Author Archives: Fouad Egbaria

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This morning in metals news, the LME launched a bid to acquire a piece of the over-the-counter gold market, Chilean miners are set to go on strike and the Liberty House group has purchased two more steel mills from Indian firm Tata.

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LME Launches Gold Contract

The LME’s new LMEprecious spot contract saw more than two tons of gold traded in its first day, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, the suite of gold and silver contracts was formed via a group of backers, including big banks. The contracts launched at 0000 GMT Monday.

By the close of business Monday, approximately $91.3 million in gold had been traded on the LMEprecious spot contract, according to exchange data cited by Reuters.

“LMEprecious has been developed in response to market demand and in close consultation with key precious metals stakeholders,” the LMEprecious page on LME’s website reads. “Offering daily and monthly futures for both gold and silver, LMEprecious delivers greater choice for market participants, modernising the gold and silver markets to better reflect the needs of global players in precious metals markets.”

Strikes Pave Way for Higher Prices

With Chilean miners’ recent vote to go on strike, the price of copper will get a boost upward.

According to Reuters, a buildup of inventories since late June came to a stop and miners voted to strike on Tuesday, both factors which contributed to a rise in the price of copper.

LME copper was up 0.4% to $5,845.50, according to the report. However, an expected slowdown in Chinese economic growth and the strengthening of the U.S. dollar are factors behind why many analysts think the copper price will fall.

“Our forecasts suggest that most prices will fall from here,” Caroline Bain, a Capital Economics analyst, told Reuters.

Tata Deals Hartlepool Steel Mills

The Liberty House group purchased two of Indian company Tata’s steel mills, according to a report in The Telegraph.

According to the report, Liberty House signed a provisional deal to purchase the mills, located in Hartlepool, England, which produce heavy-duty 42-inch and 84-inch steel pipes used in the oil and gas industries.

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According to the report, Tata will retain a third Hartlepool mill, where 270 are employed and make 20-inch tubes.

Last March, Liberty House bought two Scottish steel mills Tata was preparing to shutter.

The Aluminum MMI dropped one point for our July reading, falling back to 87 after May and June saw the sub-index check in at 88.

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The sub-index has been in somewhat of a holding pattern since April, when President Donald Trump’s investigation announced it was opening investigations into steel and aluminum imports, invoking the little-used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

The Commerce Department held a public hearing June 22, during which industry executives offered their opinions on the challenges facing U.S. aluminum and whether protectionist actions should be taken. While primary manufacturers welcomed tariffs or quotas, downstream manufacturers weren’t as keen on the idea.

More recently, the International Trade Commission (ITC)  released its own report on the competitive conditions affecting the U.S. aluminum industry. The report’s executive summary zeroed in on five factors: the global aluminum industry is widely affected by government intervention through policies and programs that principally impact primary aluminum production costs; the chief determinants of competitiveness vary among industry segments; as of 2015, China was the world’s largest aluminum producer and consumer; competitiveness of the U.S. industry varied across segments; and the global aluminum market experienced price declines of roughly 30% during 2011–15 due to oversupply.

U.S. imports rose by 41% during the period from 2011–2016, to nearly 1.7 million metric tons, according to the ITC report. In terms of wrought aluminum imports, in 2016 the U.S. took in the most product from China (531,000 metric tons), with Canada coming in second (452,000 mt).

There was an uptick in optimism from the metals industry after the election of President Donald Trump, given his campaign promises regarding infrastructure building projects. Those campaign promises have yet to gain traction, and that initial excitement has leveled out — in short, many are in wait-and-see mode.

Per Section 232, the Commerce Secretary has 270 days to present the president with a report and recommendations. Many expect those investigation results to be announced sometime this month, although no official word has been given.

In an emailed statement Friday, Heidi Brock, president and CEO of The Aluminum Association, wrote: “Regarding the Section 232 investigation on aluminum imports and national security, we continue to engage the Administration and Capitol Hill to promote our three principles of 1) focus on the problem of Chinese subsidized aluminum overcapacity, 2) exempt Canadian imports and other foreign producers such as the European Union who trade fairly and have not contributed to rising global overcapacity, and 3) consider the effects of overcapacity on both primary and downstream producers.”

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This morning in metals news, European steel association Eurofer predicted increased steel demand in its Monday forecast, but also sounded a cautionary note regarding the U.S. potentially imposing steel tariffs (as a product of the Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigation); Norwegian metals company Norsk Hydro inks a $3.2 billion deal to buy a 50% stake in aluminum products maker Sapa; and LME copper stabilized Monday after U.S. jobs report news.

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Demand To Go Up … But Eurofer Wary of Section 232 Tariffs

Eurofer, the European steel association, offered a mix bag of news in its Monday steel forecast.

On the one hand, it predicted an uptick in demand for steel, according to Reuters. According to the report, the forecast predicts a 1.9% rise in apparent EU steel demand, to 159 million tons, up from a previously forecasted 1.3%.

On the other hand, Eurofer sounded a warning note regarding the potential for “market distortions,” including tariffs, like the ones the U.S. Commerce Department may impose on steel and aluminum imports at the conclusion of its Section 232 investigations.

“In particular, measures potentially stemming from the U.S. section 232 investigation may lead to a proliferation of disastrous global trade flow distortions,” Eurofer director general Axel Eggert said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Norsk Hydro Buys Aluminum Products Maker Sapa

Norwegian metals firm Norsk Hydro, in a deal worth $3.2 billion, bought a 50% stake in aluminum products maker Sapa, Reuters reported Monday.

Norsk Hydro’s acquisition allows it to spread its business across the value chain — the Norwegian firm makes primary aluminum from scratch, while Sapa presses, cuts and shapes it, according to the report.

Sapa, which has 22,400 employees and in 2016 recorded sales of 53 billion crowns ($6.84 billion), has been jointly owned by Orkla and Hydro since 2013, according to Reuters.

LME Copper Steadies

Copper prices stabilized Monday after news of a solid U.S. jobs report inspired optimism in a U.S. economic recovery, Reuters reported Monday.

This follows June’s news of expansion in Chinese manufacturing, which also buoyed prices by virtue of increased demand for the metal.

Since late June, copper prices have been consolidating in the range of $5,800-$5,965, according to the report.

For more on copper, come back to check out Irene Martinez Canorea’s Copper MMI piece this afternoon, which will survey the month that was and market trends for the metal.

The Construction MMI showed no movement for our July reading, checking in at 81, the same mark as last month’s reading.

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According to U.S. Census Bureau data released July 3 — which includes the most recently available construction spending data for the month of May — spending just about held flat from April to May. U.S. construction spending in April amounted to $1,230.4 billion and fell slightly to $1,230.1 billion in May.

The spending picture is more robust when considering the year to date. During the first five months of 2017, total construction spending amounted to $469.2 billion, 6.1 percent more than the $442.4 billion for the same period in 2016.

Total private construction ($943.2 billion) was down 0.6% from the previous month but up 6.2% compared with May 2016. Public construction, meanwhile, amounted to $286.9 billion, up 2.1% from the April total but down 0.6% from May 2016.

While the year-to-date numbers are encouraging, a pair of issues are causes for concern among those in the construction industry.

Despite Static Picture, Things to Build With

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), put out by the American Institute of Architects, noted that billings for U.S. architecture firms increased for the fourth straight month in May.

The ABI report was mostly positive, but included concerns regarding labor shortages and rising prices of building materials. According to the report: “The US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that prices for construction materials like steel, copper, aluminum, and asphalt have risen at a double-digit percentage pace over the past year. Cement, lumber, and gypsum have risen at a high single-digit pace over this period.”

As the specter of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports continues to loom, construction outfits might have to deal with further price increases if tariffs are slapped onto imports.

By region, the South notched the strongest month. With a score of 50 as a midpoint (meaning no decrease or increase), the South region of the U.S. came in strongest in the most recent ABI, with a score of 56.1. The West (52.3), Midwest (50.4) and Northeast (46.5) followed.

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After sustaining a one-point drop last month, the Automotive MMI regained lost ground during the one-month period ending July 1. The Automotive MMI — our sub-index of industrial metals and materials used by the automotive sector — increased by one point, from 86 to 87, via a 1.1% boost.

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Although the increase was small, the one-point jump is an encouraging sign, as it marked the first increase for the sub-index since early this year, when it jumped from 82 to the February reading of 92. After that 92 mark, the sub-index posted four straight months of decreases.

Overall, U.S. auto sales continue to drop after a record 2016. Auto sales to the midway point of the year were down 2.1% compared with the same point last year, according to Autodata Corp data released earlier this week. Standard passenger cars took a nosedive in the year to date, with an 11.4% drop in sales (from 3.64 million units to 3.22 million).

However, the news isn’t all bad. Consumers have taken a liking to trucks this year — trucks have seen a 4.6% increase in sales in the year to date (compared to the same point last year).

In the year to date, General Motors (GM) sales fell 1.8% (but leads the way with nearly 1.44 million units sold in the calendar year to date), Ford‘s fell by 3.8% and Fiat Chrysler fell by 6.7%.

On the positive end, Nissan sales were up 2.7%, Volkswagen sales were up 7.6% and Mitsubishi sales were up 5.1%. As for Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, sales were up 42.7% after a jump from 16,500 units sold to 23,550 units sold in 2017 to date.

Meanwhile, growth in Chinese auto sales is slowing, partially due to lower tax breaks for compact cars, according to the Nikkei Asian review.

GM, however, reported a strong June, according to a Reuters report Wednesday. After two consecutive months of sales drops, GM reported a 4.3% sales increase in June compared with June 2016, according to the report. However, GM’s year-to-date sales are down 2.5%.

Total vehicle sales from January-May are up 3.7%, according to Reuters, lower than the anticipated 5% growth predicted by the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The Political Backdrop: Section 232

The Trump administration was expected to announced the result of its Section 232 investigation of steel imports late last week. That announcement never came, but many in the U.S. steel industry expect the administration to introduce tariffs or quotas in an attempt to strike at Chinese excess capacity.

Those policies would lead to domestic steel producers to raise prices, which would, of course, have an effect on automobile prices.

President Trump is headed to Germany this week for a Group of 20 (G20) summit, where Section 232 is likely to come up.

Whatever the administration ultimately decides, the steel and aluminum industries — and by proxy, the automotive industry — are watching closely.

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This morning in metals news, LME copper bounced back Thursday after a down Wednesday, Saudi steel producers are happy about a cut in export tariffs and Volvo made a major announcement regarding the future of its vehicle inventory.

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Copper Rebounds Slightly After Hitting One-Week Low

After a Wednesday that saw a 0.9% drop for LME copper, the metal bounced back Thursday, ticking up by 0.1%, Reuters reported.

The metal moved up from its one-week low, which on Wednesday stood at $5,815 per ton.

In the backdrop was the recent release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s June meeting, revealing “policymakers were increasingly split on the outlook for inflation and how it might affect the future pace of interest rate rises,” according to Reuters.

Saudi Steel Gets Tariff Cut Relief

Steel producers in Saudi Arabia received good news this week as the government announced it would stop export duties on steel for two years, according to Reuters.

According to the report, the government also cut cement export duties by 50%.

While Saudi stocks overall were down early Thursday, stocks in the building materials sector showed well, including Al Yamaha Steel Industries, which surged by 2.1%, according to Reuters.

Volvo Looks to Go All-In on Green Rides

The traditional combustion engine took a hit this week when automaker Volvo announced it would build only electric or hybrid vehicles beginning in 2019, The New York Times reported.

While the “green” vehicle market is still relatively small, it is growing. As Autodata Corp numbers released this week show, sales of Tesla vehicles, for example, have surged. In the year to date, Tesla sold 23,550 vehicles, good for a 42.7% increase in sales from the same point last year.

Of course, those sales figures are tiny when compared with traditional automakers, like GM and Ford, which sold 1.41 million and 1.29 million units, respectively, in the calendar year to date. Sales for those giant automotive brands, however, are down (albeit down from a big 2016 in sales for automakers).

Clearly, battery-powered and hybrid vehicles are picking up steam. What does this green wave mean for metals? The boom presages increased demand for metals like cobalt, for example. Also, according to Seeking Alpha, the coming electric vehicle revolution bears bad news for platinum group metals (PGMs), like platinum and palladium.

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This afternoon in metals news, gold inches upward, partially stemming from concerns on the heels of a North Korean missile test; Germany, among others, waits to hear what the U.S. has to say about steel; and, in anticipation of protectionist policies from the Trump administration, U.S. Steel rose by 8% in June.

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Gold Up on N. Korea Concerns

After North Korea’s recent test strike of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the price of gold ticked upward, a common reaction for the safe-haven metal.

“Safe-haven buying re-emerged in the gold market after the latest missile test in North Korea,” ANZ Research said in a note to Reuters.

Also looming over the gold price are the minutes of June’s Fed meeting, which many awaiting for news about the Fed’s plans for further interest rate hikes this year, Reuters reported.

Germany Anticipates Trump Administration’s Words on Steel

While China is the central focus of the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations of steel and aluminum imports, other nations are interested in the investigations’ results.

Germany is among those nations, as a top exporter of steel to the U.S. The Germans are waiting to hear from President Donald Trump during the G20 summit, which begins on Friday in Hamburg, Germany.

When asked during a news conference Wednesday whether steel would be an issue discussed during the G20 summit, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, “That will become apparent. It also remains to be seen what the American president brings (to the meeting).”

U.S. Steel Up Big

Many expect the Trump administration to announce new tariffs or quotas, a result of the 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports launched in April.

While the policy recommendations of those probes haven’t been announced, some U.S. businesses are feeling pretty good about what those protectionist policies might do for them. For example, U.S. Steel went up 8% in June.

But what happens next? A self-imposted Department of Commerce deadline came and went this past Friday with no announcement of the steel investigation’s conclusion. According to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, the Secretary of Commerce has 270 days to prepare a submit a report to the president.

As such, the Trump administration still has plenty of time to think about the subject of steel imports. With that said, any momentum felt by the domestic steel industry as a result of talk of impending protectionist policies could begin to deflate the longer the process drags out. Many are looking to Trump’s participation at the Group of 20 summit later this week for more specific answers regarding the president’s thoughts on steel overcapacity.

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It’s hard to believe that 2017 is already more than halfway in the books. As we celebrate the Fourth of July, let’s take a brief look back at the top five most-viewed stories here at MetalMiner from January through June.

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Top 5 Stories of the First Half of 2017

  1. 3 Reasons Why Steel Prices Will Rise Well Into 2017. This piece was a hit with readers, raking in the most page views of any story through the first six months of this year. With the steel industry awaiting the Trump administration’s Section 232 verdict, prices are in a bit of a holding pattern (for now).

  2. The Land Rover Defender Will Rise From the Ashes… With an Aluminum Frame. Stuart Burns’ piece on the Land Rover Defender revved up interested with readers.

  3. Military Grade Aluminum? The Ford F-150 Debate Continues. What exactly does the term “military-grade” mean in the context of automobiles? This post from the tail end of 2016 continued to draw reader interest well into 2017.

  4. 2017 Steel Market Outlook: Strong Demand for Flat Products Expected. Everybody wants to know: What’s the deal with steel? After Donald Trump’s presidential election, many in the steel industry expected a boost accompanying a proposed uptick in infrastructure projects. Of course, much has happened since this post went live in early January — namely, the Trump administration’s announcement of an investigation into steel imports, using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

  5. 3 Reasons Why Aluminum Prices Will Rise in 2017. While steel has been the subject of much of the metal industry’s focus this year, aluminum is also being investigated under Section 232.  This post from January predicting a rise in aluminum prices was a popular one with readers.

    Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

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This morning in metals news, gold isn’t so golden, U.S. sheet steel prices held steady as the Department of Commerce’s self-imposed Section 232 announcement deadline came and went, and mining operations in Chile could open back up, as the price of the metal has rebounded.

Steady as Steel

Friday, June 30, was the deadline set by the Department of Commerce for the announcement of its Section 232 investigation regarding steel imports.

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That self-imposed deadline came and went without an announcement from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Sheet steel prices held steady Friday, Platts reported, and price changes aren’t expected until the 232 investigation results are announced.

The steel industry has been waiting for the Trump administration’s policy decisions on the subject of steel imports. Apparently, the industry will have to wait a little while longer.

Gold Hits Seven-Week Low

Gold fell to its lowest spot price in seven weeks, Bloomberg reported.

Rises in the U.S. dollar and European stock markets led to decreased demand for so-called safe-haven metals (like gold), the outlet reported.

According to the article, June and July are typically “middling” months for the precious metal.

Chilean Copper Mines Could be Opening Back Up

With copper prices on the rise, mines in Chile may be ready to open back up, Reuters reported.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

Mines in Chile, a major copper producer, closed in recent years as a result of slumping prices. According to Reuters, copper prices have risen 7% in 2017.

The mines reopening is far from a sure thing, however. According to Reuters, some investment decisions will wait until after Chile’s presidential election in November.

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a brief look back at some of the news from the world of metals this week:

China’s Falling Steel Exports?

Earlier this week, our Stuart Burns wrote about the phenomenon of dropping Chinese steel exports:

“As we noted in a piece yesterday reviewing the 232 probe, China’s share of the U.S. import market for steel products has been falling for the last couple of years, mainly due to successful anti-dumping cases,” Burns writes. “China no longer appears even in the top 10.

So, what exactly is going on in China with respect to steel production and demand? Can we take it that Beijing’s actions to tackle excess steel production have finally resolved China’s deflationary impact on global steel markets?”

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In case you missed it on Monday, definitely give the story a read, especially as the Department of Commerce’s Section 232 steel investigation results will be announced any day now.

Indian Coal Faces Green Wave

Also earlier this week, our Sohrab Darabshaw wrote about coal mine closures in India, partially a result of the growth of the renewable energy sector:

“One estimate by the Energy and Resources Institute predicts if the cost of renewable energy and storage continue to fall, India may phase out coal power completely by 2050. Both solar and wind energy prices have been steadily decreasing over the last three years.

“In 2016-17, India added over 14,000 megawatts of new renewable energy power compared to almost 7,000 megawatts of new coal power capacity.”

Even so, the dependence on old energy sources won’t disappear immediately. Yesterday, Indian Steel Minister Choudhary Birender Singh announced India will ramp up its steel production significantly. That uptick in production will need energy, and Singh indicated Coal India Ltd. will be asked to provide the coal needed to back the steel-production operations.

In general, however, the interplay between older, dirtier sources of energy and clean, renewable energy sources is happening all over the world.

China-U.S. Back and Forth

Tensions have been building between the U.S. and China, as Reuters reported President Donald Trump was growing frustrated with China over its inability to rein in North Korea, while China expressed concern this week about the results of the Section 232 aluminum investigation.

The Department of Commerce investigations into steel and aluminum imports were announced in April.

Adding to the tension is China’s disapproval of a planned $1.42 billion arms sale by the U.S. to Taiwan, which the Chinese embassy denounced in a statement, Reuters reported Friday.

With many expecting tariffs or quotas (or a combination of the two) to be slapped on steel and aluminum imports (as an outcome of the 232 investigation), there’s no doubt the tension between the U.S. and China will only increase.

What’s Next For U.S.-India Ties?

President Donald Trump met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week in Washington D.C. Our Stuart Burns wrote about Modi’s visit and what could be in store for the U.S.-India relationship throughout the Trump administration.

During a joint press statement this week, Trump stressed India’s status as the world’s largest democracy and touted himself as a friend to India.

However, he also touched on thornier issues, like trade barriers.

“I look forward to working with you Mr. Prime Minister to create jobs in our countries, to grow our economies, to create a trading relationship that is fair and reciprocal. It is important that barriers be removed to the export of U.S. goods into your markets and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country.”

After the Tragedy

The Grenfell Tower fire earlier this month could have been prevented if safe building materials had been used. Burns wrote about that and more in his piece on the tragedy.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report