Aluminum MMI: Chinese aluminum demand remains strong, imports surge

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Aluminum production

Alexander Chudaev/Adobe Stock

The Aluminum Monthly Metals Index (MMI) increased by 5% for this month’s MMI value.

August 2020 Aluminum MMI chart

SHFE prices stronger than LME prices

LME and SHFE aluminum prices continued to trade up.

The LME price reached $1,783/mt on Aug. 10, a six-month high. Meanwhile, the SHFE price reached CNY 14,820/mt on Aug. 3, a year-to-date high.

However, the SHFE aluminum price has continued to diverge from LME aluminum prices since April, with the SHFE being higher than the LME.

As a consequence, LME warehouse stocks have remained above 1.6 million tons since mid-June. These are the highest levels seen since May 2017.

The elevated stock level is due to a combination of low raw material prices and the high cost of shutting down primary smelters. This is in line with the estimated market surplus for January to May of 908,000 tons, as reported by the World Bureau of Metal Statistics.

Record imports amid strong Chinese aluminum demand

The price arbitrage between the LME and the SHFE, along with the strong Chinese demand, have incentivized traders to purchase aluminum at the discounted price overseas.

As a consequence, China imported 816,592 metric tons of aluminum, up 219.2% year on year for the first half of the 2020. In June alone, China imported 490% more than a year ago, reaching an 11-year high.

Reuters reported that Antaike, the China Nonferrous Metal Industry Association’s research department, revised its 2020 aluminum consumption by 1.7%. Antaike’s new estimate is 36 million tons, compared to the previous estimate of 36.6 million tons.

Since China’s demand for aluminum does not seem to be declining, it is set to be a net importer of primary aluminum this year, closing at 400,000 tons.

Last year, China was a net exporter at 1,000 tons.

Trump reinstates tariff on some Canadian aluminum

On Aug. 6, President Donald Trump reimposed a 10% tariff on some Canadian aluminum products to protect U.S. industry from excessive imports. The tariff applies to raw, unalloyed aluminum produced at smelters. The tariffs do not apply to downstream aluminum products.

However, data released Aug. 5 by the U.S. Census Bureau showed overall primary aluminum imports from the U.S. to Canada declined about 2.6% from May to June. In short, that means imports are below levels seen as recently as 2017.

As a result, the U.S. market might see an increase in the MW premium, which will feed through to higher semi-finished prices. The MW aluminum premium is currently $0.12/lb.

After the tariff announcement, Canada pledged to impose retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion (U.S. $2.7 billion) worth of U.S. aluminum products. During a news conference, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the countermeasures would be put in place by Sept. 16 to allow for consultations with industry.

Are rising MW premiums causing concern? See how service centers take advantage of that. 

Actual metals prices and trends

The Chinese aluminum scrap price rose 7.6% month over month to $1,963.42/mt as of Aug. 1. LME primary three-month aluminum rose 6.2% to $1,722/mt.

Korean commercial 1050 aluminum sheet fell 3.7% to $2.79/kg, while its European equivalent rose 5.2% to $2,449.43/mt.

Chinese aluminum billet rose 6.5% to $2,144/mt. The price of Chinese aluminum bar rose 6.3% to $2,240.02/mt.

Chinese primary cash aluminum rose 4.6% to $2,132.53/mt. Indian primary cash aluminum increased 2.7% to $1.88/kg.

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