The International Energy Agencyrecently upgraded its estimate for rising U.S. shale production this year, projecting output will increase by 500,000 barrels per day by the end of 2017, which will translate to an increase of 170,000 bpd averaged over the year.
Benchmark crude prices subsequently fell in London. In the first week of January, U.S. crude production rose to 8.95 million bpd, the highest level since April. Oil-rig use expanded to 529 in the prior week, a 67% increase from the 2016 low of 316.
Japanese Steel Officially Worried About Trump
Japan’s steel industry is concerned over the risks of a U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and reform of the North American Free Trade Agreement by the incoming Trump administration, a Japanese industry official said on Friday.
This week, the reality of a hard Brexit sunk in across the pond in the U.K. and Europe. The instability that might follow after elections in other European countries in the coming months could create volatility in all commodities markets, not just metals.
Here in the U.S., President Donald J. Trump was inaugurated today and promised “America first” in all the dealings of his new administration. In metals, this means that tariffs of 251% were confirmed on Chinese cut-to-length steel plate even before Trump even got into office. So, across the globe it looks like things are getting really, really populist. Is this good for metal prices?
One thing that Trump has already caused, again before even being president, is a weakened U.S. dollar against other global currencies. Presidents and even presidents-elect usually refrain from even talking about the value of the currency because setting its value is seen as the job of the Federal Reserve and its chairman and the nation’s chief executive talking about the value of the dollar can cause volatile swings in the currency.
Trump, though, as everyone should know by now, does not obey convention and freely told reporters that he would like a weaker dollar. This is actually bullish for the metals we track, but our Lead Forecasting Analyst, wrote this week that the dollar’s bull run may not be over, despite Trump’s wishes.
Populism in the Far East
Indonesia tried a protectionist raw ore export policy way back in 2014 and this week finally weakened it (a little) to allow some nickel ore out of the country on certain conditions. Ironically, the country that picked up the slack as the top Chinese nickel-pig-iron raw materials supplier after the Indonesian ban, the Philippines, now has its own wildly populist leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, whose fiercely environmentalist Environment Secretary, Regina Lopez, has cancelled six mine permits.
China has issued its first batch of crude oil import quotas for non-state companies at 68.81 million metric tons, or 1.38 million barrels per day (bpd), four refining sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
29 Companies received quotas, including independent refiners and trading companies, the sources said, citing an official document.
Architecture Billings End Year Strong
The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) concluded the year positive, with the December reading capping off three straight months of growth in design billings. As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine- to 12-month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the December ABI score was 55.9, up sharply from 50.6 in the previous month. This score reflects the largest increase in design services in 2016 (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).
The price prospects for most of the metals we track remain strong and we have already seen some renewed price increases since we initially published our sub-index reports starting on the first of the year.
The Chinese economy and the strong dollar continue to power the metals bull market… at least for now. Happy new metals year!
The department said in a statement that it has set a final dumping margin of 68.27% for Jiangyin Xingcheng Special Steel Works Co. Ltd., the only respondent in the case, “for the China-wide entity’s failure to cooperate.”
In the countervailing duties investigation, Commerce calculated a final subsidy rate of 251% for mandatory respondents Jiangyin Xingcheng Special Steel Works Co. Ltd., Hunan Valin Xiangtan Iron & Steel, and Viewer Development Co., Ltd., based on the application of adverse facts available. All other producers/exporters in China were also assigned a final subsidy rate of 251%.
Chinese Province Admits Making Up GDP Figures
China’s northeastern Liaoning province, which relies on steel production as its growth engine, had inflated its GDP figures from 2011 to 2014, said province governor Chen Qiufa on Jan. 17 in his annual work report, according to the state newspaper People’s Daily (link in Chinese). It is the first time the Chinese government has publicly admitted to faking official statistics at any level.
An Indonesian Finance Ministry official said the government may not be done tinkering with export tax rules involving raw ore just yet. The island nation’s Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry partially lifted a ban on raw ore exports late last week.
“We want the export duties to push domestic processing. That’s the principle,” Suahasil Nazara, head of the Fiscal Policy Office at the Finance Ministry, told reporters, adding that the taxes were “not just for increasing state revenues. There’s a high possibility we will continue with a scheme that has layers, depending on completion of smelters.”
Outokumpu Adds to North American Stainless Rebar Line
Outokumpurecently unveiled a new stainless rebar offering for the North American market at the World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas.
Following an expansion of its stainless rebar capabilities at its facilities in Richburg, S.C., Outokumpu will now sell stainless rebar in coil, cut-to-length or in bent shapes. The Richburg facility has capabilities to cover a full range of rebar dimensions between sizes #3 and #8 (from .375 inches to 1 inch) and lengths up to 60 feet, and will offer short lead times for customers in North America.
Indonesia introduced new rules last week that will allow exports of nickel ore and bauxite and concentrates of other minerals under certain conditions in a sweeping policy shift by the key global supplier, Reuters reported.
A ban on unprocessed ore exports was imposed in 2014 to, the thinking went, encourage investment in mills and smelters in the islands. The government of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy has faced a hefty budget deficit since and missed its 2016 revenue target by $17.6 billion.
The resumption of shipments may have been drafted to help stop the gap.
The new regulations, which took effect on Wednesday, sent nickel prices tumbling more than 5% to a four-month low of $9,660 a metric ton before they recovered.
A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that companies in the top quartile of inventory turnover tend to have no more than three to four days of raw materials on hand. For metals suppliers this could lead to shortages and disrupt customers’ supply chains.
Supply chain financing, though, can help buyers and sellers work to manage supply and cost issues. The role of supply chain finance is to optimize both the availability and cost of capital within a given supply chain by aggregating, packaging, and utilizing information generated during supply chain activities and matching this information with the physical control of goods.
If you’re buying metals for product manufacturing, for example, it can be beneficial to have the cash-flow flexibility of supply chain financing, especially if you’re a smaller manufacturer. In supply chain finance, an agreement is made between the buyer and supplier to use credit facilities or other financial instruments to bring down costs and risks for both parties.
Buyers can utilize “buy now, pay later” open account transactions which can be counted as regular payments for a continuing flow of goods rather than specific transactions or set prices and quantities. Buyers can extend payment terms with their suppliers. Suppliers, such as metals service centers, can use their credit ratings to bring in customers who, without support from banks, might otherwise not be able to do business with them. Other third-party financiers can also join in the agreements and assist either side with loans or other financing instruments.
In aerospace and defense, this could mean optimizing purchasing across a global supply chain. SCF provider Tauliarecently announced a partnership with Exostar, which provides cloud-based solutions to the sector, as well as to the life sciences and health care sectors. There are more than 100,000 aerospace and defense corporate buyers using Exostar’s solutions that now have access to Taulia’s supply chain finance offerings. Taulia’s SaaS product is being integrated directly into the Exostar interface so if you’re a small manufacturer providing electronics or metal parts, you could have the same buying advantages of a larger organization.
Earlier last year, TradeRocket and Hitachi Capital Americaentered a similar agreement. TradeRocket provided Hitachi Capital with a pool of mid-market buyers (companies with annual revenues of $25 million to $500 million) who, once underwritten, would be able to use TradeRocket’s early pay invoice option to its entire supplier network.
As the new year dawns, we turn our eyes toward the metal markets of 2017. Will the bull run of 2016 continue? What will be the standout performer of the metals we track? Will New Coke finally make a comeback as Even Newer Coke? Only to re-reintroduce Coke Classic in all its aluminum-encased glory? We have predictions. Lots of them.
Steel on Wheels
That’s right, the North American steel market is picking up steam and chugging toward expanded production and renewed profitability for many of the companies we track. Contributor James May said this week that flat products will enjoy higher demand while hot-rolled coil capacity will expand thanks to a combination of new capacity going online (Big River Steel‘s plant is set to open) and the trade policies of the incoming Trump Administration.
Iron Ore Overseas
China consumes over 70% of the world’s seaborne iron ore and a strong year for the Chinese economy bolstered the steelmaking raw material from from $40 per metric ton to $70/mt in global markets last year, an increase that helped re-energize the bottom lines of mining majors Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group.
This week, Sohrab Darabshaw pointed out that that was cold comfort to smaller miners in India who are still hamstrung by high export taxes and can’t get their ore into China or other lucrative world markets. That could change soon, but MetalMiner Co-Founder Stuart Burns was even more cautious, reminding us that physical iron ore prices were influenced by a rampant futures market last year.
Source: Adobe Stock/Geargodz
“The interplay of the futures market, physical demand from steel mills, and seaborne iron ore supply has too many variables to predict 2017 and ’18 with any certainty,” he said.
While some of the markets are still murky, one thing we all agreed on this week was, once Donald Trump is installed as President of the United States, 2017 certainly won’t be boring when it comes to international trade. Read more
The Obama administration also launched a formal complaint Thursday against the Chinese government with the World Trade Organization over subsidies it says Beijing provides to the country’s vast aluminum industry.
The move against the stockpile of aluminum connected to Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, the owner and CEO of aluminum company China Zhongwang, is the strongest action yet by federal authorities probing whether U.S. companies connected to the Chinese magnate illegally avoided nearly 400% tariffs by routing the metal through other countries.
An aluminum stockpile like this one has been seized by Homeland Security.
We previously reported the whereabouts of the aluminum stockpile as it curiously moved around the globe. China Zhongwang has denied any connection to the stockpile or its movements, but hundreds of shipping containers of aluminum were seized this week by the Department of Homeland Security. The containers are owned by Perfectus Aluminum, Inc., a California company founded by Mr. Liu’s son, Liu Zuopeng. Perfectus is now run by one of Liu’s close business associates, Jacky Cheung, who runs several companies with connections to Liu.
Homeland Security is conducting laboratory tests on the aluminum to determine whether the metal is restricted under U.S. law, according to federal court documents. The seized aluminum is in the form of pallets and court records don’t state which company manufactured the aluminum. The WJ saw shipping records which show that a separate company called Peng Cheng — which later became part of Perfectus in a merger—imported the metal from an affiliate of China Zhongwang in 2013 and 2014.
Homeland Security and the Justice Department are investigating whether the companies committed criminal or civil violations that could include smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud. The WSJ reported that Homeland Security agents have also questioned former employees of the companies associated with Liu, according to people familiar with the investigation.
WTO Case Against Chinese Aluminum Subsidies
As for the subsidies case, the U.S. Trade Representative‘s office said in a formal complaint that China’s actions in the aluminum sector violate WTO rules prohibiting subsidies that cause “serious prejudice” to other members of the trade body. Read more