relief deal to keep the company’s sprawling Port Talbot, South Wales, steelworks open. Of course, Tata’s not buying it. At least not yet, as the whole steel deal making landscape has shifted in Europe. Could be that Tata just realized it has all of the leverage right now and U.K. politicians will have to sweeten the pot to keep Port Talbot’s doors open.
But things aren’t all unicorns and rainbows back in the E.U., either. Regulators in Germany are investigating the novel idea of a buyers’ price fixing cartel. You heard that right. Not a conspiracy of sellers to fix prices — like when Apple and several publishers colluded to set e-book prices and we all got Amazon credits for it — but one by German automakers and original equipment manufacturers such as BMW, Volkswagen, Robert Bosch, ZF Friedrichshafen and Daimler to somehow fix prices of the steel that they buy to create the cars they sell.
The fact that the buyers don’t have the power to set prices like sellers do did not deter the Federal Cartel Office, also known as the Bundeskartellamt, an independent “higher federal authority” established to protect competition in Germany.
MetalMiner Executive Editor and Co-Founder Lisa Reisman pointed out that it’s highly unlikely that all six companies decided that they would collude to extract steel price concessions from Germany’s largest steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG, leaving ThyssenKrupp without a home for all of that hot-dipped galvanized steel it’s trying to sell to automakers. In that scenario, where would Germany’s automakers go for all of their steel? China? The U.S.? Good luck with your investigation, Bundeskartellamt.