Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner, including coverage of: copper prices and the coronavirus’ impact; European steel consumption; Jingye’s British Steel takeover bid; U.S. steel production; automotive sales and more.
This morning in metals news, the U.S. steel sector’s capacity utilization rate reached 82.1% as of Jan. 11, Pilbara Ports Authority throughput in December 2019 rose 2% and the U.S. removed the label of currency manipulator it had imposed on China last year.
U.S. steel capacity utilization rate hits 82.1%
According to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), the U.S. steel industry’s capacity utilization rate for the year through Jan. 11 reached 82.1%.
During the period, mills produced a total of 3.01 million tons, which marked a 2.3% year-over-year increase (last year during the same period, the capacity utilization rate was 80.4%).
This morning in metals news, President Donald Trump won’t go through with a previous tariff threat on Brazilian steel and aluminum, Chinese stainless steel production growth is forecast to drop in 2020, and a power outage impact Norsk Hydro operations last week.
U.S. backs off tariff threat
After President Trump met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro last Friday, Trump agreed not to follow through on a previous threat to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Brazilian exports, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The news comes less than a month after the initial threat, which would have reversed an exemption granted to Brazil (and Argentina) when the Trump administration initially imposed Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs in March 2018.
Chinese stainless production growth to drop in 2020
China’s stainless steel production growth is forecast to drop in 2020, according to the Hellenic Shipping News.
Growth is expected to hit 5% next year, down from 11% this year.
Norsk Hydro hit with power outages
Norway’s Norsk Hydro saw power outages impact its operations at Alunorte and Paragominas last week.
“On December 18, a transmission tower overturned, ceasing power supply to Hydro’s Paragominas bauxite mine in Brazil, temporarily halting the production at the mine,” Norsk Hydro said. “Regular power supply to Paragominas is expected to resume within 5-10 days.”
The firm said capacity at the Alunorte alumina refinery will be temporarily reduced to 50-70% in order to extend the life of bauxite inventories there.
In a year full of stops and starts, false dawns and setbacks, it appears the world’s top two economic superpowers could have some form of a partial trade deal on the table.
According to Bloomberg, the tentative agreement would avert the imposition of approximately $160 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Chinese pledges to purchase more U.S. agricultural goods.
“Getting VERY close to a BIG DEAL with China,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, sending stocks soaring. “They want it, and so do we!”
Talks between the two countries picked back up in October and have continued since. That same month, Trump outlined a potential phase one deal, but said the two side still had to work out details in the ensuing weeks.
In August 2017, the United States Trade Representative launched its Section 301 investigation into alleged Chinese trade practices, including forced technology transfers and intellectual property theft, among other U.S. grievances.
In 2018, the Trump administration rolled out initial tariff tranches of $34 billion and $16 billion. Those tranches were followed by an additional $200 billion in tariffs last September.
The Trump administration’s fourth tariff list encompassed $300 billion worth of Chinese goods —including a wide variety of common consumer goods, from toys to washing machines — at a 10% rate. Those tariffs were scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1; however, some of those tariffs were eventually delayed, leading to Sunday’s Dec. 15 deadline.
Through the first 10 months of the year, the U.S. has a trade in goods deficit of $294.5 billion with China, with exports worth $87.6 billion and imports worth $382.1 billion, according to Census Bureau data. The U.S. deficit with China came in at $419.5 billion in 2019.
The exact details of the reported agreement remain to be seen, particularly in light of the often topsy-turvy, back-and-forth nature of the negotiations to date; a deal in principle today might not be one tomorrow. In fact, during the NATO summit last week in London, Trump mused it might be better to wait to sign a deal until after the 2020 elections.
Nonetheless, the news marks another milestone in a busy week of trade news.
Earlier this week, the White House and House Democrats announced an agreement on revisions to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the proposed successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Stocks reacted positively to the U.S.-China trade news Thursday.
The S&P 500 index closed up 0.9% to 3,168.57. The NASDAQ Composite closed up 0.7% to 8,717.32, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 0.8% to 28,132.05.
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, including our coverage of: ArcelorMittal’s plant closure in South Africa, the oil price outlook, U.S. steel capacity utilization and steel prices, CAMMU’s call for a Section 232 sunset provision, and more.
- Sohrab Darabshaw on ArcelorMittal’s announced plant closure in South Africa and temporary closure in Poland.
- MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns took a look at oil prices, about which Goldman Sachs is bullish in the long term.
- The U.S. steel sector’s capacity utilization rate is at 80.3% for the year through Nov. 16.
- What’s going on in the nickel market since it soared above $18,000/mt earlier this year?
- The Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users called for a Section 232 sunset provision.
- This week, MetalMiner welcomed Don Hauser to the MetalMiner commercial team.
- As we enter the winter heating season in China, the spotlight is once again on governmental efforts to curb supply.
- Darabshaw recapped the latest developments in India’s conflict with the U.S. at the WTO over steel subsidies.
- With MetalMiner’s participation, Avetta recently hosted a webinar on the subject of the “skills gap” in U.S. manufacturing.
- Strong investment demand has boosted platinum this year.
Not everyone agrees with the use of tariffs to achieve changes in trade relations.
However, a recent article in The New York Times article reports the threat of 25% import tariffs on the U.S.’s main automotive trading partners could prove to be spectacularly successful.
Autos are the soft underbelly of major auto economies like Germany, Japan, South Korea and Mexico in their trade relations with the U.S. Although the first three have invested heavily in U.S. manufacturing facilities over the years, they still ship huge volumes into the U.S. from their home countries and have largely perpetuated an unfair reciprocal relationship in terms of tariff barriers.
The E.U., for example, exported $42.8 billion worth of motor vehicles to the U.S. in 2018 — more than one-fifth of the cars imported by the U.S. — at a tax rate of 2.5%. Meanwhile, the E.U. imposes a 10% tariff for cars exported in the reverse direction.
In response to the threat of 25% tariffs, the E.U. offered to scrap tariffs in both directions, a step it has resisted in all previous negotiations.
But with carmakers’ backs against the wall, the Trump administration was not about to let up with a simple scrapping of tariffs, long overdue as that may be.
The administration is in discussions with the E.U. and its carmakers about increasing their investment and employment in the U.S. The more cars foreign carmakers manufacture in the U.S., the less they will ship in from abroad, benefiting the balance of payments and creating employment stateside.
Consumers benefit from continued access to a wide range of manufacturers without the cost implications of the threatened tariffs being imposed, estimated to be between $1,400 and $7,000 per vehicle if applied at 25%, the article notes.
Even U.S. carmakers are in favor of removing all tariffs, as they see a reduction in overseas import tariffs as an opportunity worth the increased domestic competition that foreign carmakers setting up in the U.S. may pose.
The only losers, should the deal be agreed, could be said to be foreign carmakers who will lose domestic exports, an impact that Germany is expected to feel the significance of more than any other country. Germany runs the second-largest trade surplus after China, with autos making up a sizable portion of that mercantilist trade structure.
Foreign carmakers are being asked to provide details of proposed investments and plans already in the pipeline.
The German car industry is promising to create 25,000 jobs at factories in the United States, according to The New York Times. However, the Trump administration is looking for new jobs and investments, not simply plans that were already in the pipeline before the current negotiations were started.
A deal has not yet been reached; unofficially, both sides are making encouraging noises, raising the prospects for some good trade news to lift the spirits of investors who have been disproportionately depressed by a barrage of negative media coverage on the topic in 2019.
This morning in metals news, U.S. steel import permit applications surged in October, U.S. Steel has laid off workers at its Granite City operation and Port Hedland iron ore shipments to China dropped in October.
Steel Import Permit Applications Surge
U.S. steel import permit applications for October jumped 34.6% compared with the September final import total, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported this week.
Import permit applications for October totaled 2.56 million tons, according to AISI.
Meanwhile, steel import market share in October checked in at 17%.
U.S. Steel Lays Off Workers at Granite City
On the heels of news of layoffs at U.S. Steel’s taconite operations in Minnesota, the steelmaker has reportedly also laid off an unspecified number of nonunion workers at its Granite City, Illinois operation, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
The Granite City operation famously received a boost after the Trump administration’s imposition of Section 232 tariffs on imported steel. Previously idled, in March and June of 2018, U.S. Steel announced it would restart two blast furnaces at the plant, welcoming back approximately 800 workers in the process.
Port Hedland Iron Ore Exports to China Drop in October
Exports of iron ore to China from Australia’s Port Hedland fell in October, Reuters reported.
On a month-over-month basis, iron ore exports to China from the major port dropped 0.7% in October.
This morning in metals news, No. 1 copper producer Chile saw its export levels drop 21% last month amid protests around the country, steel production in the U.S.’s Great Lakes region dropped last week and Shanghai Metals Markets forecast Chinese tin prices to rise back above $20,000 per ton by the end of the year.
Chile Copper Exports Decline in October
Anti-government protests in several cities around Chile — including the capital, Santiago — have resulted in at least 23 deaths, according to Reuters, and had an impact on the country’s economy.
According to Reuters, while the protests have not significantly impacted copper mine production, Chile’s exports of copper dropped by 21% in October.
Great Lakes Steel Production Down
Steel production in the U.S.’s Great Lakes region declined by 26,000 tons last week, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported.
Production last week reached 676,000 tons, according to the Times, marking a 3.6% decline.
SMM: SHFE Tin Could Breach $20K Per Ton This Year
According to Shanghai Metals Markets, the SHFE tin price could bounce back this year and rise above $20,000 per ton.
“In line with other analysts, SMM are positive on the tin market for the remainder of the year,” the International Tin Association said in a release. “While we are forecasting stable demand in Q4 and falling supply (particularly in China), we expect that any price increase this year will be resisted by the high stocks on the LME. In 2020, we also see demand returning to the market as economic growth recovers and uncertainty dissipates. However, currently idled production is likely to re-enter the market to cope with increased consumption. Next year, we see tin recovering from current uncharacteristic lows, but feel that average price forecasts of US$ 22,000/tonne are slightly optimistic.”
This morning in metals news, South Korea will no longer seek to benefit from special treatment granted to developing countries vis-a-vis WTO rules, iron ore exports from Australia’s Port Hedland are surging and Rio Tinto has commissioned new press filter technology at its Quebec alumina refinery.
South Korea to Give up Seeking Developing Country Treatment
According to a Reuters report citing South Korea’s finance minister, the country will give up seeking the special treatment afforded to developing countries.
“The government decided not to seek special treatment as a developing country from future negotiations at WTO,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki was quoted as saying.
Developing country status is self-designated; however, other WTO members can challenge a country’s claim to the status.
Earlier this year, the White House released a memorandum calling for reforms to developing country designations.
“While some developing-country designations are proper, many are patently unsupportable in light of current economic circumstances,” the memorandum stated. “For example, 7 out of the 10 wealthiest economies in the world as measured by Gross Domestic Product per capita on a purchasing-power parity basis — Brunei, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Macao, Qatar, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates — currently claim developing-country status. Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey — members of both the G20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — also claim this status.”
Through the first half of 2019, South Korea accounted for 9% of U.S. steel imports (1.3 million metric tons).
Port Hedland Iron Ore Exports Rising
Iron ore exports from Australia’s Port Hedland are expected to hit a record high this fiscal year, according to a Bloomberg report.
According to the report, iron ore volumes from the port last year reached 508.5 million tons.
Rio Tinto Announces New Press Filter Tech at Quebec Refinery
Rio Tinto has commissioned new press filter technology at its Vaudreuil alumina refinery in Quebec.
“The new filter presses will deliver environmental benefits by moving the refinery to dry stacking of bauxite residue and extend the life of the operation, which supports 1,000 jobs in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region,” the company said. “The presses will ramp up to being fully operational in early 2020.”
The new presses will be able to dry bauxite residue — preparing it for storage — in just 17 minutes, according to Rio Tinto, down from the three years it currently takes to dry the material.
Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals coverage here on MetalMiner, which included stories on: steel production and the falling steel price; a dip in aluminum production and the flagging aluminum price; U.S. oil exports; and a survey of U.S. electronics manufacturers regarding tariffs.
- Stuart Burns on copper projects that could weigh on the metal’s price in the near future.
- U.S. housing starts took a fall in September.
- Despite a drop in global aluminum production, the aluminum price has also fallen.
- U.S. steel prices have continued to tumble as the sector’s capacity utilization dipped below 80% last week.
- Burns on developments in the world of iron ore, which has had an up-and-down year.
- The U.S.’s status as a prominent exporter of oil has continued to grow this year.
- India’s largest coal producer has had operational challenges, but the country’s coal imports are still forecast to drop this month.
- A recent IPC survey asked U.S. electronics manufacturers about tariffs.
- Steel demand is on the decline, but China’s steel production continues to forge ahead on an upward trajectory.