As the new year dawns, we turn our eyes toward the metal markets of 2017. Will the bull run of 2016 continue? What will be the standout performer of the metals we track? Will New Coke finally make a comeback as Even Newer Coke? Only to re-reintroduce Coke Classic in all its aluminum-encased glory? We have predictions. Lots of them.
Steel on Wheels
That’s right, the North American steel market is picking up steam and chugging toward expanded production and renewed profitability for many of the companies we track. Contributor James May said this week that flat products will enjoy higher demand while hot-rolled coil capacity will expand thanks to a combination of new capacity going online (Big River Steel‘s plant is set to open) and the trade policies of the incoming Trump Administration.
Iron Ore Overseas
China consumes over 70% of the world’s seaborne iron ore and a strong year for the Chinese economy bolstered the steelmaking raw material from from $40 per metric ton to $70/mt in global markets last year, an increase that helped re-energize the bottom lines of mining majors Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group.
This week, Sohrab Darabshaw pointed out that that was cold comfort to smaller miners in India who are still hamstrung by high export taxes and can’t get their ore into China or other lucrative world markets. That could change soon, but MetalMiner Co-Founder Stuart Burns was even more cautious, reminding us that physical iron ore prices were influenced by a rampant futures market last year.
“The interplay of the futures market, physical demand from steel mills, and seaborne iron ore supply has too many variables to predict 2017 and ’18 with any certainty,” he said.
While some of the markets are still murky, one thing we all agreed on this week was, once Donald Trump is installed as President of the United States, 2017 certainly won’t be boring when it comes to international trade.
Stuart also noted that the Donald is not alone in eschewing free trade with European populism on the rise, too. Toyota and Japan got to feel the blunt end of Trump’s trade talk about auto manufacturing this week, a novel approach considering that Toyota is a Japan-based multinational and not a U.S.-based domestic automaker such as General Motors or Ford. Later this week, Toyota North America said it will invest $10 billion in the U.S. over the next five years, the same as in the previous five years, according to North America Chief Executive Jim Lentz said Monday.
One prediction that seems certain is that Trump will ruffle more feathers in the manufacturing community — probably via Twitter — and ignore the previous conventions of discussing international trade.
We’ll be here to provide market intelligence about how all of this will affect your metals purchases. Happy New Year!