Articles in Category: Logistics

U.S., China and Russia flags

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This morning in metals news: the United States Trade Representative released its annually mandated report covering the WTO rules compliance of China and Russia; U.S. Steel officially closed on its acquisition of the remaining equity of Big River Steel; and the Pilbara Ports Authority earlier this month reported shipping data for December.

USTR releases annual WTO compliance report for China, Russia

As mandated by Congress, the United States Trade Representative on Friday released its annual report on the WTO compliance of China and Russia.

“The United States has been closely monitoring China’s progress in implementing its numerous commitments under the Phase One Agreement and has regularly engaged China using the extensive consultation processes established by the agreement to discuss China’s implementation progress and any concerns as they arise,” the report reads. “Currently, the evidence indicates that China has been moving forward in good faith with the implementation of its commitments, making substantial progress in many areas.

“Because the Phase One Agreement does not cover all of the United States’ concerns, the United States will need to turn to Phase Two of its trade negotiations with China in order to secure resolutions to important outstanding issues.”

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U.S. Steel closes acquisition of remaining Big River Steel equity

In December, U.S. Steel announced plans to acquire the remaining equity in Arkansas-based Big River Steel for $774 million.

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steel arrow up

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This morning in metals news: U.S. steel capacity utilization reached 75.4% for the week ending Jan. 9; General Motors announced the launch of BrightDrop; and Rusal America announced a new line of aluminum additive manufacturing powders.

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

Steel capacity utilization reaches 75.4%

The U.S. steel sector’s capacity utilization rate reached 75.4% for the week ending Jan. 9, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported.

The rate increased from 74.6% the previous week.

Production during the week ending Jan. 9 totaled 1.71 million net tons, up 3.6% from the previous week. However, output during the week declined 10.3% year over year.

General Motors launches new BrightDrop business

General Motors today announced the launch of a new business called BrightDrop, which it says will “offer an ecosystem of electric first-to-last-mile products, software and services to empower delivery and logistics companies to move goods more efficiently.”

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electric vehicle charging

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Automotive producers the world over are facing challenges, but the U.K. automotive industry is arguably in the most challenging environment of all.

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U.K. automotive sector faces headwinds

Over the last year, COVID-19 restrictions have closed showrooms. Furthermore, Brexit has raised the prospect of trading tariffs with Europe. In addition, the government has repeatedly moved the goal posts on the sale of internal combustion engines toward the end of the decade.

A new trade deal with the E.U. allows tariff free access to the U.K.’s largest automotive export market. The announcement of the new deal on Christmas Eve proved a massive relief for the industry, according to Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), an industry body, as quoted in the Financial Times.

However, tariff-free does not mean barrier-free. Additional safety certification and much more onerous paperwork involved in the movement of goods between the U.K. and the E.U. will increase complexity for a U.K. supply chain intimately entwined with the E.U.

New clarity in 2021 for U.K. automotive industry

Nevertheless, the U.K. automotive industry is at least starting 2021 with better clarity than it endured through much of last year.

But one looming crisis the SMMT identified is the incomplete nature of the U.K.’s electric vehicle supply chain.

Specifically, the FT reports, the U.K. is going to need far more battery factories if it is to sustain a switch to electric vehicles in the decade ahead.

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coronavirus

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Could the coronavirus pandemic bring about more reshoring in the U.S.?

The question is not just of interest in the U.S. By many measures, Europe has been hit as severely by the pandemic. If anything, Europe is even more reliant on global supply chains than the U.S.

The political philosophy that underpinned the Trump administration’s efforts to slow China’s advance — that is, to bring jobs back to the U.S. and “level the playing field” — is also prevalent in Europe. However, in the more fragmented political environment of the E.U., that philosophy is arguably taking longer to come into focus.

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Supply chains, reshoring and a ‘great reset’

Disruption to supply chains due to lockdowns was a relatively short, albeit very sharp, shock.

Automakers temporarily shut down Japanese production lines due to a shortage of parts from China in Q1. Furthermore, there is ongoing chaos at European, particularly U.K., ports due to a host of pandemic-related factors.

Supply chains far and wide have struggled during 2020. These challenges are prompting many to ask: is this the jolt needed to stimulate a great reset?

As The Economist notes, there can be a business case for it, too.

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metalworking

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Before we head into the penultimate weekend of 2020, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner, including: research findings related to organic molecules’ impact on machinability; gold prices; and the arrival of an allocation market for steel-buying organizations, as explained by MetalMiner CEO Lisa Reisman:

Week of Dec. 14-18 (machinability, gold prices and steel allocation market)

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Shipping

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The shortage of containers in Asia, which we reported in detail last month, has been ongoing, as has the continuation of port congestion across the U.K. and Northern Europe.

Combined, these problems are having a profound impact on sea freight services.

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Shipping lines navigate choppy waters

A number of shipping lines are suspending all freight bookings from Asia to Europe until the end of the month.

Heavy and sustained demand has overwhelmed the container supply chain, creating chronic shortages in equipment and driving rates up. Further increases are likely in January.

So far this year, sea freight rates have doubled on the Asia to European routes, an unprecedented rise that has caught importers off guard as they have incurred some substantial losses just as businesses are struggling to recover from or meet the ongoing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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merger and acquisition

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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 Tata Steel and its attempt to spin off its European assets, the U.S.’s rising steel capacity utilization rate, China’s economic recovery and its impact on metals prices, and much more:

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Week of Nov. 16-20 (Tata Steel looks for buyers, capacity utilization rises and more)

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The disconnect in recovery between Asia and North America/Europe is having an unprecedented impact on the transpacific and Asia-Europe container markets.

The world’s shipping industry had a near-death experience in the early part of the year as China went into lockdown.

To its credit and to consumers’ detriment, the industry has since got a grip of the situation and turned disaster into triumph.

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Container markets see rising rates

Ocean carriers are charging skyrocketing rates. In a bid to maximize returns, they are exacerbating shippers’ woes. Carriers have been shipping empty containers back from destination markets to origin rather than carrying cargoes.

The problem, as laid out by The Load Star, is a shortage of containers rather than space on container ships. That shortage is the main driver of the unrelenting spike in freight rates.

But the situation is made worse by carriers actively working to reposition their empty equipment as quickly as possible back to Asia to take advantage of skyrocketing spot rates. Meanwhile, they do not get those rates on the U.S.-Asia direction.

Exporters scrambling

This has left exporters around the world scrambling for boxes.

Indeed, one U.K.-based carrier executive reportedly admits, “We would much rather stick the empties back on the ship to Asia where we can use them straight away with premium-rate cargo than have them tied up for weeks on an export load from Europe.”

The same predicament pertains to the U.S.-Asia Pacific route.

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The widely, if not universally, held belief that globalization is a win-win panacea for growth has never looked shakier.

While President Donald Trump has led the charge on calling out the failings of unfettered engagement with China and all that entails in terms of loss of manufacturing capability and sharing of hard-won technology, he is by no means alone.

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Globalization and China

There is a growing groundswell of opinion that the long-held liberal beliefs that engagement would change China’s behavior have proved flawed.

China today is arguably more centrist, more actively and belligerently nationalistic and worryingly less influenced by world opinion than it has been for decades.

And yet it has, from an economic point of view, proved remarkably successful so far.

China’s economy has bounced back faster than those in the West. Furthermore, its economy has recovered faster than even its close Asian neighbors. That is because, in part, the party’s control meant it could enforce harsh — compared to in the U.S. or Europe — lockdown measures in the face of the pandemic. That enforcement extends to continued adherence to social distancing and hygiene standards since.

It is unlikely that a change of president in January, were that to happen following the November election, would have a meaningful impact on U.S.-China relations. A Biden presidency may try to foster a more collaborative international approach. However, the direction would likely be similar.

Europe, too, is following a less bellicose but similar path.

Europe’s investments in China and reliance on China as a trading partner are greater than that of the U.S., for whom China trade still represents a modest percentage of GDP.

Yet, even in Europe, there is increasing talk of decoupling supply chains and restrictions of technology transfers to China. Furthermore, these is talk of restricting Chinese technology companies’ access to the European market.

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Shipping

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We have written in previous posts about volatility this year in the logistics market adding to buyers’ delivery and import cost uncertainty.

At other times, we have also written about the decoupling of U.S.-China trade or supply chains.

Events in recent months, however, suggest the two combined are likely to continue to create significant cost and uncertainty for buyers through the balance of this year — and likely well into 2021.

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The U.S.-China trade relationship and rising import costs

Firstly, the aforementioned decoupling is just not happening.

A fair part of the current pressure on shipping space and costs is coming from increases in trade between Asia and the U.S.

The pandemic has spurred demand for Chinese-made goods from electricals like laptops and associated electronics to PPE equipment, including masks and gloves.

China now accounts for more than 85% of all U.S. imports in the category dominated by N-95 respirators, disposable and non-disposable face masks, surgical drapes and surgical towels, according to Forbes. The U.S.’s imports of those products have surged to multiples of previous years’ demand.

From disaster to boon

Secondly, the normal run-up to the Christmas period is hitting a brick wall.

Shipping lines are removing sailings. Initially, the measure constituted a coping mechanism during spring lockdowns. However, since then, as the success in raising freight rates became apparent, the measure became a blatant move to improve profitability.

The pandemic has evolved rapidly from being a disaster for the major shipping lines to becoming a boon.

The disruption has caused considerable challenges, including:

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