Author Archives: Jeff Yoders

We had a chance to sit down and discuss the issues facing members of the Steel Manufacturers Association with SMA President Philip K. Bell at the recent S&P Global Platts Steel Markets North America conference here in Chicago. Bell also currently serves on the  Department of Commerce International Trade Advisory Committee on Steel (ITAC 12), advising the Secretary of Commerce and United States Trade Representative on trade policy, trade agreements, and other trade related matters that benefit U.S. businesses, workers, and the economy.

Philip K. Bell

Philip K. Bell. Source: SMA

Jeff Yoders: We’ve heard a lot about North American Free Trade Agreement and what changes to it might mean in the last two days. How do your members feel about reopening NAFTA to changes?

Philip K. Bell: NAFTA is over 20 years old and it’s probably time to look at it again. A lot has changed over the last two decades. We hope the approach that the administration takes is one that’s more methodical and takes into account that not only are Canada and Mexico two of our biggest trade partners but, when it comes to the steel industry, they ARE our two largest trade partners.

There is a lot of integration in this area. You have a lot of steel producers that either have businesses in Mexico such as Gerdau, ArcelorMittal and Nucor — through its joint venture JFE — and you have a lot of companies that want to do business there like Steel Dynamics which is hoping to increase its presence in that market by importing flat-rolled into Mexico. Read more

The Architecture Billings Index returned to growth mode in February, after a weak showing in January. An economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine-to-12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

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The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the February ABI score was 50.7, up from a score of 49.5 in the previous month. This score reflects a minor increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

ICE Delays London Gold Price Benchmark

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) has delayed the launch of clearing for London’s benchmark gold price because not all participants in the auction will be ready, two sources involved in the process told Reuters on Tuesday. The delay could weaken its bid to become the dominant exchange in London’s $5 trillion-a-year bullion market, sources say.

 

Chinese steel exports tumbled to a three-year low in February, customs data showed last week, lower than expectations, as steelmakers in the world’s top producer shifted to meeting rising demand at home.

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Shipments for the month were 5.75 million metric tons, the lowest since February 2014, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. It was down 29.1% from a year ago and down 22.5% from January.

Duterte Wants Mining Compromise

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said recently he hopes there will be a “happy compromise” between the mining industry and protecting the environment, throwing support to Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez will appear before Congress ahead of her confirmation hearing. Lopez is under pressure because she has closed nearly half the nation’s mines.

Two requests for proposals were released yesterday by Customs and Border Protection for the planned border wall between the U.S. and Mexico along the southern border in several states.

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New descriptions in the RFPs include this language: “CBP seeks highly qualified Contractors to assist in the development of a new border wall design standard as well as construct border wall and supporting tactical infrastructure/technology along the southwest border. CBP seeks highly qualified Contractors to propose a reinforced solid concrete wall that meets or exceeds CBP’s performance requirements. The proposed prototype designs shall not include the use of proprietary design or equipment. CBP plans to enter into multiple-award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ), task order contracts for Border Wall Design/Build Construction. The IDIQ may include various, simultaneous task orders ranging from $100,000 up to $275,000,000 per task order.

“CBP anticipates awarding IDIQ contracts to multiple Contractors. All selected Contractors will be awarded one (1) task order to construct its proposed prototype.”

The RFP goes on to state that “the prototypes will inform future design standard(s) which will likely continue to evolve to meet USBP’s requirements. Any and all prototypes will be designed to deter illegal entry into the United States. Through the prototyping process, CBP may identify new designs or influences for new designs that will expand the current border barrier toolkit that CBP will use to construct a border wall system. The border barrier toolkit is based on USBP’s requirements.”

Steel Industry Supports Revisiting Auto Emissions Standards

The American Iron and Steel Institute, the largest trade body representing the steel industry,  issued a statement in reaction to the Trump administration’s recent announcement that it is re-examining fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration for 2022-2025 model year light-duty vehicles.

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“AISI is pleased the administration has withdrawn the final determination of the EPA Light Duty Vehicle Emission Standards issued in January,” Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of AISI said in the statement. “As a key materials solutions provider, we look forward to a dialogue between EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California Air Resources Board, auto manufacturers and other relevant stakeholders on the Mid-Term Evaluation. The steel industry is making investments in new grades of lightweight, high-strength steels to assist our automotive customers in reducing emissions and improving fuel economy performance.  We are confident that getting the partnership between the government and stakeholders back on track will result in a plan for the future which protects the environment by establishing a common sense, implementable single national program for CAFE and GHG standards.”

The Department of Commerce announced its affirmative final determination in the anti-dumping duty investigation of imports of South Korean ferrovanadium.

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For the purpose of an anti-dumping investigation, dumping occurs when a foreign company sells an imported product in the U.S. at less than its fair value.

Commerce found dumping by mandatory respondent, Korvan Ind. Co., Ltd., at a final margin of 3.22%. Additionally, based on the application of adverse facts available, Commerce found that dumping has occurred by mandatory respondents, Fortune Metallurgical Group Co., Ltd. and Woojin Ind. Co., Ltd., at final margins of 54.69%. Commerce assigned a final dumping margin of 3.22% to all other producers/exporters in Korea.

As a result of the final affirmative determination, Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits based on these final rates.

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The petitioners for this investigation are the Vanadium Producers and Reclaimers Association — a Washington DC-based trade group — and its members: AMG Vanadium LLC of Ohio; Bear Metallurgical Company in Pennsylvania; Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corporation of Texas; and Evraz Stratcor, Inc. in Arkansas.

This week, metals manufacturers, construction and automotive companies and even the Federal Reserve expressed optimism about the strong economy we’ve seen since the election of President Donald Trump.

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We love economic optimism as much as the next metals intelligence and price data service, but count us among the many who wonder if all these happy thoughts are based on real world data or just, well, feelings?

When Can We Get an Actual Bill?

We kind of expected to have at least something concrete (pun intended) out of the administration on infrastructure by now but even the most optimistic among us concede that an infrastructure bill might not even happen this year with a healthcare repeal currently sucking up all the oxygen in Washington and tax reform, supposedly, the next big hurdle.

The Fed raised interest rates a quarter-point this week and hinted at more rate increases later in the year, pointing to strong jobs and manufacturing data but the tax cut the administration promised looks like it will only happen after the Summer, if at all, this year.

Automakers got some good news this week in the form of a promised review of corporate average fuel economy emissions standards that the industry says will hurt sales and production by the time they’re fully implemented between 2022 and 2025, but the actual rules haven’t changed yet and no one knows what the final review will keep or cut.

All of this begs the question: Are we being too optimistic?

TIGERs Ensnared

While Trump’s budget blueprint cut construction TIGER grants that fund many transportation projects, including the New York-New Jersey Gateway, it did allocate $2 billion toward the design and construction of a  wall between the U.S. and Mexico. That’s not what many construction companies were planning on hearing.

“Looked at in the absence of any broader infrastructure plan, it is hard not to view proposals to eliminate programs like the TIGER grants and wonder how such cuts are consistent with the President’s oft-repeated pledge to invest in infrastructure,” the Associated General Contractors of America Executive Director of Public Affairs Brian Turmail said.

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We, too, would like to see the text of actual infrastructure and tax reduction bills from the administration before we predict continued economic growth or even a continuation of the metals bull market. Or at least a working framework. With the pace in Washington, many of the president’s priorities are going to have to move to year two and delays beyond that would further threaten action in this term.

President Trump’s $1.1 trillion budget blueprint, released today, proposes dramatic cuts to the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, while seeking billions more for defense issues and $1.5 billion for the president’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

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It proposes the previously reported $54 billion increase in defense spending and corresponding cuts to non-defense spending at the State Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the wholesale elimination of other federal programs.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, described the proposal as a “hard power budget” in a Wednesday briefing with reporters, meaning the Trump administration will prioritize defense spending over diplomacy and foreign aid. It significantly cuts funding to global institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations, too.

While the budget notes that plans and costs for the border wall are not yet completed, according to Mulvaney, the budget will include a request for $1.5 billion as the first installment payment for the promised wall and then another installment of $2.26 billion in 2018.

Steel Shipments Up in January

The American Iron and Steel Institute recently reported that for the month of January 2017, U.S. steel mills shipped 7,708,416 net tons, a 7.5% increase from the 7,173,245 nt shipped in the previous month and a 9.6% increase from the 7,031,307 nt shipped in January 2016.

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A comparison of January 2017 shipments to the previous month of December 2016 shows the following changes: hot-dipped galvanized sheets, up 14%, cold rolled sheets, up 13% and hot-rolled sheets, up 4%.

Speaking at S&P Global Platts’ recent Steel Markets North America conference, noted trade attorney Alan Price of the Washington law firm Wiley Rein said the World Trade Organization case that the federal government filed on behalf of aluminum producers against Chinese overproduction of the light metal in January, will essentially serve as a guide for other industries looking to challenge state-subsidized companies’ overproduction for export in the People’s Republic.

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“The solutions to Chinese overcapacity are to follow the money and see who’s subsidizing it,” said Price, who has represented several U.S. industries in anti-dumping and countervailing duty legal actions against Chinese producers, as well as WTO disputes. “China has not fundamentally reformed its excess capacity. The rest of the world’s production has remained stable, but the explosion in Chinese capacity is still there.”

Alan Price

Alan Price, image courtesy of Wiley Rein

Price said the aluminum case fundamentally attacks the mechanism China uses to back up failing businesses, the availability of subsidized money in China known as “money for metal” on the municipal, state and federal level there.

“The WTO case involving aluminum, challenges, fundamentally, the Chinese subsidization system,” Price said. “It goes after the financial systems of China and how everything is financed. In aluminum you can track all the companies involved. There are around 10 and it’s a much more understandable beast, much more understandable problem than the vastness of the Chinese steel industry. This case will fundamentally decide if China will be allowed to prop up failing businesses.” Read more

The leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation said today that they will revisit Obama-era corporate average fuel economy standards on greenhouse gas emissions for 2022 to 2025 model cars and light trucks, a win for automakers that said the standards were too tough to meet.

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President Donald Trump, speaking at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich., went even further saying his administration would cancel Obama’s executive order establishing the standards outright.

“Today I am announcing we are going to cancel that executive action,” President Trump said. “We are going to restore the originally scheduled midterm review and we are going to ensure any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories. We’re going to be fair.”

The American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest industry association of steelmakers, which count themselves as important members of the automotive supply chain, praised the action.

“AISI is pleased the Administration has withdrawn the final determination of the EPA Light Duty Vehicle Emission Standards issued in January,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of AISI in a statement. “As a key materials solutions provider, we look forward to a dialogue between EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California Air Resources Board, auto manufacturers and other relevant stakeholders on the mid-term evaluation.”

The CARB’s inclusion is notable as California has said it will go forward with state emissions standards that are more stringent than the federal government’s, no matter if the federal CAFE standards are changed or not.

Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates

For the first time this year, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates one quarter point to a range of .75% to 1%, a widely expected move following strengthening economic reports and signals from Fed officials.

After its two-day policy meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise the range of the federal funds rate to 0.75% and 1.00%, citing progress in labor market growth, business fixed investment and inflation.

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“In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise…the fed funds rate,” the central bank wrote in its statement.

One member of the committee, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, voted against the decision, preferring to keep the federal funds rate between 0.50% to 0.75%. Kashkari is a new voting member of the FOMC this year.

Our March price trends report, which analyzes the entire month of February’s price data from the MetalMiner IndX, shows robust price increases in metals markets that are still running with the bulls.

March Price Trends

Our Stainless MMI led the pack, increasing 6.8%, but the copper, raw steels, aluminum and rare earths sub-indexes all showed strong gains, as well.

One area of concern this month is that oil prices have fallen back below $50 per barrel as U.S.
shale producers beat expectations by adding 8.2 million barrels to existing reserves. Low oil
prices would benefit metals producers by keeping energy and transportation costs lower, but
they also may drag down other commodities with them.

We don’t usually see investment metals such as platinum and gold increasing at the same time
as base metals, either, but positive sentiment about the economy had both increasing this month. So, until we see anything that points otherwise, a rising tide is still lifting all the (metals) boats.