Articles in Category: Ferrous Metals

This week, President Donald Trump and the Department of Commerce used executive orders, new anti-dumping investigations, memoranda invoking national security concerns and other executive branch tools to get tough on foreign steel imports.

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Although Trump or Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross never overtly stated it, the target is clearly China and the global steel overcapacity that it’s the main culprit in creating. China’s steel exports hit a record 112.4 million metric tons in 2015, then dropped slightly to 108.49 mmt last year, as Chinese mills have been chastened by threats of a trade dispute.

Fre trade

The Trump administration is using every tool in the box on steel overcapacity. Source: Adobe Stock/Argus.

To date, the Global Forum on Steel Overcapacity hasn’t caused overcapacity to come down very much. Can a section 232 investigation or other U.S.-only actions change that? The U.S. steel industry certainly seems to think so. Or it’s at least saying, “why not try?”

Steelmaker executives such as U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi and SSAB Americas President Chuck Schmitt flanked Trump and Ross at the memorandum-signing ceremony calling for the Section 232 investigation yesterday. The praise was universal from steel producers as one might expect, too. Still, Trump’s latest salvo on trade will renew concerns that China may retaliate.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said today the country needed to ascertain the direction of any U.S. investigation before it could make a judgment. There’s also the fact that Trump now claims that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are the best of friends.

Chinese steel executives also repeated their mantra that overcapacity is not just China’s problem and it needs global coordination to resolve it, but also said it would be tough to rein in the sector.

“The Chinese government will not set export limits for the steel mills and could not keep track of every mill,” Li Xinchuang, vice chairman of the China Iron and Steel Association, told Reuters.

What may be more effective is rising steel prices in China and what looks more and more like a very real crackdown on pollution and dirty air in China. An early-year surge in Chinese steel prices has lifted the prices of its export products and China has lost its competitiveness with other markets. With coking coal prices increasing, Chinese steel prices could increase even more, which our Lead Forecasting Analyst, Raul de Frutos, pointed out this week.

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On a personal note, this will be my last MetalMiner week-in-review. I have thoroughly enjoyed informing all of you wonderful readers and site users about the latest developments in metals markets these last three years. Thank you for taking advantage of our services. It has been an honor.

 

UPDATED 11:47 AM with Comments from President Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the American Iron & Steel Institute.

President Donald Trump will sign a directive asking for a speedy probe into whether imports of foreign-made steel are hurting U.S. national security, two administration officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

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Trump signed the memorandum related to section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 at the White House with leaders of some domestic steel companies, such as U.S. Steel‘s CEO Mario Longhi and SSAB Americas President Chuck Schmitt in attendance. The law allows the president to impose restrictions on imports for reasons of national security. The order would only task the Commerce Department with starting a probe into the imports and if they, indeed, harm national security. Reuters reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already tasked Commerce personnel with starting the probe.

Trump said Ross and Commerce would be back “very, very soon” with recommendations about how to protect the American steel industry. He also repeated campaign trail criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement and said that farmers in Wisconsin are also suffering from cheap imports of dairy products from Canada.

“Times of crisis call for extraordinary measures. Massive global steel overcapacity has resulted in record levels of dumped and subsidized foreign steel coming into the U.S. and the loss of nearly 14,000 steel jobs,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest trade organization of North American steel producers. “The Administration launching this investigation is an impactful way to help address the serious threat posed by these unfair foreign trade practices, and we applaud this bold action.”

According to Ross, the investigation was “self-initiated” by Commerce and will consider “the domestic production (of steel) needed for the projected national defense requirement” and if domestic industries can meet that requirement. It will also look at “the impact of foreign competition on specific domestic industries and the impact of displacement of domestic product because of foreign imports.”

There are national security implications from imports of steel alloys that are used in products such as the armor plating of ships and require a lot of expertise to create and produce.

The Department of Commerce started investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Belarus, Italy, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, and companion countervailing duty investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Italy and Turkey. The investigations cover hot-rolled products of carbon and alloy steel.

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The alleged dumping margins range from 18.89% (Italy) to 756.93% (Russia) and both of the alleged countervailing subsidies are above de minimis (less than 2%). The U.S. International Trade Commission is scheduled to make its preliminary injury determinations on or before May 12, 2017.

The petitioners are Gerdau Ameristeel US Inc. in Florida, Nucor Corporation based in North Carolina, Keystone Consolidated Industries of Texas, and Charter Steel in Wisconsin.

Beijing is caught in something of a quandary.

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On the one hand, an admirable, and increasingly important social imperative, the Chinese government’s focus on air pollution, has resulted in a crackdown on a range of polluting industries. Coal-fired power stations around Beijing and other major cities have been closed. Steel capacity has been targeted for cutbacks, although not universally.

Reports suggest rebar production used in construction has been prioritized over other product areas and that’s just one example of selective enforcement. A recent report by Reuters states new aluminum production capacity has been halted. What China fails to meet capacity cutback targets — an issue one suspects would have been “worked around” a year or two back when environmental considerations where less of an imperative?

This crackdown on output comes at the same time as the economy is performing quite well. Official data released last week showed China’s economy grew by a better-than-expected 6.9% comparing the March quarter to the same period in the previous year, Australian Financial Review reports. That is up from 6.8% in the final quarter of 2016. Industrial production was also far better than forecast, growing at 7.6% in March compared to 6.3% in first two months of the year. Read more

President Donald Trump (R-N.Y.) is set to sign an executive order this afternoon ordering enforcement and review of the H-1B visa program, popular in the technology industry, on a visit to the headquarters of Snap-On Inc., a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., according to senior administration officials.

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He will also use what the White House called the “Buy American and Hire American” order to seek changes in government procurement that would boost purchases of American products in federal contracts, with one aim being to help U.S. steelmakers.

The moves show Trump once again using his power to issue executive orders to try to fulfill promises he made last year in his election campaign, in this case to reform U.S. immigration policies and encourage purchases of American products.

“Strong Buy America domestic procurement preferences for federally funded infrastructure projects are vital to the health of the domestic steel industry, and have helped create manufacturing jobs and build American infrastructure,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, the largest trade group for North American steel manufacturers. “The foundation of a strong Buy America program is the longstanding requirement that all iron and steel-making processes occur in the U.S. for a product to be Buy America compliant — from the actual steel production to the finishing processes. This ‘melted and poured’ standard has been successfully applied since 1983 and must continue to be the standard used in federal Buy America rules for steel procurement. We applaud President Trump for affirming his commitment to full and effective enforcement of our Buy America laws, and to addressing the issue of unfairly dumped and subsidized steel, in signing this Executive Order today.”

Coking coal has more than doubled in two weeks on the back of disruption to Australia’s coal exports associated with Cyclone Debbie, which caused the evacuation of several mines and damaged coal trains supplying export terminals, forcing some miners to declare force majeure on their deliveries.

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It is estimated that shipments accounting for 50% of the global coking coal supply will be delayed and that Australia will need at least two months to regularize its coking coal exports following the natural disaster.

Australian coking coal’s free-on-board price in US dollars per metric ton. Source:mining.com.

Coking coal prices rose sharply in the second half of last year when China reduced allowable work days at the country’s coal mines, which reduced output and tightened the global coking coal market. These events added fuel to rising steel prices in China. But a slump in coking coal prices since December added pressure to steel prices, especially in China since the country strongly depends on the commodity to make steel.

Can Higher Coking Coal Prices Give a New Boost to Chinese Steel Prices?

The Chinese cold-rolled coil price. Source: MetalMiner IndX.

Australia is the world’s biggest coking coal exporter and is China’s largest supplier. The recent disruptions are forcing China to look for alternative supplies. Russia, Mongolia and Indonesia are other potential sources of coking coal for China’s hungry mills. Meanwhile, North Korea is out of China’s exporter list after Beijing ordered an import ban following North Korean missile tests.

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Higher coking coal prices translate into higher input costs, particularly in China. Chinese steel prices set the floor for international steel prices, a topic that we discussed recently. Steel buyers should monitor the recent surge in coking coal prices closely as  since steelmakers will potentially pass on the increase to consumers, giving a boost to weakening steel prices in China.

As requested by Japan, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has set up a dispute settlement panel to decide the row over India’s imposition of a safeguard duty on imports of iron and steel products.

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MetalMiner has reported on this case in the past. Japan’s request was made after New Delhi imposed safeguard duties on several iron and steel products, which India claimed violated global trade rules.

India’s finance ministry imposed definitive safeguard duties on imports of hot-rolled flat products of non-alloy steel in coils to counter a surge in imports from several countries, including Japan. India’s stand has been that such cheap imports “caused injury to domestic steel industries.”

As both the nations failed to arrive at a solution, Japan petitioned the WTO for the formation of a dispute resolution panel.

Soon after the WTO announcement, though, India objected to Japan’s WTO request for a “prompt’’ resolution of its dispute against India’s duties on steel imports.

India’s contention is that there’s “no rationale” for treating the dispute any more urgently than other WTO disputes it’s involved in and the same standard should be applied to all disputes.

In December, Japan dragged India to the WTO against measures taken on imports of iron and steel products. Incidentally, Japan is the second-largest steel producer in the world.

The dispute assumes some amount of significance as both India and Japan signed a comprehensive free trade agreement, meant to avoid this type of arbitration, in 2011.

This was Japan’s second attempt to ask the WTO to set up a panel after the first was blocked by India in March. India expressed disappointment over Japan’s insistence on the WTO panel despite its “sincere efforts” to resolve the matter in a bilateral manner.

It normally takes about 20 months to settle a dispute at the WTO, but according to WTO rules, in cases of urgency, the parties to the dispute, panels and the Appellate Body make every effort to accelerate the proceedings.

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The Japanese government reportedly estimated that the tariffs could cost Japanese steel companies about $220 million through March 2018.

The safeguard duties imposed by India also gave rise to complaints from other WTO members.

Since the beginning of March, steel prices in China have fallen sharply while prices in U.S. have risen. That is simply not sustainable.

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These price divergences happen once in a while but they don’t last long. Over the next few weeks we’ll either see a rebound in Chinese prices or weakness in US steel prices.

US HRC (in blue) vs. Chinese HRC (in purple). Source: MetalMiner IndX.

Why do we say this? Well, China’s output accounts for more than 50% of world steel production. Currently, China isn’t a major exporter to the U.S., but it is the biggest exporter to the rest of the world. Therefore, Chinese prices put a floor under international steel prices.

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China’s hot-rolled coil prices have fallen nearly 15% since their February 2017 highs. During the same period, U.S. HRC prices have risen nearly 8%. Interestingly, we saw a similar divergence last summer, when the U.S. imposed strong anti-dumping measures against imports. Such a wide international price arbitrage didn’t last long, as we predicted last year, this price arbitrage narrowed after that summer.

CRC price arbitrage US-China. Source:MetalMiner IndX.

U.S. steel prices are now expensive again relative to Chinese prices. In the case of cold-rolled coil, the price spread stands now at $344 per metric ton, quite high compared to historical levels and not far from last summer’s peak of $420 per mt. A level that has proven unsustainable before.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

We continue to be long-term bullish on steel markets. However, buyers should closely monitor the recent divergence between Chinese and US prices. We should see a recovery in Chinese steel prices soon, otherwise US steel mills will have a hard time justifying further price hikes. Remember that we are in a global world and although US steel prices can temporarily move apart from Chinese prices, they will eventually move in tandem because otherwise, buyers will start looking to buy steel overseas.

This month, some of our metals reached new heights while others saw their rallies noticeably falter.

Aluminum and Raw Steels are still riding high, while complicated supply stories saw stainless and copper fall. Demand from manufacturers for almost all of the metals we track remains strong.

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17 Of the 18 manufacturing industries tracked by the Institute for Supply Management’s index of national factory activity reported growth and no industry reported a contraction last month. Buyers still might want to beware as metal markets are showing more pull-backs than we witnessed in March, despite the overall bullish behavior across the entire industrial metals complex.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross recently announced the final results of an annual administrative review of the anti-dumping duty order on imports of oil country tubular goods (OCTG) from the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Commerce found that Korean steel producers have been unfairly dumping OCTG in the U.S. market, hurting American workers and businesses.

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Commerce announced, in a press release, that it is exercising its authority under Congress for the first time to address market distortions in the production of foreign merchandise, and to calculate dumping margins that “more accurately account for the unfair pricing practices of foreign exporters. Section 504 of the Trade Preferences Extension of 2015 is a vital instrument in helping to identify distortions in the market that can enable and facilitate dumping practices.”

During the period covered by the administrative review (July 2014 to August 2015), OCTG imports from South Korea were valued at an estimated $1.1 billion, accounting for nearly 25% of all U.S. imports of OCTG. The dumping margins, or the rate at which the imported materials were under sold below fair value in the U.S., were found to range from 2.76% to 24.9%.

A 24.92%t tariff rate was imposed on OCTG from Nexteel, 2.76% on SeAh Steel and 13.84% on Hyundai Steel and other South Korean steelmakers.

The review also concluded that prices of the hot-rolled coil used to produce OCTG, as well as Korean electricity prices, were distorted. Anti-dumping tariffs on Nexteel and Hyundai each increased 16.88% and 7.92%, respectively, during this review. The initial preliminary rulings and the lower percentages were announced last October.

Seah Steel, however, saw a 1.04% reduction, making it the only South Korean steelmaker that was levied a lower tariff rate.

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“There is fair and unfair trade, and the distinction is not very hard to make,” Secretary Ross said in the release. “We will not stand for the distortions in foreign markets being used against U.S. businesses. The Trump Administration will continue to employ all of the tools provided under the law to take swift action against harmful trade practices from foreign nations attempting to take advantage of our markets, workers, and businesses.”