Author Archives: Taras Berezowsky

This morning in metals news, we’ve seen a major U.S. auto supplier snap up a European counterpart just before the weekend, the EPA Clean Power Plan’s swan song stalled a bit, and more.

Lear Corp. and Grupo Antolin Marriage Consummated

Lear Corporation, one of the world’s leading suppliers of automotive seating systems and electrical distribution systems, went final on its acquisition of Grupo Antolin’s automotive seating business just last Friday.

According to a press release, Grupo Antolin has a large footprint with Europe’s largest carmakers, including Daimler, Peugeot Citroen, Renault Nissan and Volkswagen, and the acquisition will help Lear double down on its core business. “The transaction is valued at €286 million on a cash and debt free basis and is forecasted to be accretive to 2017 earnings per share,” according to the release.

Incidentally, Lear Corp. is not only one of the biggest auto suppliers, but one of the most resilient — the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

EPA Clean Power Plan Court Battle on Pause?

A federal court’s recent ruling has given environmentalists a bit of a reprieve to look over their options, as the impending court battle to get rid of the Obama administration’s chief piece of environmental regulation takes a break (paywall).

President Trump used an executive order in late March to dismantle the Obama administration’s climate change agenda, according to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. As MetalMiner reported at the time, the action will order several other federal agencies to undo the Obama administration’s climate change work: It will tell the Interior Department to end a moratorium on new coal leasing on federal land, the official said, and the Obama administration’s assault on methane emissions — outlined in early 2014 and overseen by Interior and EPA — will be ended, too.

EPA’s CPP, as it came to be known, could have had far-ranging consequences on U.S. manufacturing, especially on heavier emitters such as the steel industry, if enacted to its fullest.

China’s Copper Appetite Shifting from Refined Metal to…?

Reuters’ Andy Home examines how the 28 percent year-on-year drop in China’s imports of refined copper in Q1 2017 don’t tell the whole story of that country’s love affair with the red metal. In fact, China has shifted its focus to copper scrap, among other things. Read Home’s full analysis here.

And don’t forget to check back in tomorrow morning, May 2, to get a free trial of the latest edition of our Monthly Outlook Report — including forward-looking copper market analysis and buying strategies.

Our monthly Global Precious Metals MMI dipped down a point in April from last month, losing 1.2% to end up at 83.

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Ultimately, most gold, silver, platinum and palladium price points from the U.S., China, Japan and India dropped off for the month, which led to the sub-index’s overall decline — but there was one price point that decided to blaze its own trail upward.

The U.S. palladium bar price rose 3.4% over the past month, the third straight month of increases on the MetalMiner IndX.

What’s Going on with Palladium?

Well, automotive sector demand for palladium, at least on a spot or short-term basis, would be a hard case to make.

As my colleague, Jeff Yoders, reported earlier this week, U.S. automakers’ sales figures for March came in below market expectations and gave early evidence that America’s long boom cycle for automotive sales may finally be losing steam.

Automakers sold 1.56 million new cars and trucks in March, a 1.6% decline compared with the same month a year ago.

For example, Ford Motor Company took the biggest hit among sales drops, seeing its March numbers fall more than 7% from February’s.

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According to a recent Seeking Alpha article, “going into 2017 the market was considering limited supply to be the primary factor supporting palladium prices,” with limited sector growth expected from the U.S. and European markets, and China being the only auto market to be counted on for buoyed sales.

The above has generally held true, while seasonality and investor interest in ETFs seemed to have been playing into palladium’s rise. This could well be the high point for palladium prices this first half of the year.

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German Dominguez

German Dominguez

There’s been a lot of talk about President Trump’s “border tax” lately as it relates to reshoring manufacturing to the U.S. and financing “great, great” border walls, and my colleague Jeff Yoders has done a bang-up job covering the gamut of the Trump administration’s proposed policies in general.

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On our sister site Spend Matters, we tried to get closer to the bottom of the whole south-of-the-border tax issue, which opened up a can of worms — and devolved into golf analogies.

But what does it all mean for U.S and Mexican manufacturers and their future strategies?

Q&A With German Dominguez, Independent Advisor and LatAm Sourcing Expert

We caught up with German Dominguez, an independent sourcing advisor helping U.S. manufacturers to best-cost-country-source direct materials where it is most advantageous in Latin America, mainly within The Pacific Alliance region (Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile) — the largest emerging markets economic bloc in Latin America. Read more

The World Platinum Investment Council‘s bullishness on platinum as a key investment and industrial asset, which we reported on last fall in an interview with the Council’s Director of Research Trevor Raymond, seems to be bearing fruit as we approach the end of Q1.

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Platinum bar prices and a couple other precious price points led MetalMiner’s Global Precious Metals MMI to rise 2.4% for March 2017, landing at a value of 84.

Global Precious MMIIndeed, the U.S. platinum bar price, up by nearly 3% this month, has been on an upward trajectory for the past three months, starting the month out above the $1,000-per-ounce level for the first time since October 2016.

A Focus on Platinum

Worries over supply shortages of the namesake of platinum group metals (PGMs) are still behind the investment opportunities that the WPIC foresees — so much so that the Council is pushing new initiatives on two separate global fronts.

Although holdings of platinum-backed exchange-traded funds (ETFs) fell to their lowest since mid-2013 last October, Reuters reported that WPIC “plans to launch an ETF in China, the world’s biggest consumer of the precious metal, and a coin-based fund in Europe in 2017,” according to an executive of the council.

“We are working on two deals in China for investment products. (An) ETF and retail platinum bars with a big state-run enterprise,” Marcus Grubb, director of market development at WPIC, told Reuters. The ETF itself was formed by leading platinum producers to develop investor demand for the metal, according to the news service.

Grubb told Reuters that India’s platinum jewelry sales are rising by 25-30% a year. The PGM’s star has been rising on the subcontinent, with some questioning whether it will overtake gold as the go-to in jewelry demand in India (which is the world’s second-biggest gold consumer, so not likely anytime soon…but still).

The council will also launch a $50 million coin-based platinum fund in Europe, he told Reuters.

Auto Market Fine…For Now

It helps that car sales still appear to be cruising along, even if at, well, only cruising speeds. Even though U.S. car sales dropped 1.1% in February over the same month last year, total vehicle sales in China, including trucks and buses, came in 0.2% higher year-on-year to 2.5 million units.

But, as my colleague Jeff Yoders reported, China is also entering the planned final year of a major government automotive purchase rebate which could affect sales as the incentive winds down. What this will mean for platinum use in vehicles remains to be seen.

The Supply Game: Latest Producer Moves

Back to the supply side. Shortage concerns have recently caused companies such as South Africa’s Northam Platinum Ltd. to buy up more platinum assets including mines, in this case from Glencore, Reuters reports.

Glencore’s Eland mine, containing some 21.3 million ounces of the metal, play into the Northam’s long-term production strategy — which, of course, banks on continued demand and higher platinum pricing.

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However, Northam said that the global economic outlook and low-dollar metal prices “remain a concern for them, at a time when it faces increasing power and labor costs,” according to Reuters. As of this writing, $1 = 13.08 rand, worse than last month.

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Well, perhaps these rebounds are not quite worthy of The Worm — but our Global Precious Metals MMI has hit its highest level since October 2016, climbing 7.9% to 82 for the February reading.

PGMs Lead the Way

Two of the biggest movers on MetalMiner’s precious metal sub-index were U.S. prices of platinum and palladium, rising 10.2% and 10.9%, respectively.

That palladium increase nearly got the price to the 18-month December 2016 high.

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Here’s the deal with palladium in a nutshell, from MoneyWeek:

“Both U.S. and Chinese car sales have been solid of late, with the latter rising at their fastest pace in three years (in 2016) and the former potentially set for another boost thanks to President Trump’s fiscal stimulus. China’s pollution problem is forcing it to tighten car emission standards, adds Chen Lin on Equities.com, which implies a steady rise in demand for palladium over the next few years.

“On the supply side, South Africa, the world’s top supplier, is not expected to increase mined output much. Analysts reckon that dwindling sales from Russia’s stockpiles means they are probably nearly depleted. TD Securities thinks the market deficit could double this year.”

What a Gold Mine!

Our intrepid editor at large, Stuart Burns — you might remember him from world-class macroeconomic coverage as it pertains to industrial metals, or (our) voice of James Bond’s Q — recently explored the wilds of India, and with him, he brought back gold.

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Or, to be more accurate, some gold coverage.
Soon we’ll publish Stuart’s take on the gold import situation in India. Here’s a taste:

“Although India has mines that go back more than 120 years, its annual gold production is miniscule. According to an article in the Hindu Times, that could be about to change. The Kolar gold field was forced to close in 2001 due to mounting losses at operator Bharat Gold. The state-owned company had been mining the Kolar reserves since independence in 1947 but the mines are deep, down to 3 kilometers, and Bharat was operating with outmoded technology and a large unproductive legacy workforce. But Mineral Exploration Corp. estimates show reserves to be worth $1.17 billion in the mines, with another $880.28 million in gold-bearing deposits estimated to be left over in residual dumps from previous mining operations.

India is never likely to rival South Africa, Canada or Australia as a gold miner, but that’s not the point — any contribution will lessen the impact gold imports have on the country’s balance of payments. With domestic reserves estimated at over 100 metric tons, there appears to be scope — with the right state and government backing — for miners to reduce some of those imports and create domestic employment.”

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MetalMiner’s index of global precious metals prices dropped yet again this month, falling 3.8% for a January 2017 reading of 76, down from 79 in December.

Key Precious Metal Movers

The U.S. palladium price got a bit too frothy last month, resulting in a December MMI reading of $768 — which was good enough for an 18-month high.

However, for the January MMI reading, that price experienced a pullback, dipping back down under $700 per ounce (although not quite reaching November’s levels).

So a correction in that price point’s journey is evident. The U.S. platinum bar price also had a slight drop-off, as did silver and gold prices across global markets tracked by the MetalMiner IndX.

What’s Happened Since October?

Short answer: a ton.

Trump. Cubs. Brexit. Syria. Refugee crises. Panama Papers. Pokemon Go. (We could keep going…)

But a few of those had a lot to do with what’s happening across precious metals markets right now — especially gold.

Gold in Focus

What’s causing gold prices to fall dramatically? The U.S. dollar.

Gold (in dark) vs the dollar index (in green)

Gold (in dark) vs the dollar index (in green). Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com.

Since mid-August the dollar started a bull run that is still in play. Three main factors are propelling the dollar’s bull run, according to MetalMiner’s Raul de Frutos:

Markets expected the Federal Reserve to raise rates by the end of the year. In December the Fed raised interest rates by a quarter point, as expected, but policymakers signaled a likelihood of three increases in 2017, up from prior expectations for two moves. While interest rates outside the U.S. stay near zero or even in negative territory, it’s no wonder yield-seeking investors are going after the greenback.

The ongoing political tensions in Europe are causing the dollar to appreciate against the euro. The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Brexit, terrorist attacks and political instability are some of the events causing investors to lose their appetite for the European currency this year.

Finally, the victory of Donald Trump has added fuel to the dollar’s bull market. The new president-elect has proposed new tax policies that will potentially make multinational companies bring their foreign profits back to U.S., increasing the demand for dollars. In addition, the dollar is perceived as a stronger currency since investors expect growth in US to get a boost.

Essentially, what we wrote last month is still holding true, and it’s hard to see a reversal in the near term.

Exact Precious Metals Prices, Movements:

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US Steel plant in Granite City wide

The U.S. Steel Granite City Works captured by Google Street View in September, 2014 — a year and two months before the latest idling of the mill.

See the latest multimedia version of this story here.

This is our final top-rated post of 2016. Chinese market economy status was a huge issue for the entire year and this interactive package, originally published in May, put all facets of the problem into one package. How China will change its economy to compete with the rest of the world without overproduction for export is still an open question and a major threat to market stability. — Jeff Yoders, editor

Dan Simmons has seen a lot during the 38 years he’s worked at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works in Illinois, just outside St. Louis.

From starting out as a general laborer, to swinging hammers on the track gang, to “feeling like Mr. Haney from Green Acres” while trucking around the mill, Simmons took it all in. There were days “you were whistling when you came in, and whistling when you left,” he said.

But nothing compares to what he’s seeing now.

“I have grown men coming into my office, crying,” said Simmons. “You see the pain, the ‘what ifs,’ the blank stares…”

Simmons, who just turned 56, is now the president of the United Steelworkers Local 1899, and some of the grown men coming to him are pipefitters just like he had become during his long tenure, which began in 1978.

However, those men and women aren’t coming to him because they’ve been hurt on the job. They are coming to plead for help, because they have lost their jobs, and in many cases still don’t know when they’ll land their next one.

Cyclicality in steel production is nothing new, but it wasn’t until 2008 — when the global markets began crashing — that USS Granite City Works endured its first indefinite idling in its history.

“We had the unemployment office cycling 400 people through at a time,” Simmons told MetalMiner. “The biggest fear is not knowing. If I could have given them a definitive timeframe, they would’ve said, ‘OK, I can handle that.’ But after two to three months, people come to me and don’t know what to do with themselves.”

And now, after the mill went idle a second time in December 2015, some of those workers have been without a job for nearly half a year. Last December, 1,500 people were laid off — 75% of the mill’s total workforce. Across the country, a total of 13,500 steel workers have been laid off over the past year.

Simmons knows what it’s like to feel that fear firsthand. “I got a brother that works here, a brother-in-law that works here, so it’s personal. You worry about where your whole family will be.”

So what’s different today, compared to 2008?

For Simmons and scores of others in the country’s steel sector and other manufacturing industries, much of the pain can be traced back to one main source: China.

A History of Unfair Trade?

The world may have never encountered a more crucial Year of the Monkey than 2016.

That is, at least as far as global trade between China and the Western world is concerned. At the end of this year, China believes it ought to receive Market Economy Status (MES). This would allow China to enjoy the same market status as the U.S. and European Union when it comes to anti-dumping investigations before the World Trade Organization.

In its quest to grow its economy over the past two decades, China has become the leading producer — by far — of steel, aluminum, cement and other industrial materials. Read more

Put the dragon fruit back on the shelf, guys; it’s still a bit too green — er, red.

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That’s the metaphor that U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker forced us to take a step further, when she went on record stating that “at this moment, [the time is] not ripe for us to change our protocol,” regarding a decision on whether China has taken necessary steps to achieve market economy status (MES).

If China had its way, that time for the U.S. — and the whole gamut of WTO-member nations — came precisely yesterday, December 11, 2016. That’s the date that China claims it should be given MES automatically, according to a line item in the country’s WTO Accession Protocol made official exactly 15 years ago.

So what has happened? Do we all of a sudden live in a world where China is given free reign in trade, on equal footing with the U.S. and E.U.? Not so fast. Read more

MetalMiner’s Global Precious Metals MMI dropped two points this month to 79, from 81 in November; a 2.5% decrease. But that’s less the story than what happened within this precious metals sub-index.

The PGM Story

As we said last month, longer-term structural concerns remain for the platinum-group metals (PGMs), especially platinum and palladium. However, in the short term, one of those two precious metals that are instrumental in automotive catalytic converters kept the Global Precious MMI from falling even further for December.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_December-2016_FNL

Indeed, with gold and silver falling across all four geographic markets (see below), our U.S palladium bar price jumped to an 18-month high, rising a whopping 24% month-over-month. Japanese palladium also rose appreciably.

The platinum bar price, however, did the reverse. Our U.S. platinum bar price hit a 10-month low, dropping 7% since Nov. 1.

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Crossing like ships in the night, one heading north, one heading south, what should buyers make of the platinum/palladium divergence?

According to HSBC senior analyst James Steel, talking to Platts, “the platinum-palladium spread has narrowed substantially, from $375/ounce before the U.S. election. This reflects clearly tighter underlying fundamentals for palladium.”

With car sales in the U.S. and China continuing to be robust, and with Johnson Matthey predicting another supply deficit in 2017, palladium could continue its buoyancy for the near future.

The Dollar –> Infrastructure –> Gold

Raul de Frutos gave MetalMiner readers this helpful rundown in late November:

A rising dollar depresses commodity prices, especially precious metals. It does have less of an effect on more economically-sensitive groups like energy and industrial metals. Indeed, industrial metals are on the rise despite a strong dollar. This is because the dollar is rising on expectations of higher rates down the road but, at the same time, metal prices are getting an additional boost because of Trump’s plans to spend big on the nation’s infrastructure. However, gold’s demand won’t be affected by infrastructure spending. As a result, investors are left without reasons to buy gold at this moment.

That still appears to be the case here in early December, as the US gold price on our MetalMiner IndX hit its lowest point in 10 months, falling to $1,173/oz on Dec. 1 — just over an 8% drop from Nov. 1.

(Silver prices followed suit across 4 markets globally, all dropping from November to December.)

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Don’t we all wish we could predict where the scrap markets are going?

Tracy Porter is no exception.

Porter, the executive vice president of operations for Commercial Metals Company (CMC) and board chairman for the Steel Manufacturers’ Association, sat down with us not too long ago to chat about a number of issues crucial to the steel industry, one of which is the volatility of scrap markets.

While certain short-to-medium outlooks, such as Platts’ recent view, may appear to be bullish for prices, the wild card is still China, as Porter mentions in the video interview above.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions with the new [US presidential] administration and China’s intervention in the coal futures,” a U.S. exporter told Platts. “At the end of the day, there is not enough scrap in the pipeline, here or abroad. It’s a good position to be in if you’re a scrap dealer.”