Author Archives: Fouad Egbaria

A Department of Commerce hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning on the subject of the Section 232 investigation into aluminum imports. qingwa/Adobe Stock

These days, three numbers in succession are all the talk in the worlds of steel and aluminum: 2-3-2.

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The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports and whether they pose a national-security risk have been in the news since the probe was announced in April. Industry organizations have weighed in on the investigation, some in reference to the tangential debate of renegotiating the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

During a scheduled press briefing Wednesday afternoon, several senior-level executives from the aluminum industry will preview testimony that will be given at Thursday’s Department of Commerce hearing. Thursday’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m Eastern Time and will be live-streamed on both YouTube and Facebook.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

Ahead of Wednesday’s preview, members of the Congressional Aluminum Caucus wrote in support of the domestic aluminum industry and the Section 232 investigation, stating “we support the Administration’s efforts to review the strategic importance of aluminum and consider actions that will address unfair trade.”

U.S. Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Bill Owens (D-NY-Retired) formed the Congressional Aluminum Caucus in August 2013. The Caucus consists of 35 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

The Caucus’ letter, signed by 13 representatives and addressed to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, outlined some of the main points of contention for the aluminum industry.

Unsurprisingly, Chinese overcapacity sits at the forefront of the policy debate for the American aluminum industry.

“Chinese overcapacity and trade of Chinese products through third countries is the fundamental issue that needs to be addressed by the Administration,” the letter states, adding that “Chinese oversupply affects the full value chain.”

While the representatives took China to task, they also made sure to highlight other trading partners, like fellow NAFTA member Canada, and their role in a hypothetical alteration of U.S.  trade policy.

“… U.S. aluminum trade with Canada is strategically vital and supports many American jobs,” the letter continued. “A trade remedy that impairs aluminum trade with Canada would not be in our national security or economic interest.”

According to a release from The Aluminum Association, Wednesday’s press briefing will focus on similar subjects, namely Chinese overcapacity, national security, and exemptions for Canadian imports and other producers who “trade fairly and who have not contributed to rising global overcapacity.”

Commerce Department Rulings Tackle Circumvention Efforts

In recent developments, the aluminum industry celebrated what some in the industry dubbed a “victory” last week when the Department of Commerce ruled in favor of the petitioning Aluminum Extrusion Fair Trade Committee.

The June 13 ruling determined Chinese imports of 6xxx series aluminum alloys disguised as pallets would be included in the scope of antidumping and countervailing duty orders on aluminum extrusions from China.

The ruling came approximately six months after another Commerce Department decision cracking down on Chinese circumvention of extrusion orders. The December ruling included 1xxx series aluminum alloys under the umbrella of the extrusion orders.

Like their colleagues in the steel industry for their respective Section 232 investigation, those in the domestic aluminum industry will watching Thursday’s Department of Commerce hearing with great interest.

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This morning in metals news: copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) is hanging steady, zinc pulled back after hitting a two-week high and General Electric (GE) announced plans to build the world’s largest laser-based powder bed metal 3-D printer.

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No Movement for Copper

A stronger U.S. dollar put a cap on gains for LME copper, as the metal’s price didn’t show much movement Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The U.S. dollar hit a three-week high against the yen after a Federal Reserve official said inflation should rise alongside wages — “reinforcing expectations for the Fed to keep raising interest rates,” according to Reuters.

Zinc Falls After Two-Week Peak

Zinc prices have been steadily climbing of late, with the metal hitting a two-week high yesterday. That has pulled back a bit, partly as a result of questions about Chinese demand, Reuters reported.

“You’ve got some news with a bullish tone, so that’s supporting the market, but I don’t know how sustainable this will all be,” Gianclaudio Torlizzi, partner at the T-Commodity consultancy, told Reuters.

LME zinc fell by 0.4%, according to the report.

GE Makes 3-D Printer Announcement

Say hello to ATLAS.

That’s the name of the new metal 3-D printer GE announced it is building, a printer that will be the world’s largest laser-based power bed metal 3-D printer.

GE made the announcement at the Paris Air Show, according to 3D Printing Industry.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

Per 3D Printing Industry, the printer has a build volume of 1 meter cubed.

The landmark North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect 23 years ago — unsurprisingly, many in the metals industry are eyeing reforms to modernize the long-standing agreement signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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In late April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order focusing on trade-agreement violations and abuses, directing the Department of Commerce and the United States trade representative (USTR) to study the U.S.’s free-trade agreements. One month ago, the office of the USTR notified Congress of the administration’s intention to renegotiate NAFTA.

In recent months, Trump has indicated he is willing to terminate the agreement if renegotiation efforts don’t go anywhere. In April, the president said he was “psyched” to terminate the deal, but ultimately had a change of heart after speaking with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, per media reports.

That came three months after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), negotiated by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

When will renegotiation actually happen? The timeline isn’t clear. On Monday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told reporters renegotiation might not happen until next year.

As uncertainty clouds NAFTA’s future, domestic metals organizations have weighed in on the ways in which they believe the 23-year-old agreement can be improved.

Metal Industry Hopes to Keep Positives, Target Problem Areas

Players in the metals industry have spoken out about how they want to see 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement modified for this new age.

In a filing June 12, The Aluminum Association, addressing U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, urged that NAFTA should be renegotiated in a way that modernizes it without compromising the benefits of the original agreement.

In the letter to Lighthizer, The Aluminum Association underscored three ways to strengthen the agreement:

  • Improving and strengthening customs procedures and cooperation to facilitate the movement of aluminum and aluminum products among the United States, Canada, and Mexico
  • Working with the Canadian and Mexican governments to ensure that “NAFTA preferences are available only to aluminum articles that truly originate in the territory of a NAFTA party” and that “unscrupulous producers and exporters operating outside the NAFTA region are not improperly claiming preferential treatment under NAFTA by either making fraudulent country of origin claims or incorrectly classifying the article at issue”
  • Negotiating common disciplines on the operations of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), which “often benefit from favorable government policies and subsidies that create significant market distortions”

Regarding the third point, the release specifically zeroed in on China, noting “massive overcapacity” encourages unfair trading practices.

In addition to the aluminum industry, steel groups are weighing in on a potential NAFTA face-lift.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), like The Aluminum Association, stressed in a letter to Edward Gresser, chair of the Trade Policy Staff Committee, that NAFTA has yielded “significant benefits” but could be modernized after nearly a quarter of a century since its passage.

NAFTA has been critical to the steel industry, as 90% of all U.S. steel mill product exports went to Canada or Mexico in 2016, according to the June 12 AISI letter.

U.S. steel exports to Canada and Mexico grew rapidly following the passage of NAFTA. Source: American Iron and Steel Institute

Like The Aluminum Association, the AISI cited rules-of-origin issues, global overcapacity and conduct of SOEs as issues needing assessment in a revamped agreement.

In addition, currency manipulation was a point of emphasis.

“Currency manipulation makes exports more expensive, imports cheaper, and can subsidize cheaper prices for exports to third-markets,” the AISI letter states. “The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has provisions against currency manipulation, but the lack of an enforcement mechanism has limited their effectiveness.”

The AISI also suggested possible improvements to “streamline” customs procedures and “to ensure that manufacturers can ship and receive steel in an efficient manner.” Part of that streamlining, AISI argues, includes updating border infrastructure.

So, in many ways, U.S. steel and aluminum seem to be on the same page with respect to NAFTA — that is, that there’s room for improvement.

NAFTA Renegotiation a Hot Topic

The USTR sent out a notice May 27 seeking public comments on the topic of NAFTA renegotiation. The period for public comments closed June 12, but not before 1,396 comments were submitted.

Clearly, NAFTA is a very important subject to many people and industry organizations. While the minutiae of free-trade agreements can sometimes make the subject seem opaque, the outcomes are decidedly human, as jobs and livelihoods are often at stake.

Leo Gerard, international president of United Steelworkers, submitted a public comment in support of renegotiating NAFTA, provided it is “along the lines identified in the comprehensive approach identified in the negotiating framework document submitted on behalf of the USW and other unions by the AFL-CIO.”

“We have felt the negative impact of the NAFTA first hand since it entered into force more than two decades ago,” Gerard wrote. “Tens of thousands of plants have shut down, millions of workers have lost their jobs and many other workers have seen their compensation stagnate or decline as a result of NAFTA.”

Looking Ahead

What’s next for the process? A public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 27, in the Main Hearing Room of the United States International Trade Commission, 500 E Street SW., Washington D.C.

As demonstrated by the volume of public comments, there is a wide range of suggestions being offered with respect to NAFTA renegotiations.

One thing, however, is clear: Many of the interested parties want change of some kind.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

quka/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, base metals got off to a solid start this week, Carpenter Technology Corporation enters into a supply agreement with a company that produces 3-D printing systems and zinc hits a two-week high.

Markets Start Monday with Strong Base

It was a good start to the week for base metals on the London Metal Exchange (LME).

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Prices closed Friday with an average increase of 0.4%, according to FastMarkets. Those metals kept the momentum rolling into this week (particularly lead, zinc and nickel).

LME prices increased by an average of 0.5%, with three-month copper prices up 0.3% and lead prices up 1%, according to FastMarkets.

Carpenter, Desktop Metal Enter Supply Relationship

Desktop Metal, Inc., which produces end-to-end metal 3-D printing systems, has entered into a supply relationship with Carpenter Technology Corporation, according to a NASDAQ release.

Carpenter Technology Corporation is a producer and distributor of premium specialty alloys, including titanium alloys, nickel and cobalt based superalloys, stainless steels, alloy steels and tool steels. Carpenter’s powder metals will be utilized in Desktop’s premium materials cartridges, according to the release.

The move is just another signal of the ongoing growth of the 3D-printing market and the method’s uses in a variety of applications.

Zinc Hits Two-Week High

Rather than start the week Monday sluggishly, zinc prices have ticked upward, reaching a two-week high, according to Reuters.

The rising price was driven by expectation of higher demand from steelmakers and LME inventories of zinc hitting nine-year lows, according to the Reuters report.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

London zinc prices rose 0.9%, to their highest price since June 2.

Meanwhile, mine closures led to China’s lowest output in more than two years. Chinese imports increased by by 21 percent in April, Reuters reported.

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The findings of the Trump administration’s ongoing Section 232 investigation into steel imports have yet to announced, but American metal producers are clearly anxiously awaiting the probe’s findings.

Earlier this week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the findings of the investigation could be released as early as this week (they have not been released yet).

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The investigation, launched by the Trump administration and announced in April, seeks to determine whether steel imports pose a national security threat. (For more background on the investigation, read our Lisa Reisman’s post earlier this week about the 232 investigation’s potential outcomes and impact).

Section 232 investigations are rooted in the authority of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. At their conclusion, the president can either agree or disagree with the recommendations set forth by the secretary of commerce (Wilbur Ross, in this case).

It’s not yet clear what the investigation’s findings will be, or what practical impacts, in terms of enacted policy, they will have.

But it’s clear that U.S. companies are anxious for the Trump administration to make good on campaign promises to bolster American industry.

Read more

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at a few of this week’s stories:

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

A Surprise in the U.K.

Iakov Kalinin/Adobe Stock

Our Stuart Burns wrote about the U.K. parliamentary elections, which surprised many and saw Labour outperform expectations against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

What does the election result mean for business? Well, that will partially be determined by which path to Brexit the U.K. ultimately takes. Burns writes there is likely to be compromise and a search for alternate solutions — that is, a softer Brexit.

The 411 on 232

White House spokesman Sean Spicer announced Monday the findings of the administration’s Section 232 investigation into steel imports could be released as early this week.

Although the findings have yet to be released, our Lisa Reisman laid out the potential outcomes and impacts of the investigation on Wednesday.

How will the recommendations affect steel prices domestically? No one knows for sure, of course, but Reisman wrote we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about potential price increases.

“Some have speculated that the forthcoming recommendations would force prices higher, however, we would not necessarily rush to that same conclusion,” Reisman wrote.

Markets showing pessimistic side

Burns also wrote this week about commodities markets — and not just metals, but oil, too — which have seen a drop in optimism of late.

What’s the downtrend all about? Many reasons, Burns argues, including: oversupply, the Chinese government “squeezing investors by increasing shadow banking borrowing costs,” and waning optimism with respect to the Trump administration delivering on campaign promises regarding massive infrastructure projects.

But not to send you into your weekend on a down note — it’s not all cloudy skies.

“With that said, that doesn’t mean the U.S. or global economies are about to tank,” Burns writes. “European growth has been much better this year and Japan is expected to improve further, while the World Bank is predicting an unchanged 2.7% global growth this year in its latest report.”

June MMI Report Released This Week

In case you missed it, our monthly MMI Report was released this week; as always, it’s jam-packed with information.

The report covers markets trends in our 10 sub-indexes: Automotive, Aluminum, Construction, Copper, Global Precious, GOES (grain-oriented electrical steel), Rare Earths, Raw Steel, Renewables and Stainless Steel.

Want to know what’s happening in any of these categories? Get yourself up to speed by checking out the June report, which you can access by visiting the link below.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

Cobalt and lithium have big roles in the burgeoning electric-vehicle market, but they’re still subject to price volatility. scharfsinn86/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, demand for cobalt and lithium will only grow with the electric car industry, but price ups and downs are likely in the offing, too; London copper took a dip after the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike announcement Wednesday; and the U.S. coal industry, in a world with less demand for coal as an energy product, might have to get creative. One writer suggests mining for coal — not for coal itself, but for rare-earth metals contained within it.

Cobalt, lithium markets growing with EVs, but could see fluctuation

One thing is certain: the electric-car industry is growing rapidly.

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According to a Reuters story Thursday by Andy Home, the number of electric cars on roads worldwide doubled last year to 2 million — but only accounted for 0.2% of the global total. However, estimates indicate that number will grow to 3% as soon as 2021 and 14% in 2025.

With that growth comes a need for certain kinds of metals, like cobalt and lithium.

But with a still relatively young electric-vehicle industry, what will demand for these metals look like in the near future?

Cobalt and lithium, for example, are on the “front-line” of the “green transport revolution, Home writes. But that means, to an extent, being subject to the whims of an industry in its early stages.

Large price hikes in lithium late last year and early this year have leveled off. Home added there could be further price volatility, as producers, analysts and traders try to construct consensus demand models.

Copper falls to one-week low

Copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) dropped to a one-week low Thursday, on the heels of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to hike interest rates for the second time this year, Reuters reported.

Copper fell to $5,462 per ton, according to the report.

Financial uncertainty in the U.S. and a slowing of the Chinese economy will put selling pressure on metals, according to a Kingdom Futures report quoted by Reuters.

Coal industry mining for … rare earths

Global coal production has declined each of the last three years. With a decline in demand, coal-mining operations have to adapt to a world increasingly powered by green energy.

The solution for some might be mining for coal, not for coal’s energy-producing properties, but for the rare-earth metals found within them, according to an article Thursday in Quartz. Per the article, China currently produces 90% of the world’s rare-earth metals.

It’s an interesting idea, even if author Akshat Rathi writes that his three ideas for extraction of rare-earth metals from coal are currently not economically feasible.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

But, as mentioned in yesterday’s This Morning in Metals post, producers have to adapt with the times. Whether we’re talking about copper producers looking for new markets for their copper or coal-mining operations mining for rare-earth metals found within coal, producers have to adjust or risk being left behind.

The market for biomedical metals — like the ones used in orthopedic implants — is expected to reach $34.9 billion by 2025, according to a recent market research report. Sandor Kacso/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, a recent report predicts the global biomedical metal market will reach $34.9 billion by 2025, palladium continues to stand strong and metal makers are looking for new markets for their products.

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Market for Biomedical Metals to Only Get Bigger

The market for biomedical metals is large — to put a number on it, it is expected to be valued at $34.9 million by 2025, according to a recent report from Accuray Research LLP.

According to the report, the biomedical metal market is expected to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 7.8% over the next decade.

Among the factors underpinning the expected growth are: increased demand for orthopedic implants; new developments in titanium-based alloys; and recent technical developments in biomedical metal.

Palladium Defies Analysts’ Expectations on Strong Run

At around $900 per ounce, palladium is trading at 16-year highs, according to a Platts report.

Analysts told Platts they saw no justification for palladium’s strength, especially considering a struggling Chinese automotive market (palladium is an important autocatalyst ingredient in gas-powered engines).

One Japanese analyst told Platts the current state of the palladium market was a “once every decade” situation.

Is a reversal in palladium prices on the way? Only time will tell.

New Markets for Metals

According to an article Wednesday in Bloomberg, makers of metals are looking for new commercial uses for their products, particularly as a boom in Chinese demand for raw materials has tempered. In general, China’s intent to crack down on credit — particularly on the heels of May’s Moody’s downgrade — has led many to believe a negative impact for metals markets will follow.

To make up for the loss of Chinese demand, producers of metals are looking for new markets for their products.

What uses do producers have in mind?

According to Bloomberg, a few uses include fertilizer, salmon cages, electric-car batteries and household cleaning products, among others.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

Many expect growth to slow in China through the remainder of the year. As such, producers will have to get creative in finding new uses for their products, from cars to fertilizer and everything in between.

Our June MMI Report is in the books, and there’s a lot to unpack.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Out of 10 MMI sub-indexes, four posted no movement from our May MMIs. That wasn’t true for all, though, as the report shows promising signs for construction (compared with last year). Like the Construction MMI, growth in the automotive sector slowed a bit, but still performed better than at the same time last year.

In terms of policy, several things happening around the world will have macroscopic effects on these industries.

Domestically, the Trump administration’s ongoing Section 232 investigation into steel imports will have ripple effects at home and abroad (namely in the Chinese steel market).

In the U.K., the recent shocker of a parliamentary election leaves question marks regarding the way forward — is it going to be a “hard” or “soft” Brexit? Does Theresa May have the political capital to make a hard Brexit happen? It seems unlikely now, but that situation continues to develop. In terms of business and metal markets, whichever iteration of Brexit takes hold will have effects on the ways in which British companies do business with Europe.

In China, many analysts expect growth to slow in the second half of 2017 as the government aims to put the squeeze on credit growth. (Moody’s recently downgraded China’s credit rating for the first time since 1989.)

While several MMI sub-indexes did not go up or down this past month, there was still quite a bit going on in each sector. You can fill yourself in by downloading our June MMI Report, which offers all of the storylines and trends for our 10 MMI sub-indexes, presented in one convenient place.

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This morning in metals news, copper slipped from its two-month high on the London Metal Exchange (LME), Canadian researchers have discovered a way to make metals processing greener and nickel hits its lowest price in a year.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Copper Falls in Anticipation of Federal Reserve Interest Rate Decision

Copper fell from a two-month high on the LME — and dropped 1.1% on the Shanghai Futures Exchange — ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision this week regarding raising the interest rate (which many expect it to do), Reuters reported.

The decision is scheduled to be announced Wednesday afternoon, after the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting.

An uptick in the interest rate is expected to shore up the dollar, making dollar-based commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies and leading to a dip in demand, Reuters reported.

Researchers Announce Environmentally Friendlier Way to Process Metals

A Canadian team of researchers recently announced a new method for processing metals without toxic chemicals or reagents, Science Daily reported.

The team outlined its approach in a recently published article in Science Advances. Through their method, the scientists seek to perfect a process that curbs the negative environmental impacts of processing metals, using easily recyclable compounds instead of toxic materials.

The discovery was the result of a collaboration between Jean-Philip Lumb and Tomislav Friscic at McGill University in Montreal, and Kim Baines of Western University in London, Ont.

As demand for electric vehicles grows and green initiatives become more visible, it’s not surprising to see movement toward making the entire production process going green — for example, from the processing of raw metals all the way to a final product itself (a “green” vehicle).

Nickel Falls to One-Year Low

It isn’t a good time for nickel, which fell to its lowest price in a year Tuesday in a climate of falling Chinese steel prices and a weak forecast for the Chinese economy, Reuters reported.

As the Chinese government tackles credit debts — the nation was recently downgraded by rating agency Moody’s for the first time since 1989 — many expect growth to slow in the second half of the year. That prediction has already been borne out by weak April and May Chinese economic data, according to the article.

Caroline Bain, chief commodities economist at Capital Economics in London, told Reuters that China’s efforts to rein in credit growth and curb excessive behavior on the property market is “bad news” for metals.

Free Download: The May 2017 MMI Report

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