After last month’s sharp increase, the February Aluminum MMI (Monthly Metals Index) inched up one point.
In January, MetalMiner anticipated a possible retracement in aluminum prices, as aluminum — and, generally, all base metals — increased sharply at the end of the month. LME aluminum prices fell by 2.8% in January from the previous 2-year high closing price in December.
Aluminum prices inched lower during the first few days of February. Aluminum prices broke out of their previous sideways trend back in August, providing a strong buying signal. As prices may continue to increase, buying organizations may want to understand how to better purchase aluminum, reducing both risks and costs.
U.S. Domestic Aluminum Market
The U.S. Department of Commerce sent the Section 232 report for aluminum products to President Trump in January. President Trump has 90 days (from January 22) to review and announce actions regarding the probe for aluminum products.
Meanwhile, domestic aluminum demand received a boost from stronger U.S. automotive and aerospace sectors.
Despite the fall in U.S. auto sales in January, aluminum producers see increased demand. Demand has increased so significantly that Novelis Inc., the biggest flat-rolled products maker, announced the investment of a new plant in Kentucky to support growing automotive demand.
Chinese Aluminum Market
SHFE aluminum prices currently trade lower than LME prices. Although the trends appear to be similar, SHFE aluminum prices fell further in January. Lower SHFE prices relative to LME aluminum prices lead to increased Chinese exports to Asia.
According to the latest Chinese customs data, Chinese exports of unwrought aluminum and aluminum products increased by 12.8% in December compared to December 2016 data. December exports also increased on a monthly basis by 15.8% over November’s figures.
U.S. Midwest aluminum premiums moved again at the beginning of February, and currently trade at $0.12/pound. The Section 232 investigation and uncertainty around the outcome has increased the volatility in the U.S. Midwest premium.
Other aluminum delivery premiums also increased this month. The CIF Japanese spot premium increased 12% over January, to $98.50-$110/mt from the previous $90-96/mt. The European duty-unpaid premium jumped by 8.1%, while the Brazil CIF duty-unpaid premium increased by 3%.
What This Means for Industrial Buyers
As expected after last month’s sharp increase, aluminum prices retraced in January. In bullish markets, buying organizations still have many opportunities to forward buy. Therefore, adapting the “right” buying strategy becomes crucial to reduce risks.
Actual Aluminum Prices and Trends
LME aluminum prices fell this month by 2.0%, with a closing price a of Feb. 1 of $2,221/metric ton. Korean Commercial 1050 sheet rose by 7.4% to $3.48/kilogram. Chinese aluminum primary cash prices fell by 0.3% to $2,251.61/mt and Chinese aluminum billet rose by 3.3% to $2,285.01. China aluminum bar prices increased by 1.7% to $2,463.1. The India primary cash price fell by 1.3% to $2.21/kilogram.