Zinc hit a record shortage in 2016. According to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group, zinc registered a deficit of 286,000 metric tons last year. Global usage of refined zinc metal rose 3.6% while supply remained pretty much flat thanks to a number of mine shutdowns.
The tightening in zinc’s raw material segment accelerated last year thanks to the closure of big mines such as Century, Lisheen and Glencore‘s suspension of 500,000 mt of annual mine capacity. These closures have impacted the supply of mine concentrates drastically and, for the first time, we are seeing an impact in the refined metal market.
In February, according to a recent Reuters article, Korea Zinc Co. said this year, it would reduce its refined zinc output by 7.7% (or 50,000 mt). The company made its decision to cut output due to low declining treatment charges, which have plummeted to multiyear lows.
Prices at Multiyear Highs
As a result of this narrative of supply shortfall, zinc is trading at the highest levels in more than eight years. Bulls have been in such a powerful position that prices have barely retraced during this run.
Will China Cut Output This Year?
Reuters reported that zinc supply for the rest of the world also fell by 10% last year. However, production increased inside China. In 2017 investors will be closely monitoring China’s numbers. Although output rose, imports slumped by 38% last year. This, combined with falling treatment charges, suggests that a raw material shortfall is building in China as well. China must get serious about controlling industrial metals output to solve its pollution problems.
The conclusion: China will need to cut refined zinc output.