Author Archives: Fouad Egbaria

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner:

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This morning in metals news, China spared U.S. soybeans and pork imports from tariffs, copper prices gained on the current tenor of trade news and Chinese iron ore rose to a five-week high.

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China Exempts Pork, Soybeans from Tariffs

China announced it will exempt imports of U.S. soybeans and pork from tariffs, MarketWatch reported, as the two countries aim to move toward a resolution to their long-simmering trade differences.

Trade talks between the countries are scheduled to resume in early October.

Copper Prices Rise

Copper prices made gains to close the week amid the latest seemingly positive news coming out of the ongoing U.S.-China trade saga.

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LME three-month copper was bid up 1.1% on Friday, reaching $5,895 per ton, Reuters reported.

Iron Ore Rises to 5-Week High

Chinese iron ore prices surged to a five-week high, the Hellenic Shipping News reported, supported by restocking demand ahead of holidays in the country.

Iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose as much as 3.9% on Thursday, up to 681 yuan ($96.08) per ton, according to the report.

Source: World Gold Council

This morning in metals news, the World Gold Council unveiled a set of principles geared toward promotion of responsible mining, Apple’s newest iPhone includes stainless steel and an Indian steel tycoon is critical of the pace of the country’s insolvency proceedings.

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World Gold Council Launches Set of Principles for Responsible Gold Mining

The World Gold Council this week announced the launch of responsible gold mining principles that it says will offer a “new framework that set out clear expectations for consumers, investors and the downstream gold supply chain as to what constitutes responsible gold mining.”

The principles are divided into three categories: governance, social and environment.

“It is our aim that these Principles will become a credible and widely recognised framework through which gold mining companies can provide confidence that their gold has been produced responsibly,” the World Gold Council said. “The Responsible Gold Mining Principles are intended to recognise and consolidate existing standards and instruments under a single framework.”

Newest iPhone Includes Stainless Steel

Apple announced this week that its newest iPhone model, the iPhone 11, will be available in stores Sept. 20.

From a metals perspective, the new phone, which features a a triple-camera system, is made of glass and stainless steel.

“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max have a textured matte glass back and polished stainless steel band, and come in four stunning finishes including a beautiful new midnight green,” Apple said in a release.

Indian Steel Tycoon Critical of Insolvency Proceedings

Indian steel tycoon Sajjan Jindal, head of the JSW Group, panned India’s relatively new bankruptcy and insolvency program on the grounds that it has been slow-moving.

Jindal’s JSW Group put in a $2.7 billion bid for the bankrupt Bhushan Power and Steel in February 2018, but only received approval by an Indian court last week, the Financial Times reported.

Since then, the steel tycoon’s interest in the acquisition has “definitely receded,” he told the Financial Times.

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The country’s Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, initiated in 2016, aimed to streamline the process by resolving an insolvent business within 270 days; however, as the Financial Times noted, insolvency cases in the country have extended past the mandated 270-day deadline.

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This morning in metals news, China announced some U.S. goods would be exempted from tariffs, steel production is down in the Great Lakes region and copper falls amid declining Chinese auto sales.

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China Announces Tariff Exemptions

The Chinese government announced Wednesday that it will exempt 16 types of U.S. goods from tariffs for one year as of Sept. 17, CNBC reported.

Among the products included in the list of exemptions are food for livestock, lubricants and cancer drugs, CNBC reported.

Steel Production Down in Great Lakes

Steel production in the U.S.’s Great Lakes region in the last week of August declined for the fifth straight week, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

Production for the week declined 1.17% from the previous week.

Copper Price Falls

Amid falling Chinese auto sales, the copper price approached a two-year low reached earlier this month, Reuters reported.

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LME copper was bid down 0.6% on Wednesday down to $5,793 per ton, Reuters reported.

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reported August automotive sales dropped 6.9% on a year-over-year basis.

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The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) dropped two points for a September MMI value of 99.

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First Cobalt Eyes Restart of Canadian Refinery

First Cobalt Corp., a Toronto-based firm, is looking into restarting its idled cobalt refinery in Canada, Reuters reported.

First Cobalt CEO Trent Mell said the company will begin assessing the condition of the plant next week.

Last month, the Canadian firm reached an agreement with Glencore by which the latter would fund a feasibility study for the idled refinery.

“First Cobalt Corp. is pleased to announce that it has entered into a US$5 million loan facility with Glencore AG to complete advanced engineering, metallurgical testing, field work and permitting associated with a recommissioning and expansion of the First Cobalt Refinery in Canada,” First Cobalt said in a prepared statement Aug. 26. “Upon completion of a positive definitive feasibility study for a 55 tonnes per day (“tpd”) refinery expansion in Q1 2020 and subject to certain other terms and conditions and satisfaction of conditions precedent, Glencore is prepared to advance an additional US$40 million to recommission and expand the Refinery.”

As Reuters noted, once operational the refinery would become North America’s lone producer of refined cobalt for the electric vehicle sector.

Cobalt Prices Surge

Speaking of Glencore, its announcement of a planned shutdown of its Mutanda mine this year has seen cobalt prices reach six-month highs, Reuters reported.

Earlier this year, Glencore said it would halt production at the Mutanda cobalt and copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (where a majority of the world’s cobalt is mined); the site is the world’s largest cobalt mine.

LME cobalt, after reaching $95,000 per ton in March 2018, lost nearly 75% of its value over the next 16 months, falling to $25,000 as of late July. Recently, the price has picked up, rising to $34,750 per ton as of Sept. 6.

GOES Price Surges 7.4%

The MMI for grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) jumped 14 points for a September reading of 199.

The U.S. GOES coil price rose 7.4% month over month to $2,745/mt as of Sept. 1.

German steelmaker Thyssenkrupp — a prominent producer of electrical steel — is facing a period of significant uncertainty, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns recently explained.

Faced with financial challenges, the company is mulling its next steps, which include the possible sale of its profitable elevator business.

Evidence of its struggles, the German firm will be booted from the country’s blue-chip stock index, the DAX, later this month. Thyssen, which merged with Krupp in 1999, was a founding member of the DAX.

“For both suppliers and customers of the group, the most worrying development must be the gradual reduction in credit rating,” Burns wrote. “If suppliers cannot insure their debt, they cannot in many instances supply, thus forcing the group to diversify and fragment its supply base.

“The group has survived many trials and tribulations over the decades. It will no doubt survive the current period, but it will be a different, much reduced Thyssenkrupp that emerges in the decade ahead.”

Another giant in the elevator industry, Finland’s Kone, has hired a law firm to advise it during its planned takeover bid of Thyssenkrupp’s elevator business, Reuters reported Monday.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

U.S. steel plate rose 2.0% month over month to $797/st as of Sept. 1.

Chinese steel plate fell 5.6% to $577.25/mt. Korean steel plate increased 0.7% to $568.51/mt. Japanese steel plate gained 2.5% to $809.83/mt.

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This morning in metals news, Alcoa announced structural changes to its operating model, Ford Motor Co. was downgraded by Moody’s to junk status and BHP is eyeing a more diversified future.

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Alcoa Announces New Operating Model

Aluminum producer Alcoa this week announced Monday that as of Nov. 1, it will institute a “leaner, more integrated” operating model.

“Alcoa will eliminate its business unit structure and consolidate sales, procurement and other commercial capabilities at an enterprise level,” the company said Monday. “Under the new operating model, the Alcoa Executive Team will also be streamlined from 12 to seven direct reports to the Chief Executive Officer. The new structure will reduce overhead, promote operational and commercial excellence, increase connectivity between the Company’s plants and leadership, ensure a continued focus on safety as our highest priority, and position Alcoa for sustainable profitability.”

Moody’s Downgrades Ford’s Debt Rating

Credit ratings agency Moody’s announced Monday that it had downgraded Detroit automaker Ford’s debt rating to Ba1, or junk status.

“The Ba1 ratings reflect the considerable operating and market challenges facing Ford, and the weak earnings and cash generation likely as the company pursues a lengthy and costly restructuring plan,” Moody’s said. “The restructuring is expected to extend for several years with $11 billion in charges, and a cash cost of approximately $7 billion. Ford is undertaking this restructuring from a weak position as measures of cash flow and profit margins are below our expectations, and below the performance of investment-grade rated auto peers. Moreover, these measures are likely to remain weak through the 2020/2021 period including a lengthy period of negative cash flow from the restructuring programs.”

BHP Prepares for the Future

Trade uncertainty abounds, affecting companies’ strategies going forward.

Miner BHP is looking to “reinvigorate” its portfolio, according to CFO Peter Beaven, as reported by Australian Mining. Among commodities with a particularly positive future, Beaven cited nickel, particularly vis-a-vis its use in electric vehicles.

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“What has also changed is that nickel itself is something that is incredibly important to the world,” Beaven was quoted as saying. “Today, it goes into stainless steel, but in the future all electric vehicles (EV) have batteries and the technology in batteries is changing.”

The U.S. steel industry’s crude steel production for the week ending Sept. 7 fell 1.7% compared with production for the same week in 2018, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

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Steel production for the week ending Sept. 7 totaled an estimated 1.84 million net tons at a capacity utilization rate of 78.8%. The production total marked a decline compared with the 1.87 million net tons produced during the same week of 2018 at a capacity utilization rate of 79.6%.

Meanwhile, production for the week ending Sept. 7, 2019, was down 0.8% from the previous week, when production reached 1.85 million net tons at a capacity utilization rate of 79.5%.

Production for the year to date (i.e., through Sept. 7, 2019) was 67.15 million net tons at a capacity utilization rate of 80.8%. The year-to-date production total marks a 4.0% increase from production during the same period in 2018, which checked in at 64.59 million net tons (at a capacity utilization rate of 77.5%).

Broken down by region, production totals for the week ending Sept. 7, 2019, checked in at:

  • Northeast: 214,000 tons
  • Great Lakes: 686,000 tons
  • Midwest: 190,000 tons
  • Southern: 672,000 tons
  • Western: 73,000 tons

Last week, citing the Commerce Department’s most recent Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) data, AISI reported August steel import permit applications totaled 2.13 million net tons, down 40.8% from the 3.61 million permit tons recorded in July.

For the first eight months of 2019, total and finished steel imports were 20.80 million net tons and 15.30 million net tons, which marked declines of 13.0% and 16.0%, respectively, compared with the first eight months of 2018.

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According to the SIMA data, finished steel import market share in August reached an estimated 19%, just under the 20% market share recorded during the year to date. 

The Global Precious Monthly Metals Index (MMI) gained four points this month, rising for a September MMI reading of 106.

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Gold Market Subdued in India

MetalMiner’s Sohrab Darabshaw delved into the Indian gold market ahead of the festival season in the country, which includes Diwali in October.

As Darabshaw explained in late August, the apparent slowdown in demand ahead of the usually busy gold-buying season comes amid surging gold prices. Citing a Yahoo Finance report, Darabshaw noted India’s gold imports in July fell a whopping 55% on a year-over-year basis.

“Almost everyone is waiting for a price correction, which is a far cry from the positive situation at the start of 2019,” Darabshaw wrote.

“Demand grew 9% from January-June this year, sparking hopes that consumption towards the latter half of the year would go up.

“But experts are of the opinion that if things do not improve soon, consumption could slump to a low of over 650 tons (comparable to the 2016 low).”

Gold-buying in India was also sluggish ahead of the holiday season last year.

A Gold Mine in Pakistan

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns weighed in on the struggle between the Pakistani government and Tethyan Copper Co.

“The dispute is over the legality of Tethyan’s claim and rights to exploit the copper and gold reserve at Reko Diq in Pakistan’s remote southwest Balochistan province, close to the Iran border,” Burns wrote.

“Pakistan’s mining rights and practices, not to mention its infrastructure, are not fit for the purpose, as Tethyan’s story underlines all too well.”

The impasse benefits neither party, Burns opined.

“Tethyan has offered to negotiate a settlement, but with the Chinese on the sidelines bidding to extend their Belt and Road involvement in the region, conflicting loyalties and priorities are in play,” he wrote.

“A solution, though, would be very much in Pakistan’s interests.

“The resource is said to be the largest untouched deposit in the world, containing an estimated 2.2 billion metric tons of mineable ore that could yield 200,000 metric tons of copper and 250,000 troy ounces of gold annually for over half a century, Stratfor reports.”

Platinum-Palladium Spread

While palladium remains at a significant premium to platinum, the spread between the two narrowed this past month.

After a spread of $638 per ounce as of last month’s MMI, palladium fell and platinum increased to produce a spread of $539 per ounce.

According to Kitco News, platinum is possibly riding momentum generated by other precious metals — namely gold and silver — of late. The platinum price recently approached its highest level in 16 months, Kitco News reported.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

U.S. silver ingot/bars rose 12.3% month over month to $18.23/ounce as of Sept. 1. U.S. platinum rose 6.1% to $915 per ounce, while U.S. palladium fell 3.1% to $1,454 per ounce.

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Chinese gold bullion rose 7.8% to $49.33 per gram, while U.S. gold bullion rose 8.0% to $1,527.10 per ounce.

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This morning in metals news, China’s trade activity with respect to aluminum and copper slowed in August, Nucor announced Chairman and CEO John Ferriola will be retiring at the end of the calendar year and residents of an Arizona town expressed staunch opposition to a proposed aluminum recycling plant.

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China’s Aluminum Exports, Copper Imports Fall

China’s imports of copper and exports of aluminum fell in August as the trade war with the U.S. escalated with the most recent exchange of tariffs.

China’s copper imports fell 3.8% in August compared with the previous month, Reuters reported, while aluminum exports fell 4.3% compared with July totals.

Nucor CEO to Retire

Nucor Chairman and CEO John Ferriola will retire at the end of this year, the company reported.

Ferriola has served as chairman since 2014 and CEO since 2013.

Nucor’s Board of Directors elected Leon J. Topalian, 51, to be president and chief operating officer, effective Sept. 5, 2019. Topalian will succeed Ferriola as CEO on Jan. 1, 2020.

Residents Oppose Proposed Arizona Aluminum Recycling Plant

Locals in the Arizona farming town of Wenden have come out in opposition to an aluminum recycling plant proposed for the town, azcentral.com reported.

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According to the report, residents urged officials from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality not to grant an air-quality permit for the proposed Alliance Metals plant.