Articles in Category: Investing Hedging

In the aftermath of the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum going into effect in March 2018, we heard and read a lot about some of the largest American OEMs and their business challenges.

For example, Ford Motor Company’s claim that the tariffs cost the automaker $1 billion in profits last year.

But what’s not known or reported as much in the mainstream is what manufacturers have been doing to strategically mitigate tariff risk, or how their various business units and organizations put practices in place to hedge against that risk.

“We’re flexible, and we can move quickly now that we have started to qualify additional materials,” said Matt Marthinson, VP Supply Chain at JB Poindexter & Co., Inc. “So I like our chances much better than where we were just two years ago.”

A company like that has to be flexible — as a large-volume metals buyer, JB Poindexter is the largest truck manufacturer in the U.S. of Class 3 through Class 7 trucks, including the majority of UPS, FedEx, U.S. Postal Service, Penske and Ryder trucks across North America, according to Marthinson.

In a conversation with Lisa Reisman on our current podcast series, “The Maker-to-User Trend in the Time of Tariffs,” Marthinson lets listeners in on how an established transportation industry manufacturer with significant exposure to commodity risk views the tariff landscape, both now and into 2020.

Listen in!

According to his company bio, Matt Marthinson is the leader for the Supply Chain transformation initiative at JBPCO, which includes partnering with the business owners to consolidate and leverage spend across all business units. He has over 25 years of comprehensive business achievements and expertise in Lean Manufacturing Operations, Production Planning, Materials Management, Procurement, Transportation and Logistics, Sourcing and Supply Chain with Kaiser Aluminum, Honeywell, Alcoa and Hubbell Incorporated, most recently as vice president of strategic sourcing. Learn more here.

Maker-to-User in the Time of Tariffs: Background

After the U.S. Commerce Department’s Section 232 findings in early 2018, President Donald Trump took action — and the rest is history.

This new podcast series takes a closer look at the U.S. manufacturing landscape in our present time of trade tariffs, and how manufacturers themselves are affected by the tariffs (winners and losers).

For example, just over 90% of manufacturing industry respondents in a recent, informal MetalMiner poll indicated that the Trump tariffs have hurt their respective businesses, via increased material costs, inventory woes and longer lead times, among other effects.

However, other manufacturers — for example, Honda — have posted healthy profits over the last year.

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Ultimately, we’re interested in what all of this means for the “maker-to-user” trend that we’ve seen gain steam the past several years.

For an excellent primer on the “maker-to-user” movement and trends, download our free white paper on the topic here.

Listen to more episodes and follow the MetalMiner Podcast here.

After surging more than 50% in the last four months, palladium — that previously little-discussed Platinum Group Metal (PGM) — reached $1,255.12/ounce, surpassing gold for the first time in 16 years last week, according to The New York Times.

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Driven by both investor and trade interest, palladium appears to be responding to strong demand from the auto industry (from which 80% of its consumption comes).

A swing to petrol engines has boosted palladium demand, in preference to its sister metal, platinum, which is used more in diesel engines. The metal is also used in alloys for products like surgical instruments, dental alloys and certain electronic applications, The New York Times notes, but it is a combination of catalyst demand and constrained supply that has caused shortages, leading some dealers to run out of metal.

According to the report, citing consulting firm Metals Focus, demand for the metal for catalytic applications will reach a record high of 8.5 million ounces this year. Tighter emissions legislation and the switch to petrol cars is driving surging demand, such that consumption is expected to outstrip supply by 1.2 million ounces this year, with the market remaining in deficit next year.

Miners have found it difficult to keep up.

Mines in South Africa, in particular, have faced worker disruption and are said to be struggling to cover costs, as PGM prices generally remain depressed but mine inflation challenges profitability and deters investment.

The world’s largest producer is Norilsk Nickel in Russia. Buyers were heartened by the firm’s announcement last week that it plans to invest $12 billion in mine expansion over the next five years, according to The NewYork Times report. Supply may come onto the market just as the long anticipated but equally delayed arrival of electric vehicles finally begins to become a reality.

But for now, the metal seems a good bet for 2019, providing vehicle sales do not falter. Investors have driven Palladium ETFs up 12.3% this year, even as gold has fallen 6.4%.

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The big money has been made, but palladium’s fundamentals remain better than gold’s — providing global growth and vehicle sales hold up in 2019.

Be assured there will be a next crisis — there always is, sooner or later.

It is the nature of economic cycles that markets get out of balance and have to readjust. That sounds like rather a benign process, but of course we all know there is plenty of pain and many casualties when it happens.

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An interesting article in The Economist analyzes the reasons why market crises arise and, from that, where it believes the next one is developing.

To quote the report, financial crises tend to involve one or more of these three ingredients: excessive borrowing, concentrated bets, and a mismatch between assets and liabilities.

The crisis of 2008 was so serious because it involved all three — big bets on structured products linked to the housing market, and bank-balance sheets that were both overstretched and dependent on short-term funding.

The Asian crisis of the late 1990s was the result of companies borrowing too much in dollars when their revenues were in local currency. The dotcom bubble had less serious consequences than either of these because the concentrated bets were in equities; debt did not play a significant part.

As for the next crisis? The Economist report indicates the cause of the next one is probably lurking in corporate debt.

Read more

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This morning in metals news, the chairman of Chinalco says Chinese aluminum demand growth will stay ahead of the country’s GDP, a hedge fund is suing Barclays for over $850 million related to copper trading losses and a Chinese investor is placing big bets on copper.

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Chinese Aluminum Demand Growth

According to Chinalco, China’s biggest state-run aluminum producer, consumption of the metal will  grow 9-10% this year, Reuters reported.

According to the report, strong downstream demand is a primary factor behind the uptick.

Ge Honglin, chairman of Chinalco, told Reuters that demand growth is expected to rise faster than the country’s GDP in 2018. China is targeting GDP growth of around 6.5 percent this year, but has not yet set a 2018 goal, according to the report.

Red Kite Suing Barclays

A hedge fund is suing for over $850 million related to losses in copper trading, Reuters reported Monday.

The hedge fund, Red Kite, is suing Barclays, alleging that it manipulated the copper market and ultimately resulted in $850 million in losses for the hedge fund.

Futures of Chinese Copper

There has been a sharp rise in Chinese copper futures bets — why?

According to one source quoted by Kitco, a private coal mining industry investor in China, Gelin Dahua Futures Co Ltd, is behind the surge.

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Gelin Dahua holds more than 35% of the open interest in copper contracts for the first half of 2018 on Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE), per exchange data referenced by Kitco.

Have you ever tracked a metal price and watched it peak or trough for no obvious reason? Or read of some fundamental development in the supply or demand landscape for the metal, only for the price to behave in some unexpected way?

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You are not alone. A recent article in the Financial Times suggests that in at least some situations technological developments may be influencing price behavior in ways that they would not historically have done.

The Financial Times reports that automated trading systems (or algos) account for large volumes of transactions in commodity markets, with 49% of grains and oilseed trades handled by automated trades of one sort or another, 54% of precious metals and a whopping 63% of crude oil, quoting figures from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Some automated trades are simple buy or sell orders that are executed when the price reaches a certain level, but others are the result of sophisticated Blackbox algorithms that make decisions based on a multitude of variables known only to the developers.

The article quotes Doug Duquette, an executive at Chicago-based Vertex Analytics, whose software analyses automated market orders.

“The whole notion of fundamentals on any given day, for weeks at a time, months at a time, has completely gone out the window these days,” Duquette said. “You get momentum of algos playing upon algos upon algos, and it will just drive markets to extremes that don’t seem to correlate or line up with fundamentals on any given day or time period.”

While John Saucer, vice president of research and analysis at Mobius Risk Group in Houston, is quoted as saying “It makes it more difficult to be a purely fundamental trader. In the past you had to take into account fundamental considerations, technical considerations and seasonal considerations — I do think (now) you have to take into account transactional considerations and algos.”

The article and most sources are careful not to blame automated trades with fundamentally undermining the process of price discovery, but many acknowledge that the result of their rapid rise in use has been an increase in volatility and a skewing of liquidity to short-dated futures, leaving long-dated contracts lacking liquidity. Indeed, Ernest Scalamandre of AC Investment Management is quoted as saying that by withdrawing standing offers to buy or sell when another trader tries to transact with them, automated trades create a mirage of market depth — adding volume but not liquidity, he said.

For better or worse, automated trades are here to stay. With the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, automated trades are likely to get ever more sophisticated and come to dominate markets in years to come as hedge funds, speculators and even the trade turn to AI in an effort to reduce perceived risks, or simply to get one step ahead of the market.

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Where this leaves the rest of us remains to be seen. But it does appear that long-term fundamentals are likely to have less impact on short-term volatility compared to the actions of these automated trades than they would historically have done.

It won’t have escaped your notice that the shine has gone off the metals market.

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Prices have been softening across not just metals but other commodities, like oil, too.

Consumers, of course, will not be complaining, but are nevertheless keen to understand what is going on and whether we are seeing a temporary dip or a move into a prolonged bear period.

Commodities in general are facing multiple headwinds.

While demand for iron ore and oil is steady, both markets are in oversupply. Oil prices have received short-term support from favorable comments around output cuts. Prices have subsequently continued to soften as long positions have been unwound and investors have concluded prospects of a supply balance are receding.

In China, the authorities have been squeezing investors by increasing shadow banking borrowing costs, resulting in positions being unwound and prices softening.

In the U.S., markets surged after President Donald Trump’s election victory with the expectation his campaign promises of trillion dollar infrastructure investment would create a building and consumption boom.

Since those heady days, the realization has set in that the desperately needed investment may not be quite as significant as first thought.

Read more

The London Metal Exchange aluminum price has risen steadily since this time last year and seemed at times like it may hit, if not breach, $2,000 per metric ton. Many consumers are asking how much further does it have to go? will it break that psychologically important barrier anytime soon? and if it does, how much further does it have to go?

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

To understand this, we should consider what has caused price strength in recent months and that you will not be surprised to hear is easy to list, but harder to judge to what extent each factor has had an impact.

Why is Aluminum Up?

First, there are general commodity category price drivers, nearly all base metals have shown price strength over the period as industrial demand has remained positive and surplus supply markets have either tightened or gone into outright deficit. In the case of aluminum, there are several indicators suggesting the market deficit has increased over the last 12 months. Physical delivery premiums have increased not just in Asia, but in the U.S. with the Midwest premium currently trading just below ten cents per pound on the CME Group exchange, up from six cents per pound in the third quarter of last year. Japanese physical delivery premiums have been agreed at $128 per metric ton for the second quarter up from $95 per ton for the first quarter.

Source: Reuters

Meanwhile, LME inventory continues to decline with almost 400,000 mt electing to leave the system in February alone. Now it must be said that not all this metal is destined for consumption, as Andy Home in a recent Reuters article points out, the majority of metal leaving the LME system is almost certainly heading to off-market lower cost storage options. Read more

Commodities and industrial metals have always moved in tandem. However, things have changed over the past few months. Industrial metals continue to rise in price while commodity indexes struggle to hit new ground.

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What’s up with that?

CRB commodity index (in orange) vs DBB industrial metals index (in black). Source: MetalMiner analysis of @Stockcharts.com data.

Two things have caused industrial metals to outperform the rest of commodity groups (agriculture, energy, etc) this year:

First, in November industrial metals got a boost as Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election and his Republican party kept control of both houses of the Congress. Investors now hope that a Trump-led GOP government will boost domestic infrastructure, which could be a boon for industrial metals demand. In addition, the new president has stated he is willing to institute more measures to protect domestic producers.

China’s Pollution Performance

Second, and more importantly in my opinion, industrial metals have been benefiting from a tailwind since January when China’s pollution problems got worse. Steel and aluminum are leading this year’s rally. This is because these two are the most energy-intensive metals and China has shown a commitment to cut output. Read more

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have done the U.S. oil industry a massive favor, and they are probably ruing the day they tried to squeeze America’s shale industry out of existence.

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The collapse in oil prices that ensued after Saudi Arabia-led OPEC opened the spigots two years ago forced American companies, and their many subcontractors, to innovate in a way that would never have happened so fast or gone so far without the imminent threat of survival forcing the pace.

Oil Prices Allow Reopening of Old Wells

Now, U.S. shale producers have achieved economies of scale that allow them to return to previously closed wells in fields like Eagle Ford and achieve 30% returns even at $40 a barrel. U.S. explorers may be making hay in the domestic market, but huge potential exists for these same firms to take their technology abroad. Read more

The Architecture Billings Index returned to growth mode in February, after a weak showing in January. An economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine-to-12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

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

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the February ABI score was 50.7, up from a score of 49.5 in the previous month. This score reflects a minor increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

ICE Delays London Gold Price Benchmark

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) has delayed the launch of clearing for London’s benchmark gold price because not all participants in the auction will be ready, two sources involved in the process told Reuters on Tuesday. The delay could weaken its bid to become the dominant exchange in London’s $5 trillion-a-year bullion market, sources say.