Author Archives: Fouad Egbaria

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The World Steel Association released its October 2017 Short Range Outlook (SRO) — its assessment of the global steel market — on Monday.

For the most part, the latest SRO relates good news for the global market.

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“In 2018, we expect global growth to moderate, mainly due to slower growth in China, while in the rest of the world, steel demand will continue to maintain its current momentum,” said T.V. Narendran, chairman of the World Steel Association’s Economics Committee, in the report.

According to the SRO, global steel demand will reach 1,622.1 million tons (Mt) in 2017 and 1,648.1 Mt in 2018. Excluding China, demand is expected to grow 2.6% this year and 3.0% next year.

Dr. Nae Hee Han, the World Steel Association’s director of economic studies and statistics, wrote on Monday that while the numbers in the SRO are mostly positive, there are a few caveats.

First, she wrote, the growth of emerging economies did not meet previous SRO estimates set in April.

“A number of emerging economies did not perform as well as expected in 2017 due to short term disruptions caused by ongoing reform initiatives or political factors,” Nee Han wrote.

On the other hand, developed economies — the European Union, Japan and the United States — performed better than expected. But Nee Han explains that emerging economies will experience greater growth in 2018, partially as a result of reform initiatives, including the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system in India, energy and tax reform in Mexico, exchange rate reforms in Argentina and Egypt, and fiscal reforms in GCC countries.

As for the sustainability of the current growth trend, Nee Han writes that it might not be a long-term thing.

“Secondly, the worldsteel Economics Committee at its most recent meeting in Amsterdam a month ago was in agreement that the current momentum is driven mostly by cyclical rather than structural factors,” she wrote. “We do not find the improved growth figures to be sustainable in the long term: China’s continued deceleration, megatrends such as aging populations, a shift to a circular economy and increasingly stringent environmental regulations continue to weigh against steel demand.”

Another optimism-mitigating factor listed by Nee Han is the statistical anomaly that is China’s 2017.

“In 2017 China closed most of its illegal induction furnace capacity, which up until now had not been included in official statistics,” Nee Han explains. “With this closure, the demand satisfied from these producers is now being met by the official sector. This shift of demand explains the forecasted jump in the Chinese growth rate in 2017 – the technical effect of the underestimated 2016 base.”

Around the World

Demand for finished steel is variable around the world, but, for the most part, is forecasted to increase this year and next in most regions.

In the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) bloc, there is an expected 4.9% year-over-year increase in demand (or 138.7 Mt) and 1.2% increase in 2018 (140.4 Mt).

Meanwhile, the report forecasts a 2.5% jump this year in the EU (162.1 Mt) and 1.4% increase next year (164.3 Mt).

In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) bloc, which includes Russia, there is an expected 3.6% increase in 2017 (51.1 Mt) and 3.8% next year (53.0 Mt).

In the Asia and Oceania region, there is an expected 9.3% growth in 2017 (1,098.8 Mt) and 1.1% in 2018 (1,111.1 Mt).

In Africa, there is an expected 1.6% drop in demand this year (37.0 Mt) and a 3.3% jump next year (38.2 Mt).

In Central and South America, the report forecasts a 2.5% jump this year (40.4 Mt) and 4.7% jump next year (42.3 Mt).

Construction and Automotive Sectors

What about industry sectors, like construction and automotive?

According to the SRO, construction growth in developed countries, which has been relatively slow since the 2008 economic recession, is “now showing more positive signs both in the residential and commercial sectors due to rising incomes and improving investment sentiments.”

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

As for the automotive sector, the report states that despite a strong 2017 overall, growth could moderate in the U.S. and China, a trend that is “likely to extend to other countries in 2018.”

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This morning in metals news, Kobe Steel’s share price continues to plummet in the wake of its data falsification scandal, London copper hits a three-year high and palladium is having a strong 2017.

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Kobe Steel Shares Hit Lowest Price Since 2012

Kobe Steel, Japan’s third-largest steelmaker, continues to see its share price drop on the heels of its data falsification scandal.

The fallout from the scandal has already seen Kobe lose approximately $1.8 billion in market value, Reuters reported.

On Friday, Hiroya Kawasaki, Kobe’s chief executive, said about 500 companies received falsely certified products from Kobe, which was more than double a previously released number, according to the Reuters report.

LME Copper on the Rise

London copper is on the way up again, this time rising to hit a three-year high, Reuters reported.

The metal eclipsed the $7,000 mark, powered in part by good news on the Chinese economy, according to the report.

Palladium Powered by Automotive Demand

Recently, the palladium price recently eclipsed that of platinum for the first time in 16 years.

It’s been that kind of year for palladium.

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

According to a CNNMoney report, 78% of palladium demand this year came from the automotive market.

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Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are back at it again, working to tweak — or in some cases, totally alter — the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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Representatives from the three countries came together beginning last week for the fourth round of talks focused on the renegotiation of NAFTA, the 23-year-old trilateral trade deal.

The talks started Oct. 11 in Arlington, Va., and are scheduled to continue until Oct. 17.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued a statement opening the fourth round of talks.

The officials are scheduled to work on two dozen discussion topics during this round of talks, and recently finished a chapter on competition. According to a USTR release, the updated NAFTA Competition Chapter “goes beyond anything the United States has done in previous free trade agreements.”

“I am pleased to welcome back Secretary Guajardo, Minister Freeland, and their teams to continue negotiations here in Washington,” Lighthizer said in the prepared statement. “Thus far, we have made good progress, and I look forward to several days of hard work.”

Even so, cracks seem to be forming in the dialogue that threaten the stability of the talks and, consequently, the agreement.

As has been mentioned before, President Donald Trump reportedly nearly withdrew the U.S. from the trade deal in April until talks with the Mexican and Canadian leaders convinced him otherwise.

In recent months, Trump has resumed with threats against the deal, which he once called possibly the worst trade deal ever. Renegotiating the deal has always been a primary goal for Trump, with the understanding that should a favorable deal fail to materialize, he would withdraw the U.S. from it.

So far, the threats to withdraw from the deal have been just that: threats.

However, those threats have seemed to pick up as negotiations have continued. And when it come to negotiations, reports indicate a number of the U.S. delegation’s proposals are not going to go over well with their fellow NAFTA partners.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the U.S. negotiating team suggested any approved deal should include a five-year sunset clause, meaning the deal would have to be effectively re-approved by all three countries in five years or it dissolves.

Naturally, this has a number of stakeholders feeling nervous, as such a sunset clause, businesses argue, creates uncertainty. With increasingly interconnected and entrenched supply chains, business interests view a sunset clause as a non-starter, as do Canada and Mexico.

In other policy proposals, Reuters reported Friday that the U.S. is pushing stricter rules on automotive content, particularly with respect to aluminum, steel, copper and plastic resins, in an effort to up the level of automotive materials sourced in North America.

As the talks continue, United Steelworkers again urged the administration to consider workers.

“It’s no surprise that business groups are concerned that NAFTA’s outsourcing provisions may be dramatically altered, and that provisions might be included to develop an agreement that is fairer to workers,” a USW release last week said. “Organized labor is working with the Administration to advance proposals that will promote growth and opportunity for workers in all three countries. A deal that achieves those goals would be worthy of our support.

“Businesses have set the agenda for far too long and the result has been rising trade deficits, lost jobs, devastated communities and rising income inequality.”

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The talks are scheduled to wrap up tomorrow, Oct. 17. According to the USTR, a trilateral press event including Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal.

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was. 

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  • In case you missed it, our October MMI report is out. Make sure to check out the free PDF download for the rundown on the last month for our 10 MMI sub-indexes: Automotive, Construction, Aluminum, Copper, Renewables, Rare Earths, Raw Steels, Stainless Steels, GOES and Global Precious.
  • Also, our Annual Outlook is out, too. Check it out for a comprehensive look ahead to 2018.
  • Coal India Ltd. is looking to diversify beyond coal, Sohrab Darabshaw wrote earlier this week.
  • Aluminum officials are in “wait-and-see mode” when it comes to the ongoing Section 232 probe vis-a-vis aluminum imports. The investigations into the national security impact of aluminum and steel imports were launched in April and have a January statutory deadline; at that point, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross must present President Donald Trump with a report and recommendations.
  • Glencore bet big on zinc — and won, our Stuart Burns writes.
  • Although oil prices are well below 2014 numbers, supply cuts in some cases have seen the price start to climb. Are more cuts on the way, further constraining global supply and driving up prices? Burns wrote about the subject and what OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo called a “rebalancing process.”
  • In big news, Kobe Steel is in hot water for a data falsification scandal, one which threatens the firm’s credibility among consumers and manufacturers. The scandal has already had major financial ramifications, as the company’s share price has been in free fall since the news hit.

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This morning in metals news, NAFTA renegotiation talks continued with the U.S. aiming to tighten automotive content rules in favor of North American-made metals, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) commented on its Q3 earnings and Alcoa reached an early termination agreement for a power contract tied to one of its Texas smelters.

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U.S. Looks for Stricter Auto Content Rules

Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are in Arlington, Va., until Oct. 17, engaged in a fourth round of talks focused on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

According to a Reuters report this morning, the U.S. is seeking stricter rules for automotive content, demanding a higher percentage of the materials — including aluminum and steel — that go into automotive manufacturing should come from North America.

According to the report, the proposal — which includes aluminum, steel, copper and plastic resins — would place those materials on the auto parts tracing list for the first time in the history of the 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement.

ATI Expects Q3 Results to Meet July Outlook

ATI commented on third quarter financial results on Thursday, and announced a non-cash net of tax charge of $114 million, or $(1.05) per share, for goodwill impairment related to the Cast Products business.

“Excluding the goodwill impairment charge, we expect our third quarter 2017 results to be in line with our outlook provided in July,” said Rich Harshman, ATI’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a company release.

Alcoa Announces End of Power Contract Agreement

On Friday morning, Alcoa announced power provider Luminant Generation Company LLC has terminated the electricity contract tied to Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations in Texas.

The smelter at Rockdale has been fully curtailed since the end of 2008, according to the Alcoa release. The termination of the contract was effective Oct. 1.

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

Alcoa expects an annual improvement to net income and adjusted EBITDA of $60 million to $70 million as a result of the contract termination, beginning in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Life is full of ups and downs.

So, too, is the world of metals.

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Last month, all 10 of our MMIs saw upward movement. This month? Not so much.

Eight of 10 MMIs tracked back this month, albeit several of them fell by small amounts. The GOES MMI, meanwhile, picked up a point, while the Aluminum MMI posted no movement.

If you’ll remember, copper and aluminum had big months in August, as we detailed in last month’s MMI report. After a cooling period last month, though, so far in October copper has tracked back upward — so maybe it was just a September slump for the good Dr. Copper.

“However, market watchers can see a new rally taking place within the base metals industry,” wrote our Irene Martinez Canorea in her Copper MMI report. “Copper prices — along with lead and tin — increased sharply on heavy trading volumes. Buying organizations can expect upward movements within the bullish market.”

Meanwhile, as for aluminum, the flat month is actually an encouraging sign for the metal’s strength.

“Aluminum traded sideways in September,” Martinez Canorea wrote. “This trading pattern suggests resilience, as aluminum prices digest price gains and become strong again to continue the uptrend. Trading volumes continue to support the current rally, driving aluminum prices to a five-year-high in September.”

The aforementioned represents a small snippet of the analysis available in this month’s report.

You can read about all of the aforementioned — and much more — by downloading the October MMI report below.

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This morning in metals news, the world’s top copper producer expects a moderate rise in the metal’s price going forward, the Aluminum Association announces new leadership and Kobe Steel continues to reel from its data falsification scandal.

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Copper on the Rise

The price of copper is set to experience moderate increases, according to the mining minister of Chile, Reuters reported.

Aurora Williams, the mining minister of Chile (the world’s top copper producer), said Wednesday that there will be moderate increases in the metal’s price, but not enough to push it above $3/pound for the year.

According to the Reuters report, copper exports reached $3.18 billion in September, their highest level in nearly three years.

Changing of the Guard

The Aluminum Association announced new leadership on Wednesday.

Michelle O’Neill, senior vice president of senior vice president of global government affairs and sustainability at Alcoa, was elected as Aluminum Association Chair, becoming the first woman in the association’s 84-year history to hold the position. She replaced Garney Scott, president and CEO of Scepter, Inc., following a two-year term.

Kobe Steel Data Scandal Continues

It’s difficult to quantify lost trust, but it’s a problem Kobe Steel, Japan’s third-biggest steelmaker, is dealing with now on the heels of a data falsification scandal.

Now, the chief executive of the company is admitting the scandal is a serious hit on the company’s image, one that leaves it with “zero credibility,” The Guardian reported.

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According to The Guardian’s report, General Motors is the latest manufacturer to check whether its cars contain falsely certified parts or components sourced from Kobe Steel.

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Aluminum industry officials restated a long-held stance that in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigation into aluminum imports, China should be the primary focus of any trade action.

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During a roundtable conference Wednesday, Oct. 4, in Washington D.C., Michelle O’Neill, Alcoa’s senior vice president for global government affairs and sustainability (and newly elected chairwoman of the Aluminum Association); Ganesh Paneer, vice president and general manager of Automotive North America for Novelis; and Garney B. Scott, president and CEO of Scepter, answered questions about the state of the aluminum industry and outstanding trade legislation in the Department of Commerce.

O’Neill said the Aluminum Association will soon release a new statistical review of the aluminum market through 2016.

Citing shipment figures, O’Neill said overall demand is high, with shipments of aluminum from the U.S. and Canada up 40% from the trough of the recession in 2009 and “within striking distance “of record shipment numbers in 2005-2006. In that same vein, Paneer noted aluminum’s growing market share in the automotive market as another indicator of the versatile metal’s strength.

Despite these figures, however, the officials reiterated concerns about leveling the global trade playing field.

Scott, O’Neill’s predecessor as chairman of the Aluminum Association, said one of the Association’s biggest efforts is ensuring U.S. aluminum producers, recyclers and fabricators get to operate in a “predictable regulatory environment” and in a “rules-based global trading system internationally.”

In that vein, Scott referred to the levels of aluminum coming into the U.S.

“We continue to have a serious issue with the aluminum supply coming into the U.S.,” he said. “Last year saw record levels of imported aluminum into North America and more specifically the United States. The 13.1 billion pounds of imports accounted for more than half of U.S. supply.”

Scott further zeroed in on the problem, noting that while imports in general aren’t always a negative, the volume of imports from China continues to be a problem for the U.S. aluminum industry.

“While this industry has many responsible trading partners and does not view all imports as a problem, we do take issue when we see imports surg2ing from a country like China that operates outside the bounds of our global system of rules-based trade,” Scott said.

Imports from China have increased 200% since 2012, Scott said, and in the year to date are up 30%.

“These imports are a direct result of metal overcapacity,” he said.

He added that a negotiated agreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments is needed.

Recently, the Commerce Department opted to defer the issuance of a preliminary antidumping duty determination in its investigation of aluminum foil from China. Underpinning the deferral was a desire to incorporate information regarding the ongoing study of China’s non-market economy status. According to a Commerce Department release, rulings on China’s status and on aluminum foil will come no later than Nov. 30.

As for Section 232 — the administration’s investigation into the national security implications of aluminum (and steel) imports — there hasn’t been much chatter since the early summer, when an announcement appeared to be coming, but the administration’s self-imposed June deadline came and went.

“We’re in wait-and-see mode,” Scott said regarding the Section 232 investigation.

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According to the law, once a Section 232 investigation is launched, the secretary of commerce has 270 days to present findings and recommendations to the president, which makes for January deadlines for both the pending aluminum and steel investigations.

As for the ongoing talks geared toward renegotiating the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Scott emphasized the industry’s trade ties with Mexico and Canada, adding that the industry isn’t looking for a “significant amount of changes” with respect to NAFTA.

Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico recently met in Ottawa in late September for a third round of negotiations focusing on NAFTA.

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This morning in metals news, steel production through Oct. 7 is up for the year, the Kobe Steel scandal continues and India’s steel capacity could more than double by 2030.

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U.S. Steel Production Outpaces 2016 Levels

According to data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), U.S. steel production through Oct. 7, amounting to 69,545,000 net tons, is up 3.7% compared with the same time frame last year.

Production in the week ending Oct. 7 amounted to 1,741,000 net tons, up 5.2% from the same period in 2016 and up 2.1% from the week ending Sept. 30.

Kobe Steel in Hot Water

Kobe Steel’s troubles could be extending beyond aluminum and copper.

The data falsification scandal is now touching iron powder products, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

Earlier this week, Kobe Steel admitted it altered inspection certificates to falsely show that certain aluminum and copper components had satisfied client specifications for strength, the Review reported.

India Steel Capacity Rising

According to the Economic Times, India’s steel capacity will more than double by the end of 2030.

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Steel Secretary Aruna Sharma said capacity, currently at 126 million tons, is expected to hit 150 million tons by 2021 and 300 million tons by 2030.

This morning in metals news, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will take steps to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, copper hit a four-week high and two Russian tycoons are selling a 3% stake in aluminum giant Rusal.

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Obama Initiative to Curb Emissions to be Rolled Back: EPA

The EPA announced Monday that it would begin to take steps to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which sought to bring down emissions from power plants, The New York Times reported.

While constituting a loss for the environment, the measure marks a win for industry. (For a review of the costs associated with the plan, our Taras Berezowsky delved into the issue in this 2015 post.)

Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, made the announcement in Kentucky yesterday.

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said, as quoted by The New York Times. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Ky.”

The repeal proposal will be filed with the Federal Register today. The EPA announced its launch of a review of the plan on April 4.

Copper Bounces Back

After a cooling down in September, copper has hit a four-week high, Reuters reported.

The uptick comes as a function of expected supply shortages in China, according to the report.

Rusal Stake to Be Sold Off

Russian tycoons Mikhail Prokhorov (who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets) and Viktor Vekselberg are selling a 3% stake in aluminum giant Rusal, Reuters reported.

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The value of the 3% stake is worth $341 million based on Rusal’s closing price Tuesday, Reuters reported.

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