Articles in Category: Commodities

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take one last look back at the week that was:

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Free Download: The December 2017 MMI Report

Liquefied natural gas . donvictori0/Adobe Stock

Natural gas has long been promoted as a less-polluting alternative to coal and less-costly alternative to nuclear power.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Its green credentials are not whiter than white, but relative to coal, modern combined cycle gas turbine power plants (CCGT) are highly efficient, emit low levels of pollution and crucially can be turned on and off quickly to provide intermittent or peak power demands, in addition to balancing more variable sources (such as renewables).

The Non-Nuclear Option?

After Fukushima, many major economies have moved away from nuclear.

In addition to Japan’s near complete shutdown of its nuclear generating capacity, Germany followed suit. Even France, long a champion of nuclear power, has said less of its generating capacity will be met by nuclear in the future.

The expectation was that natural gas would be the natural successor to nuclear power, as countries took an increasingly responsible view to reducing carbon emissions. But despite a surge of investment in natural gas liquefaction facilities and the construction of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, the growth in LNG consumption has been much lower than expected.

LNG Demand Drops in Europe

In fact, some markets are going backwards, the FT reports.

Natural gas demand in Europe is 12% lower than it was 10 years ago. Chinese and Indian demand continues to grow, but the dramatic gains by solar power and wind, where costs have fallen 85% since 2009, have severely limited the prospects for natural gas as a power source.

Indeed, India’s entrenched coal industry and coal-based electricity generating capacity means its future is likely to be predominantly solar and coal — not natural gas at all.

China, like Europe, has adopted renewable power (particularly wind) on the basis of cost, as costs have tumbled for both solar and wind (again, particularly wind) to below the cost of natural gas.

As new supply-side capacity comes onstream, the market for natural gas has shifted from long-term contracts signed prior to new LNG facilities even being started to a competitive spot market; yet even here, prices are not low enough to spur a significant switch from renewables investment to gas.

Only in the U.S., where shale gas prices are low, has natural gas consumption risen significantly. However, even that is more geared toward chemicals feedstock and to supply exports rather than to meet rising demand due to power generation.

Looking Ahead

The future, at least over the next few years, is not any rosier for gas producers.

U.S. production is rising, Russia is opening up new resources in the north and is looking to export more, projects in Australia have created a major competitor to Qatar and Middle Eastern suppliers. Meanwhile, the world’s second-largest reserves in Iran are waiting for investment to bring them to market. The Financial Times suggests new finds in the eastern Mediterranean by Israel, Egypt, and off East Africa may never see sufficient investment to develop liquefaction and export, and are destined only for local consumption.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

This is not exactly music to the ears of aluminum producers for whom LNG liquefaction and regasification plants and the construction of LNG carriers has been a particularly profitable niche industry over the last decade. LNG gas codes call for controlled chemistry and manufacture that has created a higher value add industry for more sophisticated and capable producers.

The Construction MMI, tracking metals and raw materials used within the construction industry, surged 5.5% to a value of 95 for December.

Here’s What Happened

  • Every single price point comprising the Construction MMI — including ferrous, non-ferrous and scrap components from the U.S., Europe and China — rose as of Dec. 1, with the exception of U.S. steel bar fuel surcharges.
  • The biggest mover appeared to be the Chinese rebar price, spiking 17.7% from November to December.
  • We’ve breached new territory with this month’s reading. Not since May of 2012 has the Construction MMI performed this strongly.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • Here’s what we wrote back in May: “We’re in the salad days for the U.S. construction sector, at least as far as 2017 is concerned.” According to the Associated General Contractors’ analysis, construction spending was at record levels for the second straight month in March,” as quoted by forconstructionpros.com. Well, after a bit of a summer slowdown, it’s looking even better this month to round out 2017 as a pretty great year for the sector.
  • The Commerce Department said last week “that construction spending increased 1.4 percent to a record high $1.24 trillion, the swiftest advance in five months,” according to Reuters, exceeding analysts’ expectations and driven by state, local and especially federal government spending.
  • To boot, the AIA announced mid-last month that “the monthly Architecture Billings Index (ABI) came in at a score of 51.7 in October, up 2.6 points from September’s score of 49.1.” The ABI is a leading economic indicator of U.S. construction activity, and “reflects a nine- to 12-month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending nationally, and regionally, as well as by project type,” according to the article linked above.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • Interestingly, a longer-term ABI uptrend appears to be firmly in place — since 2012, the index looks to be achieving “higher highs” each time it peaks.
  • “As we enter the fourth quarter, there is enough design activity occurring that construction conditions should remain healthy moving through 2018,” said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, in a press release, according to Architect Magazine.
  • MetalMiner analysts are generally bullish on both the industrial (especially base) metals complex and commodities overall, which can be seen directly in this month’s surges of our MMI sub-indexes such as Construction and Automotive.
  • Although prime contracting season usually starts in the November period and steel prices historically tend to rise this time of year, steel prices’ behavior has not shown enough strength to spur bullishness. Get more insight on that in our latest Monthly Outlook Report. (Free two-month trial here.)

Key Movers and Shakers: Exact Prices

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |

November ended with a general cool-down for the base metals complex, contrary to commodities, which increased sharply. MetalMiner expected the industrial metals price pullback since the uptrend started earlier for base metals than for commodities. In bullish rallies, prices usually pull back to recover from prior gains.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of StockCharts

Despite the slight downtrend for industrial metals, the uptrend appears sustainable. Rising commodity prices and a weaker dollar both help to support the bullish sentiment.

For the second month in a row, commodities breached previous levels. When commodities move above previous peaks, the index shows signs of strength.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of StockCharts

The CRB index has now climbed close to its starting value for 2017. If the CRB index breaches the 196 level, the bullish trend could continue. Increasing oil prices drove the jump in commodities this month, together with raw material price increases such as iron ore.

What about the U.S. dollar?

This month, however, the U.S. dollar decreased sharply. In October, some analysts intimated that the U.S. dollar may have reversed its longer term downtrend. However, this month the U.S. dollar has shown weakness, and it seems that the downtrend appears set to continue. Read more


MetalMiner’s Monthly Buying Outlook
report for December is now available!

Sharpen your sourcing strategies for buying aluminum, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, tin and multiple forms of steel, complete with our coverage of drivers, market commentary, polished charts and more.

If you’re a metals buyer in North America, this is the ideal report for you.

The report provides short- and medium-term industrial buying strategies for the rest of the metals that you buy, helping you avoid unnecessary spending.

This month, you’ll also learn:

  • Repercussions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The House of Representatives passed the bill in November, and the Senate followed suit on December 2. The legislation could have a big effect on the steel and manufacturing industries.
  • What was behind the recent skid of the DBB industrial metals index
  • Why the U.S. dollar’s downtrend remains stronger than the recent two-month uptrend, and why buying organizations should expect even more movement
  • Why steel prices failed to breach resistance levels in November

Individuals, small- and mid-sized manufacturers are encouraged to subscribe to our annual buying outlook. You can sign up at any time and receive the next 12 monthly reports emailed directly to you. Learn more and subscribe today!

The 14-strong Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with 10 oil states outside of the cartel, has reached an agreement to limit oil output until the end of 2018. This decision comes after what has already been more than a year of production cuts, the Telegraph reports.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

This new deal, wider and more inclusive than the one running since the beginning of this year, will also extend to Nigeria and Libya. Previously, these two countries were exempt from the production quotas, despite being OPEC members, because of their struggles with internal political unrest.

OPEC crucially reached an agreement despite the last-minute posturing from Russian oil minister Alexander Novak, who warned that oil prices above $60 a barrel could reignite a production boom in the U.S. shale industry.

The agreement reached by the OPEC and non-OPEC members faces several serious challenges in achieving its objective of stabilising oil prices. The first is that one of its core members, Russia, does not appear to share the same objectives. They may be saying the right things, but according to Georgi Slavov, head of research at broker Marex Spectron, Russia’s cooperation is mostly “in words.”

“In reality Russia has been pumping oil like crazy and this will likely continue. As prices rise the incentive to cheat will too. Others may join the party,” Slavov said. “It is astonishing that the entire market is ignoring this. The market’s fixation is currently on what could happen. However, it is not paying attention to what is actually happening.”

A later article throws further light on the Kremlin’s position, saying Russia has a higher tolerance for depressed prices since the floating rouble cushions their budget.

Russia aims to balance the books at oil prices of $44 by 2021 under its fiscal plan, compared to $113 four years ago. Supported by ultra-low production costs, Russia is loath to cede market share and worried that prices above $60 a barrel will re-ignite significant U.S. shale activity, bringing prices down and reducing everyone’s market share as the same time. Read more

Besides bringing back some cheer to the sector, the latest report by industry monitoring body World Steel Association (WSA) on crude steel production reveals an interesting story.

World crude steel production soared in October, thanks to higher output in China, the U.S., India and Japan.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

While production in the U.S. zoomed by 12% year-over-year in October, China manufactured 72.4 million tons (MT) in the same month, a 6.1% year-over-year increase and 10 times more than the U.S. did that month.

India, on the other hand, produced 8.6 MT of crude steel in October, up by 5.3% to 8.6 MT.

Clearly, the October cheer is positive news, in the sense that the steel sector is making a comeback. The WSA tracks steelmakers in 66 countries globally, representing about 85% of total steel production, and has said in this report that world steel production increased 5.9% year-over-year to 145.3 MT in October.

The China steel story, incidentally, produced nearly half of the world’s steel in October, which indicates a revival of sorts in the growth story there, too.

According to Moneycontrol.com, the downside was reported from Japan, the world’s second largest crude steel producing country. It registered a 1% contraction in output at 8.971 MT in October 2017, compared to 9.060 MT during the same month last year.

During the first 10 months of 2017, Japan’s steel output dropped from 87.442 MT to 87.239 MT, a 0.2% dip compared to the same period last year.

There’s a keen tussle on between the four steel giants (the U.S., China, Japan and India), with the latter already the world leader in stainless steel production and the third largest crude steel producer.

For example, India had overtaken Japan to become the second-largest steel producer in the world after China in 2016, according to the International Stainless Steel Forum. The country’s stainless steel production had gone up to 3.32 MT for 2016, approximately 9% more than the 3.0 MT achieved in 2015. Read more

Over the past half-year or so, it seems as though the cannabis industry is putting out a new press release every other day. And due to relatively recent state-by-state legalization, cannabis’ economic boom and the growth of its supply chain seems legit enough to spawn this spate of news.

In fact, just before beginning to write this article, I received another release on the latest industry growth numbers. And news just broke that the county in which MetalMiner HQ is based may get legal marijuana on an advisory referendum next March. Salad days for the green goddess!

Why go into all of this? Cannabis may have a lot to learn from the industrial metals sector when it comes to commodity price volatility and risk.

Cannabis (vs. Other Commodity) Price Volatility

In their recent report shared with our sister site Spend Matters, Cannabis Benchmarks (in some ways the MetalMiner Benchmark for the green sector), we can see how volatile cannabis prices are compared with other agro commodities:

Courtesy of Cannabis Benchmarks

Not surprisingly, the report states that “market price volatility can be troublesome for all the participants in the value chain.” That is precisely why most supply chain players should begin thinking strategically about managing supply — and not just price — risk (more on that in the next section).

Also not surprisingly, while traditional supply and demand factors such as weather drive many agricultural markets, “significant price jumps in regional cannabis markets appear to still be driven largely by regulatory decisions,” which we’ve reported on in detail. With cannabis remaining illegal under federal law, this is a trend unlikely to change in the short term, according to the report.

The paper goes on to outline the basics of hedging for participants in the cannabis supply chain — including the 101 on spot versus forward buying and contracts, OTC markets and swaps — with some examples to lay out what’s possible for the buyers and sellers within the nascent market.

Managing commodity price volatility and risk requires beginning to think about it strategically. Lisa Reisman, executive editor of Spend Matters’ sister site MetalMiner, knows a thing or two about that.

3 Reasons for a Commodity Management Strategy

Here’s more on how to begin framing the need for hedging strategies from Reisman (read the full article for more detail and examples):

  • Cost
  • The notion of supply chain transparency. Knowing how each entity within the supply chain prices its products and services only helps the buying organization better understand total cost of ownership (TCO).
  • Margin risk. By leaving the burden of extending quote validity periods or holding current pricing for longer periods of time to suppliers, the buying organization cedes control of its own ability to manage margins.

Ultimately, the cannabis industry is such a nascent frontier that now is the time for participants can begin hashing out their own agreements, using benchmark indexes, specifications and the basics of hedging, according to the Cannabis Benchmark report.

“In other commodity markets, such contract standardization has been created by participant pools, cooperatives, federal entities, and international organizations,” the report states. “Given the projected volume of transactions and currently planned centralization of distribution, the first actively traded hedging markets for cannabis could conceivably occur in California within a year.”

“It is contingent upon the industry to come together and create the framework and standards for this potential to be realized.”

Read the original article over on Spend Matters here. Need more specific guidance around commodity price risk management strategy? Contact us!  

Zerophoto/Adobe Stock

Indian industry is in the midst of a mini-crisis — more specifically, a power crisis.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

In fact, both industrial and retail consumers in many parts of the country are reeling from electricity cuts, due to a shortage in supply of coal to thermal plants.

Incidentally, Piyush Goyal, India’s coal minister, was also appointed railway minister recently. The railways transport a bulk of the coal to power plants around the country.

Yet, not much is coming out of the minister’s office regarding the coal shortage. In fact, in his role as coal minister, Goyal earlier declared India’s “independence” from imported coal.

Some time in June this year, the coal secretary announced India did not need to import coal from anywhere in the world, as it had sufficient capacity.

Now, all that seems so far away.

Read more

There is widespread agreement and considerable evidence to suggest the global weather patterns of El Niño and La Niña can have a significant impact on commodity prices.

But impacting average temperatures and rainfall as these weather patterns do, the most significant impact is, not surprisingly, on agricultural commodities in the grain sector.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

As Agriweb observes, “Dry weather conditions in the U.S. can threaten the development of corn, soybeans and wheat crops, and dry conditions in Argentina and southern Brazil can impact corn and soybeans.”

El Niño and La Niña broadly act as opposites, reflecting as they do the interaction of large areas of warm water in the Pacific with global weather patterns. We were under the influence of El Niño effects last year, but have recently moved into conditions meeting the La Niña pattern. The La Niña pattern is characterized by a shrinking of a large pool of warm water in the Pacific as a strengthening of westbound trade winds carry warm surface water from the east to west and allow an upwelling of colder waters in eastern regions. The overall temperature of surface water decreases and on the western side of the Pacific the arrival of warmer waters increases rainfall while on the western side cooler temperatures tend to reduce rainfall, resulting in drought conditions. The last La Nina year was 2011-2012 where drought conditions caused a grain prices to surge.

According to the Climate Change Centre, drawing on work by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, released in a recent report, “El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion,” La Niña conditions have a 65-75% chance of prevailing through to the February-April 2018 period.

But what impact can this have on metal markets?

Clearly, mining and metal extraction are less weather-dependent than the growing of crops. However, while a shortage of water for the irrigation of field crops can be dramatic for crop yields, it can also be significant for the generation of hydroelectric power for the mining sector and metal smelting in certain regions of the world.

As the above graph from a University of Sydney School of Economics paper last year illustrates, in La Niña years rainfall can be reduced in areas like the eastern Pacific such as Chile and Peru. The reverse can be the case in southeast Asia and Australia, where excessive rainfall has caused flooding and resulted in supply disruption for mining companies in the iron ore, tin and bauxite markets prompting price rises over short timeframes.

The paper suggests 20-30% of metal price variations at the one-to-two year horizon can be attributed to El Niño/La Niña oscillations.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

As a more frivolous aside, for anyone yet to book their winter ski vacation in North America this year, the developing La Niña would suggest the current outlook favours above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and below-average temperatures and above-median precipitation across the northern tier of the United States.

So, head to the northern Rockies for the snow and colder temperatures.