Author Archives: Irene Martinez Canorea

The April Aluminum MMI (Monthly Metals Index) fell three points. A weaker LME aluminum price led to the price retracement. The current Aluminum MMI index stands at 94 points, 3% lower than in March.

LME aluminum price momentum slowed again this month. LME aluminum prices remain in a current two-month downtrend.

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Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Though some may want to declare a bearish market for aluminum, prices are still over the $1,975 level, when MetalMiner recommended buying organizations buy forward. Prices may retrace back toward that level. However, if prices fall below the blue-dotted line, aluminum prices could shift toward bearish territory.

SHFE Aluminum

SHFE aluminum spot prices also fell this month. The degree of the decline appears less sharp than for LME prices. However, SHFE aluminum spot prices started to fall in October 2017.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) aluminum stocks fell in March for the first time in more than nine months. Decreasing stocks sometimes point to falling inventories of aluminum in China, the world’s biggest aluminum producer and consumer. SHFE stocks dropped by 154 tons in March, according to exchange data released at the beginning of April. However, SHFE aluminum stocks still stand at 970,233 tons. 

MW Aluminum Premiums

Meanwhile, U.S. Midwest aluminum premiums fell for the first time since November 2017. The $0.01/pound drop at the beginning of April comes after a sharp uptrend in the premium. Despite the lower premium this month, the pace of the increases may continue for some time.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

LME aluminum price retracement may give buying organizations a good opportunity to buy, as prices may increase again.

However, as prices are currently trading lower, buying organizations may want to wait until the market shows a clearer direction. Therefore, adapting the “right” buying strategy becomes crucial to reducing risks.

Given the ongoing uncertainty around aluminum and aluminum products, buying organizations may want to take a free trial now to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

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The Copper MMI (Monthly Metals Index) traded lower again this month, falling two points to 85. The Copper MMI dropped to December 2017 levels, driven by falling LME copper prices.

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When looking at the long-term trend, copper prices have held above the dotted blue line since September 2016. Although prices dipped a bit below the blue dotted line at the end of March, the line represents the current copper floor. Prices falling below the dotted line could suggest a short-term price correction.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Meanwhile, trading volume appears to be about the same as last month, when selling volume appeared weak. As the selling volume remains weak, the downtrend seems more like a short-term price correction than a change of trend.

Buying organizations may want to closely follow copper prices in the coming month or read our Monthly Metal Outlook in order to anticipate copper price movements.

Copper Stocks and Supply

LME copper stocks currently stand at 324,900 tons, up by 13,075 tons since the start of 2017 and 85,500 tons since the start of 2016.

According to the International Copper Study Group (ICSG), the provisional 2017 refined copper deficit was 163,000 tons. The situation for 2018 will also depend on the supply side, as many of the largest copper mines have upcoming labor contract negotiations still pending.

On top of that, the Caserones copper mine in Chile announced a shutdown this month in order to replace a leaking pipe. However, this shutdown is only partial and may not have a big effect on copper production. 

Copper Scrap

Both Chinese copper scrap prices and LME copper prices typically trade together. In March, Chinese copper scrap prices fell to $6,035/mt. LME prices also fell but remain in a long-term uptrend. The same is true for copper scrap.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The spread between Chinese scrap copper prices and LME copper seems to be wider than it was back in 2016 and 2017. A wider spread may boost scrap copper demand for the applications that it are suitable due to its lower price.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Copper prices are currently approaching December support (at $6,530/mt) levels, when prices last dipped during the bullish rally.

Buying organizations bought some volume then. As long as copper prices remain bullish, buying organizations may want to buy on the dips. For those who want to understand how to reduce risks, take a free trial now to the MetalMiner Monthly Outlook.

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Pavel Ignatov/Adobe Stock

Section 232 aside, given the market turbulence this month MetalMiner took a look back at commodities and other base metals to reassess trends.

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Commodities have traded lower in March, slowing down from their previous pace.

Crude oil prices (one of the most important price indicators in the commodities basket) increased this month, which may still lead to a higher CRB index by the end of the month.

CRB index. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Stockcharts

However, the long-term uptrend for commodities remains in place. Next month, buying organizations can expect to see price increases.

Meanwhile, this month base metals have traded lower. Contrary to rising U.S. steel prices, base metal prices began the month with price declines. Price retracement occurs as a normal trading pattern.

In a bullish market, buying organizations may want to identify the lows to reduce price risk.

DBB index. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Stockcharts

As with commodities, the base metals long-term uptrend remains in place.

While the CRB and DBB indexes have both traded lower in March, domestic steel prices skyrocketed.

With the recent tariffs imposed on steel products, steel prices remain at more than four year-highs for plate, and at 2011 levels for all the other steel forms (HRC, CRC and HDG).

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

To learn more about how Section 232 will impact both the aluminum and steel industry, check out our Section 232 special coverage.

This month, zinc prices started to trade lower, returning to the $3,200 level. This activity represents the first short-term price pullback we’ve seen in zinc prices since June 2017, when prices started their latest rally.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

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But going back even further, the zinc price bullish rally started in 2016. Since then, zinc prices have increased around 120%, from $1,471/mt to current levels.

During this bullish rally, zinc prices reached a more than 10-year high, which signaled strength in the rally.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Some analysts believe this recent short-term downtrend serves as a possible peak for zinc prices. In other words, zinc prices may have already peaked and have started a new downtrend.

The alarms sounded on the London Metal Exchange when 78,950 tons of metal were delivered into LME stocks.

Before we speculate as to where zinc prices are going, let’s examine some of the indicators.

LME Stocks vs. Trading Volume

Traders commonly react to stocks changes, which is reflected directly in zinc prices. When a big delivery of any metal — in this case, zinc — reaches the LME stock, traders interpret this signal as a lack of tightness in the metal supply and demand equation.

In other words, traders think that the deficit is lower and sell their positions for the metal.

However, LME stock levels typically serve as a very short-term price driver (for days or weeks, not months). Rather, MetalMiner believes trading volumes better reflect the metal price trend. Zinc trading volume still supports the long-term uptrend, even if prices have so far trended lower this month.

Global Zinc Market

According to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG), 2017 left behind a deficit of 495 kt for refined zinc metal. Zinc mine output increased by 33.7% in India, while the increase in Peru was driven by higher output in the Antamina mine.

World output refined zinc production remained flat when compared to 2016, with increases in India around 30.4% versus a decrease in Canada, China, Peru and the Republic of Korea.

Despite the increases in zinc production, zinc demand increased by 2.6%, driven by zinc appetite in Australia, Brazil, China and Japan.

U.S. demand increased by just 0.6%, while European demand fell 0.5%.

Chinese Zinc Market

As for other industrial metals, Chinese numbers are commonly used as an indicator for the global metal industry. During the November 2017 to January 2018 period, China’s official zinc trade figures show 291,000 tons of refined zinc entering the country. This figure is the largest since 2009, when metallic trade flows were massive.

Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) zinc stocks have recovered from a 2017 drop of 84,000 tons. Since the beginning of 2018, zinc stocks have rebounded by 46,000 tons, reaching the highest level since May 2017 (114,887 tons).

Brazilian Zinc

Brazilian mine Nexa Resources forecasts a deficit for zinc in 2018, with demand outpacing supply.

The deficit may continue due to the inability of Chinese small mines to renew permits under current environmental policies. Therefore, Chinese production may not be able to meet the annual demand growth of around 2-2.5% (based on previous growth).

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

MetalMiner sees the current pullback in zinc prices as short-term in nature as opposed to a price trend correction.

Therefore, while base metals and zinc remain in a current bull market, buying organizations may want to take advantage of lower prices and learn the exact time to commit to some zinc volume.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

To understand how to adapt buying strategies to your specific needs on a monthly basis, take a free trial of our Monthly Outlook now.

The Stainless Steel MMI (Monthly Metals Index) traded flat in March after a big jump in February. The current reading is 75 points.

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The index remained flat as LME nickel prices decreased slightly, while other elements of the  stainless steel basket increased. Stainless steel surcharges jumped again this month, largely following the previous month’s LME nickel price movements.

LME Nickel

Nickel momentum appears to have slowed since the beginning of March. Prices retraced slightly. However, nickel prices remain in a strong, long-term uptrend.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Like copper prices, nickel prices remain above the blue dotted line above. In December, nickel prices rallied and started to trade with a sharper slope, following the purple dotted line.

However, these movements are often not sustainable in the long-term trend, and commonly correct. Therefore, nickel prices retraced to their long-term trendline, while trading volume remains supportive of the uptrend.

Domestic Stainless Steel Market

Following the recovery in stainless steel momentum, domestic stainless steel surcharges increased further this month.

The 316/316L-coil NAS surcharge breached its previous $0.8/pound ceiling. Stainless steel surcharges increased again rapidly. Therefore, buying organizations will want to look at surcharges to identify opportunities to reduce price risk either via forward buys or hedging.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Tariffs Do Not End in the U.S.

The European Commision prolonged the already existing anti-dumping measures on Chinese imports of stainless steel seamless pipes and tubes for another five years. The duties imposed initially in 2011 ranged from 48.3% to 71.9%. These duties gave European stainless steel producers — like France, Spain and Sweden — some breathing room.

The review of these measures started again in December 2016 and showed the removal of duties on Chinese products would harm European producers.

Therefore, the European Commission agreed to maintain the current duties on pipes and tubes used in the chemical and petrochemical industries for another five years.

Although the Europeans have not enacted broad tariffs like the U.S. has done via Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the issue of global overcapacity remains paramount as the E.U. continues to implement heavy duties on stainless steel products to limit imports.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Stainless steel momentum appears stronger this month, recovering from its previous weakness.

As both steel and nickel remain in a bull market, buying organizations may want to follow the market closely for opportunities to buy on the dips.

To understand how to adapt buying strategies to your specific needs on a monthly basis, take a free trial of our Monthly Outlook now.

Buying organizations who have concerns about the Section 232 impact on the steel industry may want to read our comprehensive Section 232 Report, which includes new data.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

Actual Stainless Steel Prices and Trends

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The Raw Steels MMI (Monthly Metals Index) increased 7% this month, reaching 92 points. This reading is the highest since June 2012. The skyrocketing MMI came as a result of sharp increases in steel prices, the Section 232 release and President Trump’s comments regarding imposition of a 25% steel tariff.

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Steel price momentum strengthened in February, moving sharply up for all forms of steel. Steel prices have reached more than three-year highs. However, some forms of steel are now even higher. Domestic HRC prices, currently at $762/st, haven’t seen these levels since June 2011.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Based on the long-term analysis, steel prices will likely continue to rise this year. Even if the seasonality for steel prices returns in Q2, steel price momentum appears strong.

Let’s Talk Spreads

Section 232 — and the price uncertainty it has unleashed — requires metal-buying organizations to pay more attention to what is called the spread. The spread refers to the price delta between domestic HRC and CRC prices and the spread of each with Chinese prices. Analyzing and understanding these spreads helps to determine by how much mills could increase steel prices (as well as how high they can go).

So, let’s take a look at some examples.

The Domestic HRC-CRC Spread

As with all the other forms of steel, CRC prices also increased again this month. The upward movement remains strong, even if the amount of the increases — and therefore the slope of the upward trend — appears softer (less sharp).

This does not come as a surprise, as the spread between CRC and HRC prices was extremely high. Now, the spread between CRC and HRC prices has returned closer to historical levels.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

It is important to understand where the spread comes from. CRC (cold rolled coil) is HRC (hot rolled coil) plus one additional rolling process. As per the chart above, from 2011 to 2016 the price spread between the two has been around $100/st (plus or minus).

At the end of 2016, buying organizations could see a $201/st spread between HRC and CRC prices. The spread started to decline at the beginning of 2017, and has increased further in 2018. The domestic spread is currently at $124/st, much closer to its historical levels. (MetalMiner covered domestic spreads in our free Annual Outlook Report published in October 2017.)

A higher spread creates better margins for domestic mills. From a buying perspective, the previous anomaly only helps a buying organization that has not contracted for all of its CRC purchases (and can play a price arbitrage game by purchasing HRC and paying to roll it to CRC).

Chinese Spread

Chinese demand has always been positioned as one of the main drivers of global steel prices. Check out the correlation in the graph below between the domestic HRC and Chinese HRC prices. When Chinese prices increase, U.S. domestic prices tend to increase, too. The same is usually true when prices fall.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Even if short-term events (such as the release of the Section 232 report or President Trump’s comments) add support to steel prices in one country, the general trends tend to correlate.

This is exactly what happened with U.S. HRC prices.

The latest increase in HRC prices here in the U.S. came as a result of the Section 232 uncertainty and the announcement of the tariff. Not surprisingly, so far this month, HRC prices in China increased after trading sideways last month. Therefore, watching price reactions in China makes sense in order to better forecast price trends in the U.S.

An  analysis of the spread between Chinese and U.S. prices allows buying organizations to better understand the price impacts the tariffs could have on domestic steel prices. In other words, the spread tells us how much domestic prices could rise before it is better to import steel from China.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

The strong upward momentum for steel, together with the Section 232 outcome and President Trump’s comments regarding steel tariffs, drove steel prices to more than three-year highs. Buying organizations who have concerns about the Section 232 impact on the steel industry may want to read our Section 232 Report.

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Actual Raw Steel Prices and Trends

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This afternoon, President Trump signed a proclamation to impose the 25% tariff on imported steel and 10% tariff on imported aluminum products, both of which were announced on March 1. The tariffs will go into effect in 15 days, and will exclude Canada and Mexico for the moment, until NAFTA negotiations finish, according to several news sources.

Other countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Germany and Brazil may be hit by these tariffs, according to the New York Times. However, the President claimed they would be flexible when imposing the tariffs, which were implemented in the wake of the Commerce Department’s Section 232 investigation.

We’re going to be very flexible,” Mr. Trump said. “At the same time, we have some friends and some enemies where we have been tremendously taken advantage of over the years.”

The President also said that the tariff order may exclude some additional countries and would give him the authority to raise or lower levies on a country-by-country basis and add or take countries off the list as he deems fit.

President Trump extolled the benefits of the tariff order and the relevance of the U.S. as a primary metal producer. The recent announcements of steel mill openings made since the President’s first comments about the tariffs on March 1 were also highlighted at the White House event.

He mentioned the United States’ current relationship with China, characterizing it as a “great” one, but noting that “something has to be done about the trade deficit,” according to the Guardian. The China question has been at the center of the tariff debate from the beginning, with that country’s metal production overcapacity and questionable trade practices spurring President Trump’s campaign promise.

Not surprisingly, organizations representing upstream steel and aluminum industries saw the results differently than those representing downstream players.

“The president’s commitment to addressing the steel crisis is already producing benefits in Granite City, Ill., where U.S. Steel will be restarting one of the blast furnaces that has been idle since December 2015 due to global excess steel capacity and unfairly traded steel imports,” said Tom Gibson, president and CEO of AISI, in a statement. “With the signing today, the steel industry can be on track to maintain our essential contributions to national security and critical infrastructure like transportation, public health and safety, energy and the power grid – all of which rely heavily on steel.”

Other sectors of the aluminum industry were opposed. For example, the Beer Institute, on behalf of U.S. brewers, implored the President to exempt aluminum can-sheet imports, making an argument based on job loss and overall economic loss, in a press release.

“We have not yet seen the order formalizing these tariffs,” said the Institute’s president and CEO Jim McGreevy, in the statement. “If possible, the Beer Institute will work with our member companies to file an exclusion request with the Department of Commerce. It is critical that if the president and his administration choose to impose any tariffs, they be carefully targeted only to protect America’s national security interests.”

For more in-depth scenario-based analysis, including buying strategies, check out MetalMiner’s report, “Section 232 Impact by Scenario on Aluminum, Stainless Steel and Steel Prices.

The Copper MMI (Monthly Metals Index) traded lower this month, falling two points to 87 for our March reading.

The Copper MMI fell for the second consecutive month, after the sharp increase in prices at the end of last year. In February, LME copper prices fell by 3.5%.

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The LME copper short-term downtrend does not seem that bearish when looking at the two-year chart. Copper prices retraced this month again, but still hold above the blue dotted line, which represents the trend line (prices below that line might indicate a change in trend). In December, copper prices skyrocketed and breached the $7,000/st level, confirming long-term bullish sentiment remains intact.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Meanwhile, this month, a stronger U.S. dollar added downward pressure to commodities and industrial metals. Analysts also claim the latest “bearish” downtrend occurred due to increasing LME stocks.

MetalMiner analyzes copper supply from two different perspectives: copper stocks and global copper supply.

Copper Stocks

Copper stocks at the major metal exchanges totaled 537,722 tons at the end of November 2017, reflecting a decrease of 0.3% from stocks in December 2016. In particular, LME stocks fell by 41%, while SHFE stocks increased by 12% in 2017.

However, 2018 has come with some recoveries for LME copper stocks.

Copper stocks are at a current 324,900 tons. This means LME copper stocks are 13,075 tons higher than at the beginning of 2017, and 85,500 tons higher than at the beginning of 2016.These numbers show some recovery for LME copper stocks; this information has likely fueled trading sentiment this month.

CME stocks also increased at the beginning of the year. In 2015, CME stocks were just at 20,000 tons, compared to the current 209,000-ton level. Both of these numbers (CME and LME stock levels) have moved trader sentiment.

Global Copper Supply

The Indonesian unit of Freeport-McMoran’s copper mine and Amman Mineral Nusa Tenggara (AMNT) are waiting for last-minute ministry approvals to their application for an extension to continue with copper concentrate exports. Freeport’s export order for the Grasberg mine expires this month (copper mines have to reapply for export licenses every year).

Freeport had an export quota of 1.1 million tons of copper ore concentrate ending February 2018. Exports could stop this month, but mine production could continue.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection has tightened the “allowable” impurities levels further. Therefore, instead of importing scrap, China now imports unwrought copper for downstream production.

Copper supply also looks threatened in Chile and Peru, particularly if workers go on strike since labor contracts expire soon. The powerful labor union at the Escondida copper mine cast doubt on the chances of starting talks on a new labor agreement with the company before formal negotiations commence in June.

Global copper supply still shows some uncertainty with possible copper supply shortages coming in 2018. Therefore, buying organizations may want to understand the global picture rather than just considering the trend based on stock levels and actual copper supply.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

In February, buying organizations had some opportunities to buy some volume. As long as copper prices remain bullish, buying organizations may want to buy on the dips. For those who want to understand how to reduce risks, take a free trial now to the MetalMiner Monthly Outlook.

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Actual Copper Prices and Trends

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After last month’s increase, the March Aluminum MMI (Monthly Metals Index) fell two points for this month’s reading. A weaker LME aluminum price led to the retracement. The current Aluminum MMI index stands at 97 points, 2% lower than in February.

LME aluminum price momentum slowed this month. Despite the price retracement, trading volumes still support the current uptrend. The long-term uptrend remains in place.

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Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Domestic Aluminum Market

February brought much uncertainty to the domestic aluminum market with the release of the Trump administration’s Section 232 reports and recommendations vis-a-vis aluminum and steel imports.  That release, together with President Trump’s announcement last Thursday of a 10% aluminum tariff on all imports have activated price warning systems for all aluminum and aluminum products.

LME aluminum reacted to the news, increasing only slightly.

Additional information about Trump’s announcement, combined with specific buying strategies, can be found in the MetalMiner team’s Section 232 Investigation Impact Report.

On top of that, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its final determination on the Chinese aluminum foil import case initiated in March 2017. The aluminum foil investigation includes all Chinese aluminum imports, and the anti-dumping margins vary from 48.64 to 106.09%, while the countervailing margins vary in the 17.14-80.97% range. This case may also add some support for LME aluminum prices in the short term.

MW Aluminum Premiums on the Rise

U.S. Midwest aluminum premiums moved again at the beginning of March and are currently trading at $0.16/pound. The U.S. Midwest Premium has now reached the same levels from March 2015; the pace of the increases appears to have accelerated since the Section 232 report release.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The Section 232 outcome and President Trump’s comments around possible import remediation measures have caused increased volatility in the U.S. Midwest premium.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

LME aluminum price retracement may give buying organizations a good opportunity to buy, as prices may increase again.

In bullish markets, buying organizations still have many opportunities to forward buy. Therefore, adapting the right buying strategy becomes crucial to reducing risks.

Given the ongoing uncertainty around aluminum and aluminum products, buying organizations may want to read MetalMiner’s Section 232 special coverage.

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

Actual Aluminum Prices and Trends

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(Editor’s Note: In case you missed the previous installments of this series, check out Part 1 and Part 2.)

What About the Impact on U.S. Production?

The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

First, the recommendations from the Department of Commerce apply to both primary (or upstream) and downstream production.

The upstream production refers to unwrought production, while downstream production consists of processing aluminum into semi-finished aluminum goods (such as rods, bar, sheets, plates, castings, forging and extrusions). The U.S. remains remains the second-largest aluminum producer, just behind  China.

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The main objective of the actions proposed by the Department of Commerce focused on downstream production. As previously stated, the Section 232 outcome seeks to restore the industry to 80% capacity utilization.

Therefore, aluminum production could increase (at least, domestically). Increasing the domestic capacity utilization rate up to 80% would mean more aluminum will be produced and consumed domestically.

Aluminum Carve-outs?

President Trump has yet to determine if all the report recommendations will be applied. MetalMiner believes that even if the quotas/tariffs implemented are lower than that indicated in the Section 232 aluminum report — meaning a lower tariff and, therefore, a reduced capacity utilization rate — aluminum products may not receive as many exemptions as steel products.  

Contrary to steel, most aluminum products can be produced domestically and therefore, aluminum would potentially require fewer carve-outs than steel.

Timing becomes an issue when considering the impact of the Section 232 aluminum investigation outcome.

For the aluminum industry, restarting idled capacity takes around 9 months. After that, each smelter needs to start running toward its optimal capacity, which also takes time. Realistically it may take 12-15 months of time to reach optimal production.

Trump will need to consider that timing in his decision. Without careful consideration, reducing aluminum imports could have a negative impact for U.S. aluminum buyers in the short term. 

Therefore, the president might need to take this into account and give some time for the industry to adapt to the new measures.

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Trade Wars: Hype or Reality?

We will address this issue in an upcoming post.