The March Aluminum Monthly Metals Index (MMI) increased again this month, rising 2.3% for an index value of 88, up from February’s value of 86.
LME aluminum prices ended February near the price at the month’s outset, thus ending only slightly higher month on month following a dip in price around mid-month.
The LME price ended at $1,913/mt and once again failed to breach the long-term price resistance point of $1,970/mt during February. In the early days of March, the price dropped further to around $1,872/mt during trade at the start of the first full week.
Prices show weakness in that the slope of increase has continued to decline as the year progresses.
SHFE prices have flattened out. The metal currently is moving in a sideways price trend on the back of a strengthened pricing pattern (when compared with generally falling prices in China since September).
Prices appear constrained by high levels of Chinese production of both alumina and aluminum, in addition to weakening Chinese domestic demand. During 2018, Chinese aluminum production increased by 9.9%, rising to 72.53 million tons.
Recently, the Chongqing-based Bosai Group restarted Chalco’s Nanchuan alumina plant that closed in 2014 due to low alumina prices. According to a recent Reuters article, Bosai leased the plant from Chalco for the next 15 years with alumina production underway and the first production to come off the line very soon. This will add to raw alumina supply and may contribute to further price declines as the new supply comes online.
U.S. Domestic Aluminum
Meanwhile, the U.S. Midwest Premium rose slightly in February to $0.19/pound, and still remains at a historic high. Even with the rising premium, ingot prices continue to trend lower due to strong supply.
The LME Western European Aluminum Premium stayed flat, coming in at $75/mt in February, while the LME East Asian Aluminum Premium also stayed flat at $85/mt.
What This Means for Industrial Buyers
During February, aluminum prices continued to trend sideways.
Industrial indicators show a weaker domestic economy in China, which could constrain price increases.
LME warehouse stocks increased quite a bit into the new year, also likely dampening price increases. SHFE warehouse stocks also remain sizable from a longer-term perspective, with some restocking increasing volume into 2019.
These factors suppress aluminum price increases, even in an uncertain macroeconomic trade environment.
Actual Aluminum Prices and Trends
Both LME and SHFE aluminum prices continued trending sideways during the past month. While the U.S. Midwest Premium nudged upward this month and remains high, it is offset by strong supply.
India’s primary cash price increased 9.9% this month, while China’s primary cash price increased 2.1%. Korean prices fell this month in the 3-4% range.