Articles in Category: Global Trade

Our September MMI report is in the books — overall, it was another strong month for metals.

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For our latest batch of readings, all 10 of the MMI sub-indexes posted upward movement.

It was a big month for aluminum, as the Aluminum MMI rose 8.2% and LME aluminum jumped 10.73% through the month. The Construction and Automotive MMIs also had solid months, while the Copper MMI shot up 7.7% in what was another good month for Dr. Copper.

Meanwhile, in policy news, last week the U.S. Department of Commerce launched an anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation into stainless steel flanges from China and India. As our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote in her Stainless MMI report, a preliminary determination in the case is coming Oct. 2.

In addition, today the DOC announced it had launched an investigation into imports of titanium sponge from Japan and Kazakhstan.

More broadly, the Section 232 investigations into aluminum and steel imports are still ongoing. It’s unclear when exactly a ruling will be made, but Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has January deadlines to meet, as he is required to present President Donald Trump with a report and policy recommendations vis-a-vis the probes.

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You can read about all of the aforementioned — and much more — by downloading the September MMI report below.

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India’s recent decision to impose an additional import tax on a number of stainless steel flat products from China for five years has generally been welcomed by the Indian steel industry and trade bodies.

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The tax, said the Government of India, was to curb the influx of cheaper foreign imports.

A countervailing duty of 18.95% has been imposed on some hot-rolled and cold-rolled stainless steel flat products. This is aimed at helping local steelmakers benefit when there is a surge in imports, the government said.

A statement by the government said Chinese imports “were distorting the domestic market, which was under huge stress and led to financial stress in the industry.”

In the past, too, India has imposed a slew of anti-dumping duties on imports of steel and stainless steel products from China, Japan and South Korea.

According to a Reuters report, the U.S. Department of Commerce also said it would be looking into possible dumping and subsidization of stainless steel flanges from China and India.

Steel producers in India have welcomed the move.

According to Jindal Stainless Vice-Chairman Abhyuday Jindal, the decision will encourage production of the metal within the country and will provide some relief to the domestic industry.

India’s apex stainless steel industry body, the Indian Stainless Steel Development Association (ISSDA), has also welcomed the imposition of countervailing duty, President KK Pahuja said.

Due to the subsidized imports from China, the domestic players were facing huge losses. Industry experts have claimed several MSME segment businesses were forced to shut down due to subsidized imports from China. The imposition of a countervailing duty would help revive the industry, regain lost ground and create jobs, the Pahuja added.

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The CVD investigation was initiated on April 12, 2016, by the Directorate General of Anti-Dumping and Allied Duties (DGAD) in response to a surge in subsidized imports of stainless steel flat products from China.

For firms buying from suppliers in Europe, the rise of the Euro this year must have caused acute problems. Or, for those with contracts buying from European suppliers in dollars, those contracts will adjust sharply come renegotiation, as current exchange rates are applied to new contracts.

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The future direction of the world’s second-most-widely-used currency is of interest to many firms that directly or indirectly are a part of extended global supply chains.

Europe, too, is perplexed by the rise of the Euro. The dollar has declined relative to the Euro by more than 13% this year, driven by tensions with North Korea and dysfunction in Washington, according to The New York Times.

But investor appetite for the Euro has been fueled by more than tensions over North Korea.

Whereas the Euro is seen as a relative safe haven compared to the dollar, there is also a growing realization the Trump administration may not be able to deliver on tax reforms promised during his campaign at the end of last year. As a result, the relatively better-performing European markets may offer investment opportunities not previously available.

Nations Push Back Against Quantitative Easing

Many in northern Europe — Germany, in particular — are pushing for an end to quantitative easing (QE) for fear that it is stimulating asset bubbles.

The Telegraph reported comments by Deutsche Bank chief John Cryan last week saying property prices in advanced economies had hit record levels. In the same speech, Cryan urged European policymakers to start tapering relief of the Eurozone’s €60 billion ($72 billion) per month stimulus program sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, policymakers are worried about the impact of bringing money printing to an end and postponed a decision this month because of the recent weakness of the dollar. Any firm decision to taper or cease QE would result in the Euro strengthening further, potentially choking off Europe’s nascent recovery (during which growth has returned for the first time this year since the financial crisis).

Interest Rates Still Low

Inflation remains stubbornly low. At 1.5% last month, they show little prospect of hitting the 2% target this side of 2019, The New York Times reports.

The Federal Reserve began raising interest rates at the end of 2015, but the European Central Bank (ECB) is reluctant to do anything that could undermine what it still sees as a fragile recovery.

The absence of rising headline inflation figures to create an imperative — policymakers are largely turning a blind eye to asset price inflation for the time being, preferring to sweat over the rise in the Euro.

Indeed, Jörg Krämer, the chief economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, said as much in a recent note to clients, saying the pace of Euro strength is driving the ECB’s QE policy right now. Commerzbank is not expecting the Euro to continue to strengthen — and they may well be right.

If investors think there is a chance Congress will support the Trump administration’s tax reform that would allow businesses like Google and Apple to repatriate profits held overseas, the exchange rate landscape would transform overnight.

Half of what has been estimated as up to $1 trillion dollars is held in currencies other than U.S. dollars, so the demand for dollars would be immense, as would the boost to the U.S. economy if funds were repatriated and invested. Of course, that is the administration’s intent; for now, Washington seems in such a logjam that investors are discounting the prospects of such legislation being passed anytime soon.

The Euro, therefore, is being carried by its own relatively optimistic narrative: decent growth, low inflation and a sense of stability and, Brexit excepted, harmony not seen since the financial crisis. It’s hard to see the Euro weakening this year, but further direction may come in next month’s meeting of the ECB.

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MetalMiner is expecting any decision to taper QE to be kicked further down the road, putting a lid on further rises.

Euro strength is today’s problem, asset prices are tomorrow’s — that seems to be the order of the day.

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Mining stocks took a hammering last week, prompting questions as to whether the recent bull run in metal prices has come to an end.

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As steel and iron futures in China slid, share prices in iron ore and base metal miners were sold off around the world in a bearish wave of sentiment sparked, according to mining.com, by the continued appreciation of the Chinese currency against the U.S. dollar.

The Renminbi hit 6.447 against the dollar, gaining nearly 7.8% so far this year and a 21-month peak that appears to be worrying policymakers concerned about China’s export competitiveness.

According to the MetalMiner index, the Dalian exchange 62% Iron Ore settlement price closed at Yuan 534 per metric ton last week, down nearly 7%. Yet, steel demand remains robust in China and iron ore stocks that China’s port dropped for a fifth straight week according to commodity news, to 133 million tons the lowest since May. Indeed, because the currency is still appreciating, it is reported traders like to buy future cargoes in dollars, stockpile them and sell in Renminbi.

Investors Wary of Environmental Measures

One fear weighing on investors of mining stocks is China’s drive for environmental improvements, which is widely expected to result in the closure of steel mills, power plants, aluminum smelters and other sources of pollution (such as zinc and copper smelting).

According to the article, China plans to conduct 15 rounds of inspections during its new campaign starting this month and continuing until March of next year. Any plants that do not meet tougher environmental standards face closure. The resulting loss of production capacity, it is feared, will hit import demand for raw materials such as iron ore and bauxite.

Not surprisingly, iron ore spot prices declined toward the end of the week, but some are seeing current weakness as a natural correction to months of bullish strength.

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Physical demand remains strong, suggesting local traders are to frightened by Beijing’s environmental program just yet. Most are waiting for November, when the heating season starts and enforced closures are expected.

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This morning in metals news, a U.S. line pipe producing association is the latest group to urge President Donald Trump to act vis-a-vis Section 232, Tata Steel officially sheds a major pension liability and the U.S. once again invokes the possibility of withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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ALPPA Asks Trump Administration to Take Action

The American Line Pipe Producers Association (ALPPA) is the latest U.S. metals association to petition the Trump administration to take action regarding its ongoing Section 232 investigation.

The Trump administration launched Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports back in April, and has January deadlines for both.

In a letter to the Trump administration, Timothy Brightbill, counsel to the ALPPA, wrote: “There is an urgent need for immediate Section 232 relief for the domestic large diameter line pipe industry. The large diameter line pipe industry continues to face a sustained surge in imports, largely driven by global overcapacity. Chinese producers are increasingly shipping greater volumes of dumped and subsidized steel to other countries for production of large diameter line pipe that can then be shipped to the U.S. market at lesser duty rates or, in many cases, duty free.”

Tata Steel Gets Rid of U.K. Pension Scheme

One major holdup in Indian steel giant’s merger talks throughout the last year has been its £15 billion U.K. pension scheme, The Telegraph reported.

After much effort, Tata has finally rid itself of the massive pension liability, which should make merger talks go a little more smoothly.

Ross Adds NAFTA Threat of His Own

As the U.S, Mexico and Canada continued NAFTA renegotiation talks earlier this month, Trump, on numerous occasions, has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the trade deal.

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On Friday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross further backed up the president’s comments about the 23-year-old trade deal, restating the president’s assertions that if a negotiated solution favorable to the U.S. can’t be reached, withdrawal is a serious possibility (if not a certainty).

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This morning in metals news, Chinese steel futures hit a 4 1/2-hear high, European aluminum alloy prices are heading downward and the latest round of talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ended without any major breakthroughs.

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Chinese Steel Futures Continue to Rise

Chinese steel futures rose to a 4 1/2-year high after a furnace fire inspired fears that increased safety inspections could lead to a tightening of supply, according to Reuters.

Some rebar futures on the Shanghai Futures Exchange rose by as much as 5%, according to the report.

Approximately 4,500-5,000 tonnes of daily steel output at Benang — a subsidiary of government-backed Benxi Iron and Steel Group Co. — could be affected by the fire, Reuters reported.

European Aluminum Alloy Prices Under Pressure

As buyers negotiate fourth-quarter prices, European aluminum alloy prices are trending downward, according to Platts.

According to the report, competition for sales resulted in 226 ingot sales prices falling by about $24/metric ton.

NAFTA: Round 2

The second round of NAFTA talks traveled to Mexico, running from Sept. 1-5. However, on the heels of renewed threats from President Donald Trump on the future of the trade deal, no major breakthroughs were made this time around, according to Bloomberg.

The U.S. is seeking to address ballooning trade deficits with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, and Trump is looking to fulfill a promise to either favorably renegotiate the deal or pull the U.S. out entirely (in January, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP).

According to the Bloomberg, officials said some progress has been been on some issues, but the parties have “yet to agree on any major contentious issue.”

The December target date for a resolution seems too ambitious, at this point, officials added.

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A third round of talks is currently scheduled to take place in Canada later this month.

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Before you get into your planned Labor Day festivities, let’s take a look back at some of the stories here on MetalMiner from the past week:

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  • After a somewhat stagnant run, aluminum had a strong August — why? Our Stuart Burns covered aluminum’s upward momentum last week.
  • Ah, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the deal that’s stayed in the news for much of the year. President Donald Trump recently renewed rhetoric threatening the 23-year-old trade agreement on the heels of the completion of the first round of negotiating talks held in Washington, D.C. We recapped the recent developments in the ongoing talks held by trade representatives of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
  • Speaking of trade agreements, talks are also underway between the U.S. and South Korea on KORUS, the free trade deal the two countries began in 2012.
  • China was reportedly amenable to making further significant cuts to tackle excess capacity, which has been a major talking point, not just for the U.S., but the global market. However, President Trump rejected China’s proposal. Burns offered his analysis on the situation.
  • It’s been a mostly good year for base metals — but not every metal has joined in on the fun, as our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote last week.
  • Hurricane Harvey inflicted a severe toll on the people of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Now, there’s a long road ahead to recovery, both in terms of the humanitarian and economic impacts of the storm.
  • Burns looked to the the so-called “lucky country” of Australia, which is rich in iron ore. But what happens when iron ore reserves are exhausted? Answering the question briefly: look to the sun.

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Hurricane Harvey touched down in Texas late last week — in the ensuing days, thousands were displaced as record rainfall of more than 50 inches blanketed some areas of Houston (the fourth-most populous city in the U.S. with a population of about 2.3 million).

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According to a USA Today report citing preliminary research from the firm AccuWeather, Harvey could become the costliest disaster relief effort in U.S. history, with a potential price tag of $160 billion.

It should of course be noted that, before anything else, the natural disaster’s human impact is of utmost importance. The New York Times reported the death toll has hit at least 30, according to Texas officials.

In addition to widespread flooding, property damage and displacement suffered by residents in the hurricane’s path, Harvey has also left an economic impact that will be felt for the foreseeable future.

Among other things, metals prices, oil prices and shipping have all been, or will be, impacted by Harvey.

Trade Impact

The Port of Houston is one of most important trading locations in the U.S. As a result of Harvey, the port was completely closed as of last Friday. According to the Port of Houston website, it will remain closed on Thursday.

“We will continue to work alongside local agencies and the USCG to determine when operations can safely resume,” an alert on the Port of Houston website read Wednesday.

According to data on the Port of Houston website, the port is ranked first in total foreign tonnage and ranks second in total tonnage. As the largest Gulf Coast container port, it handled 68% of U.S. Gulf Coast container traffic in 2016.

So, a total shutdown of the port is a big deal.

On the export side, 3% of total container volume exported last year came from steel and other metals (27,127 TEUs).

A larger percentage of total imports come in steels and other metals — 8.6%, or 76,853 TEUs, last year.

Meanwhile, the Port of Corpus Christi, the fourth-largest port in total tonnage, was also closed as of Tuesday.

The affected areas have an immediate need for supplies of all kinds, but transportation modes are at a general standstill for the moment.

Steel Stocks

Much of Houston has been hit by record rains, leading to flooding and stranding locals without food or supplies.

Although it won’t happen overnight, eventually the area will begin to rebuild in the wake of the damages caused by Harvey.

According to a report on the Nasdaq website, Houston receives between 30% and 35% of all U.S. steel imports, making it a pivotal point of access.

In the wake of Harvey, some U.S. steel companies saw their stocks rise. According to the report, shares of United States Steel Corporation jumped by over 2.5% on Tuesday, while Olympic Steel rose more than 1.5%.

Nucor and AK Steel Holding Corporation both saw their stock prices rise by over 0.5%.

However, it’s still early to determine the true damage to the steel industry caused by Harvey.

According to a Platts report, Harvey could have a similar impact to that of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, particularly with respect to steel scrap.

Freight Service Disrupted

In addition to the disruption of port activity, rising water levels have taken a bite out of freight service.

As a result, a rise in trucking rates can be expected, according to freight analyst firm FTR Transportation Intelligence.

“Look for spot prices to jump over the next several weeks, with very strong effects in Texas and the South Central region,” said Noel Perry, a partner at FTR. “Spot pricing was already up strong, in double-digit territory. Market participants could easily add 5 percentage points to those numbers.”

According to Steel Market Update, FTR predicted 10% of freight activity will be disrupted over the next two weeks.

Gas Prices Rise

As a result of an overall glut in global production, gas prices have come down significantly since 2014, when the gas price in some metropolitan areas exceeded $4 gallon.

However, the average national gas price has increased as a result of Harvey and shutdowns of refineries in Corpus Christi and Galveston. As of Wednesday afternoon, the average national gas price stood at $2.40 gallon, up from $2.37 on Monday, according to AAA. The average price had already risen $0.04 to $2.37, which AAA said Monday was one of the largest one-week surges this summer.

According to AAA, about one-quarer of Gulf Coast refining capacity was taken offline, according to forecasts by Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), which equated to about 2.5 million barrels per day.

“Despite the country’s overall oil and gasoline inventories being at or above 5-year highs, until there is clear picture of damage and an idea when refineries can return to full operational status, gas prices will continue to increase,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson, in a prepared statement.

Time to Rebuild

Rescue missions continue in the Houston area, as officials move residents in flooded areas to shelters. According to the Washington Post, 32,000 people have taken refuge in 231 shelters, with many volunteers need to help clean out damaged homes.

“We expect a many-year recovery in Texas, and the federal government is in this for the long haul,” said Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to the Washington Post.

The damage won’t be contained to Texas, however. According to the National Hurricane Center, Harvey touched down again, this time in southwestern Louisiana at 4 a.m. today.

More than 12,400 employees from more than 17 federal departments and agencies are working together in support of the ongoing response to damages resulting from Hurricane Harvey and subsequent flooding across Texas and Louisiana, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

When all is said and done, affected communities will have a long road to recovery. Many will eventually return to homes either damaged beyond habitability or totally destroyed.

Houston is the largest U.S. market for newly constructed homes, and demand for materials used in home construction will surge as communities transition from rescue and recovery mode to begin the arduous rebuilding process.

The question is: When will that transition happen?

For now, government agencies on the ground are prioritizing the primary disaster relief effort, and it’s unclear when resources can eventually be shifted to construction.

The pipe and tube market, in particular, is well represented in the Houston area, which offices for the multinational firm Vallourec. The Port of Houston took in nearly 40% of iron and steel pipe and tube imports through the first six months of the year, according to ustradenumbers.com.

Earlier this week, the Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports sent a letter, obtained by CNBC, to the Trump administration, urging it to move forward with trade remedies in the Section 232 investigation of steel imports. According to the letter, over 60% of current U.S. demand for pipe and tube materials is supplied by foreign producers.

The request tied into the ongoing situation in Houston.

“Based on the amount of imports flooded into America now we will not be able to help rebuild Houston,” Robert Griggs, president and CEO of Trinity Products, told CNBC.

“Not one U.S. pipe company will get a lick of work in rebuilding Houston. It will all go to China. The president needs to level the playing field and make it fair. The way it is now, American steel pipe companies will lose the opportunity to rebuild Houston.”

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This morning in metals news, LME copper had a quieter Wednesday, Mexico looks to formulate a backup plan for a potential life after NAFTA and steelmakers are looking to maintain their market share in the world of skyscrapers.

LME Copper Hangs Near Three-Year High

LME copper didn’t have as big of a day on Wednesday as it did on Tuesday — nonetheless, the metal is still close to its three-year high.

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According to Reuters, a bounceback in the dollar slowed momentum gained from growth in China’s housing and manufacturing sectors.

Life After NAFTA? Mexico Considers It

As President Donald Trump in recent weeks has resumed threats of terminating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico is looking to formulate a backup plan.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo called the talks to renegotiate the deal a “roller coaster,” according to Reuters.

With the rhetoric from Trump picking up, it’s not surprising that Mexico is planning for a situation in which Trump pulls the plug on the 23-year-old trade deal.

Steelmakers with Eyes to the Skies

Concrete is becoming increasingly popular as a building material — so much so that steelmakers are  working hard to preserve their construction market share.

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According to a Bloomberg report: “Since 2000, steelmakers outside China expanded output of structural beams and columns at only about half the pace of rods, or rebar, used to reinforce concrete, the World Steel Association says.”

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Several sources are leading on news that President Trump has twice rejected a Chinese proposal to cut steel overcapacity, despite the endorsement of some of his top advisors.

An agreement reached between U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Chinese officials last month agreed a cut of 150 million tons per annum of capacity by 2022 was vetoed by the president, apparently because he preferred a more “disruptive strategy,” according to Reuters and the Financial Times.

The articles suggested the 22% rise in steel imports through July of this year compared to a year ago, reported by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), spurred calls for action from U.S. steel producers to apply tariffs. Those calls may have influenced Trump’s position, as may the input of Steve Bannon, since fired, and Peter Navarro, an economic assistant to the president on trade matters.

The rejection of a deal brokered by Ross’ team seems to have undermined his position and probably leaves little room for further negotiation. The Chinese have gone away to consider their options, but rumors reported in the Financial Times suggest retaliatory action seems the most likely.

But while picking a fight with China probably makes for good headlines, at least as far as U.S. imports are concerned, is it the primary antagonist?

Not if you look at the AISI data.

Their findings suggest Taiwan and Turkey were the countries making up much of the increase. There was a sizeable increase from other countries, too, meaning Germany, up nearly 60%, and Brazil, up 80%, on three-month rolling average measures.

At 83,000 tons, China’s share of finished steel imports is a fraction of South Korea’s 352,000 tons, Turkey’s 245,000 tons or Japan and Germany’s about 138,000 tons.

Unless the administration plans on tackling these suppliers, picking out China seems a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.

We would hope that Trump’s presidency ends much better than Nero’s both for the man and the country, but picking fights that have a pragmatic strategy rather than catching headlines would be a good first step.