Articles in Category: Ferrous Metals

Reports in the media that natural gas prices in the U.K. have more than quadrupled over the last year to highs of 180p per therm from around 40p per therm this time last year are making headlines. This is largely because of the impact on small, startup gas suppliers who have been forced out of business over recent weeks.

However, natural gas — and energy prices, broadly — have been rising strongly. This has been the case, not just in the U.K. but across Europe for much of this year.

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Power prices on the rise

natural gas tap

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In part, this is weather-related. Exceptionally low winds are failing to generate sufficient renewable energy. However, the situation is also due to the rise of natural gas prices, globally and specifically in Europe.

Demand from China and severe weather in Texas have led to increasing demand and constrained supply. As such, those have created the perfect conditions for speculators to drive prices higher.

Another less talked about contributor is the failure of Russia to supply more than its minimum contractual requirements to the European market for some months. The move is widely seen as the Russian authorities trying to apply pressure on Europe for the approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

According to The Guardian newspaper, around half of the U.K.’s electricity is generated by natural gas-fired power plants.

The situation is exacerbated by unplanned outages of nuclear power plants this year. Furthermore, fire shut down a main power cable importing electricity from France just this month.

Natural gas surge

The U.K. relies heavily on natural gas for both residential and industrial use. The resulting rise in prices has already led to the closure of two major U.K.’s fertilizer plants.

This has had the knock-on effect of crimping CO2 production. Ir is made as a byproduct and is the source of some 80% of the UK’s supply. CO2 is needed for a wide variety of industrial and agricultural applications.

Steel impact

The U.K.’s second-biggest steel producer, British Steel, is quoted by the Financial Times as saying that the U.K.’s power prices are spiraling out of control.

The company is on variable electricity prices. British Steel has warned it could have to close production in the face of unprecedented price increases.

Electricity costs can represent up to 20% of the cost of converting basic raw materials into steel. The company is quoted as saying it is facing a maximum price at peak times of up to £2,500 per MWh.

Meanwhile, it saw an average of £50 per MWh in April.

Spot prices in excess of £1,000 per month MWh are becoming increasingly common this month after wholesale prices in the U.K. rose dramatically.

Nor is the UK well served with reserves of natural gas. It has just 1% of Europe’s total storage after failing to invest in storage facilities over the last 10 years. So, if supplies from Russia do not increase as the winter season approaches, the U.K. is probably the worst-placed of all European markets in having no alternatives to limited supply and rising prices.

While European steel producers are more protected in terms of energy prices by state rules and long-term agreements, producers in Italy are voicing worries. Rising power costs are said to be behind the current price of steel products in southern Europe, which had expected to decrease on falling scrap input costs but were being hampered by record power costs.

With winter approaching, the situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better.

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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 stainless steel consumption’s impact on nickel prices, surging aluminum prices and much more:

stainless steel rods

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Week of Sept. 13-17 (stainless steel drives nickel, aluminum prices rise and more)

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The Construction Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up by 4.9% for this month’s reading.

September 2021 Construction MMI chart

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US construction spending

U.S. construction spending reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,568.8 billion in July, the Census Bureau reported earlier this month.

The July rate marked a 0.3% increase from the previous month. Furthermore, the July figure jumped by 9.0% compared with July 2020.

During the first seven months of the year, construction spending totaled $883.2 billion, up 6.2% year over year.

Private construction spending reached a rate of $1,231.0 billion, or up 0.3%. Within private construction, residential construction reached an annual rate of $773.0 billion in July, up 0.5% from June. Nonresidential construction came in at $458.0 billion in July, or down 0.2%.

Meanwhile, public construction reached $337.8 billion, up 0.7%. Educational construction checked in at $79.7 billion, down 0.5%. Highway construction rose by 1.9% to a rate of $94.5 billion.

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When Chinese steel group Tsingshan announced its Indonesian nickel operations would supply matte — a form of the metal used only for stainless steel production — to battery makers back in February, the news undercut the narrative that only refined nickel would be sufficiently high grade for the electric vehicle sector.

nickel price

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The price proceeded to crash. Furthermore, he Chinese government’s decision May 1 to revoke the VAT tax rebate supporting exports of stainless-steel products removed a plank of support for metal exporters in a bid to help domestic consumers.

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Nickel narrative

From a bear narrative of oversupply in the first half of this year the nickel market has swung dramatically to a bull story of rampant demand.

That demand, however, is from solid stainless steel consumption, not from last year’s expectation of battery demand.

China is largely driving the nickel price. A technical squeeze on the SHFE and strong physical demand, manifested by rising imports, are supporting the price.

A Reuters report explains how SHFE inventory had fallen to just 4,455 tons at the end of August. That marked its lowest level since the contract began in 2015.

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crude oil

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This morning in metals news: In a bid to aid domestic refiners currently limited by steep energy costs, China announced plans to auction crude oil from its strategic reserves. In other news, Shell declares force majeure as Hurricane Ida’s fallout continues. Also in the news, July steel shipments show 37% year over year rise.

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The Stainless Monthly Metals Index (MMI) remained flat for this month’s reading.

September 2021 Stainless MMI chart

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Base price and surcharge increase

Both NAS and Outokumpu announced price increases effective Sept. 1.

Outokumpu increased base prices by reducing the discount by one point for all 200 series, 301, 304, 304L, 316L and 430. All other 300 series alloys will see increases by virtue of discount reductions by three points. Outokumpu raised all of its other 400 series alloys by reducing the discount by four points.

In addition to base price increases, Outokumpu increased its width extra for under 48″ to $0.12/lb and added a $0.15/lb gauge extra for 301 18 gauge and lighter. It also increased cut-to-length charges.

NAS increased its base price by reducing the functional discount by one point for 304, 304L and 316L. All other alloys — except for automotive ferritics — will be increased by reducing the discount by two points. Non-430 ferritics will be increased by $0.08/lb, which means these alloys have increased $0.27/lb in 2021.

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) dropped by 1.4%, as Chinese steel and U.S. scrap prices declined.

September 2021 Raw Steels MMI chart

Each month, MetalMiner hosts a webinar on a specific metals topic. This month’s discussion is Carbon Steel 2022: What types of steel contracts to set up and when to execute them. Explore the upcoming webinars and sign up for each on the MetalMiner Events page.

Chinese steel merger to form third-largest steel producer

Chinese steel factory

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On Aug. 20, Chinese steelmakers Ansteel Group and Ben Gang formally began the process of merging their operations. If the process is completed, this will create the world’s third-largest steelmaker, behind China Baowu Group and ArcelorMittal.

Since both companies are state-owned, there will be no money changed in the transaction. Instead, the merger will be a government-backed restructuring in an effort to consolidate production in China’s bloated steel sector. Ansteel will be taking a 51% stake in Ben Gang.

The merged entity will keep the Ansteel name. Its annual production capacity will reach 63 million metric tons of crude steel.

US imports rise

Preliminary reports from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate steel imports rose for a second consecutive month.

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This morning in metals news: U.S. steel capacity utilization dropped slightly last week; the number of drilled but uncompleted oil wells in the U.S. declined in July; and, lastly, the construction sector shed 3,000 jobs in August.

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Steel capacity utilization hits 84.5%

hot rolled steel

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The U.S. steel capacity utilization rate for the week ending Sept. 4 fell to 84.5%, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported this week.

The rate marked a decline from 84.9% the previous week.

Meanwhile, steel output last week totaled 1,866,000 net tons, AISI reported. The total marked a 0.4% decline from the previous week but a 23.5% year-over-year rise.

DUCs decline in July

Meanwhile, in energy news, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells in the U.S. fell to their lowest monthly level in July since November 2017.

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One of India’s foremost steel companies, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., has announced plans to invest U.S. $2.4 billion to increase capacity over the next six years as recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic boosts steel demand.

“Domestic steel prices have recovered from the lows of the COVID-induced volatility and are increasing spurred by improving demand prospects,” the firm said in its August investor presentation.

Volatility is the name of the game. Do you have a steel buying strategy that can handle the ups and downs?

Jindal Steel to ramp up capacity

India

Zerophoto/Adobe Stock

The steelmaker will increase its total capacity to 15.9 million tons (MT) by March 2025 from 8.6 MT, it said in an investor presentation recently. According to the statement, the company plans to more than double pellet production capacity to 21 million tons by 2024.

On Monday, in a statement to the stock exchanges, the steel company announced that its board had approved fundraising measures that include issuing non-convertible, senior, unsecured, fixed rate or LIBOR notes worth U.S. $1 billion.

JSPL’s plan includes raising money as part of its long-term goal of becoming debt-free and increasing production capacity to 15.9 MT by FY 2024.

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This morning in metals news: U.S. steel capacity utilization dipped to 84.9% last week; North American Stainless said it is maintaining fuel surcharge; and, lastly, RUSAL earlier this month reported its interim H1 2021 results.

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Steel capacity utilization dips to 84.9%

steelmaking in an EAF

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U.S. steel capacity utilization dipped to 84.9% for the week ending Aug. 28, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported.

Steel output during the week reached 1.87 million net tons. That weekly total marked a decline of 0.2% from the previous week. However, output increased by 26.9% on a year-over-year basis.

For the year to date, steel production reached 62.0 million net tons. Capacity utilization during that period reached 80.5%. During the same period in 2020, the rate reached just 66.6%, with output at 51.7 million net tons.

NAS updates fuel surcharge

North American Stainless (NAS) today said it will maintain its fuel surcharge of 27% for stainless flat and long products.

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