This morning in metals news: Ford Motor Co. will idle production of its F-150 truck at its Dearborn plant until Sunday; the blockage of the Suez Canal by container vessel Ever Given is having a massive impact on global trade; and, lastly, the UK government is looking at all options to prevent the collapse of Liberty Steel.
This morning in metals news: U.S. Steel announced it will offer a new sustainable steel product line called verdeX™; meanwhile, Intel will invest $20 billion toward two new factories to serve the “incredible global demand for semiconductor manufacturing”; and, lastly, Century Aluminum announced a power contract in South Carolina for its Mt. Holly aluminum smelter.
No matter the sector, sustainability is a concept that continues to gain traction — and not just from environmentally conscious individual consumers.
This week, during Ceres Conference 2021, U.S. Steel unveiled a new line of sustainable steel dubbed verdeX™.
“U. S. Steel is now capable of producing some of the most advanced high strength steels with only a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions previously required,” the steelmaker said in a release. “The company is now partnering with customers to introduce U. S. Steel’s verdeX line of sustainable steel, so they can offer even more sustainable products to consumers.”
The steelmaker said it will release additional information about the sustainable steel line in the coming weeks.
Intel to invest in semiconductor manufacturing
The semiconductor shortage has led to the ringing of alarm bells around the world, particularly in the automotive sector.
This morning in metals news: British Steel delivered its first rails to Europe under its new ownership group; meanwhile, Alcoa said it will supply low-carbon aluminum for the wheels of Audi’s first electric sports car; and, lastly, the race is on to repair a fire-damaged automotive chip factory in Japan.
British Steel sent 5,000 metric tons of flat-bottomed rail to the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency.
“This is an important contract for us in a very competitive marketplace,” Commercial Director Craig Harvey said in a release. “Although we have supplied the Finnish network previously, this is the first time a European national rail operator has received rail directly from a contract arranged through our Scunthorpe office.”
The first delivery of rails went out in January, Harvey added. The next delivery is due in May.
Alcoa to supply aluminum for new Audi EV
In addition to the British Steel supply news, Alcoa announced it will supply low-carbon aluminum to Audi for its first electric sports car, the e-tron GT.
Yet, the turmoil being experienced by the industry is much more about the stop-go of last year.
Rather than cause a retrenchment, the pandemic has helped accelerate the move to electrification.
The greatest spur, however, has undoubtedly been government legislation.
EU penalties on carmakers that fail to meet emission reduction targets are driving a mass migration from internal combustion engines (ICE) to hybrids and fully electric vehicles. After a slow start, European carmakers are adopting aggressive transition plans.
Volkswagen goes all in on electric vehicles
Just this past week, Volkswagen announced — to the joy of its shareholders, who piled in to push shares up 20% — that the German automaker aims to become the global leader in electric cars by 2025. The automaker is placing heavy bets on next-generation lithium-ion batteries, the Financial Times reported.
Volkswagen says it will sell 1 million electric or hybrid cars this year, a tenfold increase from 2019, with half being fully electric vehicles and the rest plug-in hybrids.
This morning in metals news: the global semiconductor shortage continues to impact automotive operations; the oil price tracked back over the past week; and Katherine Tai, the recently confirmed United States Trade Representative, addressed staff on her first day in office.
Now, according to Reuters, Stellantis — the recently formed merger of Groupe PSA and Fiat Chrysler — and Ford are also experiencing negative impacts.
Stellantis said it will build and hold trucks built at its Michigan and Mexico plants until semiconductors are available, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Ford said it will idle its Ohio assembly plant, the report stated.
Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines of the week here on MetalMiner, including coverage of the nickel price, oil prices, housing starts and more.
Overall, steel prices continue to rise. Meanwhile, after experiencing significant price declines, lead and nickel have steadied of late. Aluminum continues to be on an upward trajectory, while copper has steadied after dropping from a Feb. 25 peak.
This morning in metals news: Honda announced it will suspend most of its North American automotive production; copper has leveled off over the last couple of weeks; and service center shipments declined in February.
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Honda to suspend most North American production
In major automotive news, Honda said it will suspend most of its production in North America for a week, Reuters reported.
Per the report, the automaker cited a variety of factors for the production stoppage. The issues included: supply chain problems related to congestion at ports, the semiconductor shortage and inclement weather in recent weeks.
Copper price trends sideways
The LME copper price took a fall in late February and into March.
LME three-month copper fell from a Feb. 25 peak of $9,563 per metric ton down to $8,757 per metric ton March 4.
Since then, however, the price has traded sideways. Three-month copper closed Thursday at $9,025 per metric ton.
Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner, which this week includes coverage of steel capacity utilization, the latest OPEC ministerial meeting and much more.
Overall, most base metals seem to be retracing from a late February peak. LME copper and aluminum have both been declining since late February.
The tin price’s dive has been more stark. LME three-month tin has dropped over 13% since Feb. 25. However, in the long term, the outlook for tin remains promising, particularly given its application in electronics.
News that China’s Tsingshan Holding Group has signed a one-year contract to supply nickel matte to Huayou Cobalt Co and CNGR Advanced Material Co, on March 3 prompted a sharp sell-off.
Under the agreement, Tsingshan will supply 60,000 tonnes of nickel matte to Huayou and 40,000 tonnes a year to CNGR, starting from October 2021. Tsingshan is China’s largest producer of stainless steel.
Just this morning, news sources like MetalBulletin were still promoting the bull narrative, saying nickel premiums continue to rise in China, while ore prices set another record high (even as the European cut cathode premium rises a further 5%).
But almost simultaneously, Reuters reported hot-off-the-press details of the Tsingshan deal and a sharp sell-off ensued. The post noted nickel fell 8.5% to $15,945 per metric ton on the LME for the biggest intraday loss since 2016. Shanghai prices fell by the most in nine months. The SHFE June nickel price ended 6% lower at RMB 130,510 ($20,181) per ton, according to Reuters.
Investment and the supply outlook
The Economic Times posted further details, reporting Tsingshan plans to expand investments in Indonesia. Tsingshan plans for its nickel equivalent output to reach 600,000 metric tons this year. Meanwhile, it has a target of 850,000 tons in 2021 and 1.1 million tons by 2023.
Nickel’s narrative has largely been predicated on a shortage of battery-grade metal driven by EV demand.
However, Tsingshan’s supply contract and capacity announcements suggest there will be sufficient supply. As a result, the nickel market reflected a sharp rethink of the deficit view.
Demand undoubtedly remains robust for nickel. Its medium- to longer-term outlook remains positive on the back of stainless and battery demand.
Indonesia’s efforts are finally paying off. The country is ramping up refined metal output, albeit under Chinese control. As a result, output of battery and refined grades of nickel is increasing. Meanwhile output of lower grade nickel pig iron is declining.
Nevertheless, the world does not seem quite as short of nickel today as it did yesterday.
The automotive intelligence groups forecast a 3.3% increase year over year when adjusting for differences in selling days.
“Despite challenges posed by inclement weather in most of the country, retail sales demand continues to be strong with the industry posting a second consecutive month of year-over-year gains,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “Typically, weather related sales disruptions are made up in the weeks following, so most of the sales lost at the beginning of February will be made up at the end of February and trail into early March.”