Articles in Category: Logistics

The global logistics market has gone through a horrible winter.

The pandemic caused massive disruption. US and European ports became gummed up with PPE and medical equipment. This resulted in port delays and tens of thousands of containers being out of position at destination when they are needed at origin, further exacerbating a lack of space.

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Shipping market challenges

Shipping

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Shipping lines that had cut back in the pandemic have been caught on the hop. As such, they have been unable to catch up with the unprecedented surge in demand for shipping space as global supply chains have rushed to restock.

Any consumer who imports or relies on domestic suppliers who in turn import — or rely on imported components — will have been hit with delays and cost overruns.

Back in the early part of this year, many observers, us included, expected the market would improve. Indeed, freight rates – a barometer of demand – had started to come down early last month. That encouraged some to believe the worse was past.

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supply chain chart

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Metal prices have been rising this year, in part because of a rapid recovery in consumer spending and manufacturing following last year’s lockdowns. China led the recovery, but the recoveries have strengthened in North America and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

As vaccines have rolled out, particularly in the US, sentiment has improved. Consumers have begun to spend some of that US $5.4 trillion — estimated by the Financial Times — of pent-up savings amassed during the lockdowns.

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Supply chain woes

However, constrained supply is also a major driver of metal prices.

In some cases, such as copper and zinc, this has been from lockdowns in major resource countries like Peru. In addition, tariff barriers have further squeezed consumers’ supply options.

The US added anti-dumping duties on some 18 aluminum sheet supplying countries earlier this year. Meanwhile, the European Union added aluminum flat rolled countervailing duties this year. Those added to those already in place for extrusions from last year on China. As a result, the moves significantly tightened aluminum supplies into the European market.

Further pressure has come from global logistics constraints and cost increases. That has come principally on the Asia to North America and Asia to European shipping routes. Routes have seen shipping delays, container shortages and a near tripling of freight rates over the last 12 months.

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Temperance Beer Co. brewery in Evanston

Source: Temperance Beer Co.

A little over a year has come and gone since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the US.

In addition to the immense human toll, the pandemic has changed the way many people live their lives. Work situations have changed, as many have switched out commutes to the office for a morning commute to their living rooms or home office spaces.

Furthermore, consumption habits have changed, too.

In the early days of the pandemic, many stocked up on masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

The pandemic also changed consumers’ habits in other areas. One example? Beverages, namely where they are consumed — that is, not in bars — and in what type of container.

Whereas patrons may have consumed draught beer poured from kegs at a bar, many switched to drinking out of aluminum cans at home.

Naturally, this led to a run on aluminum cans and what has seemed to be a continuous can shortage that persists even now, over a year later.

We chatted recently with Josh Gilbert, owner and founder of local brewery Temperance Beer Co., located at 2000 Dempster St. in Evanston, Illinois.

We talked about what the last year has been like for the business, the shift in consumer habits, the resulting shift in the brewery’s procurement and his outlook for the rest of 2021.

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COVID-19 pandemic impact — from keg to aluminum can

For brewers, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up their businesses in a number of ways.

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This morning in metals news: US steel capacity utilization reached 78.0% last week; Rio Tinto released its Q1 production results; and the Pilbara Ports Authority reported March shipping figures.

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US steel capacity utilization up to 78.0%

steel arrow up

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The US steel capacity utilization rate for the week ending April 17 reached 78.0%, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported Monday.

US mills produced 1.77 million net tons during the week. Furthermore, the weekly output marked an increase of 0.5% from the previous week. Meanwhile, compared with the same week in 2020, output rose by 42.7%.

Production has reached 26.7 million net tons in the year to date, or up 0.1% from the same period last year.

Rio Tinto releases Q1 production results

Miner Rio Tinto reported Q1 aluminum production of 803,000 metric tons, a 3% year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, copper production reached 120,500 metric tons, down 9% year over year. The miner cited lower recoveries and throughput at its Escondida and Kennecott mines. Furthermore, Chinese border restrictions have impacted shipments from the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, Rio Tinto said.

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Suez Canal

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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 the Suez Canal blockage, the April 2021 MMO, Western European hot rolled coil prices and much more:

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Week of March 29-April 2 (Suez Canal retrospective, HRC in Western Europe, April MMO report and more)

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The weeklong blockage of the Suez Canal — coming as it does on top of a year of escalating ocean freight rates for the Asia-European trade, port congestion in both regions and shipping delays — has inevitably prompted debate about alternatives.

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Suez Canal, then and now

Suez Canal

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Not that you would imagine there were many other options. The Suez Canal was first dug in the late 1860s. The canal officially opened Nov. 17, 1869, at huge expense and effort. Because the alternative route around the Horn of Africa took so much longer, the canal was, in today’s parlance, a no-brainer.

Nevertheless, some vessels — those approaching the back of a very long queue in the Indian Ocean at the weekend — did set off south around Africa. However, they will probably add some two weeks to their voyage in the process. That means emissions of thousands of tons of CO2 and the cost of thousands of tons of bunker fuel.

But, like taking a detour to avoid a traffic jam, you at least feel like you are moving, even if you have to detour five times the distance.

Shipping alternatives

The alternatives, though, sound at first sight even more outlandish.

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Suez Canal

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As the days went by and the disruption from the blockage of the Suez Canal by the container vessel Ever Given increased, the implications became more and more severe.

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Not all of those 360 vessels backed up waiting for the vessels to be freed are containing washing machines and laptops.

Suez Canal disruption

Some have live cargoes on board. Others have have ripening fruit. Lost cargoes will be significant, but may be worse for manufacturers will be the ongoing disruption.

ShippingWatch estimates it will take a week or more to clear the vessels back up into the Red Sea and Mediterranean.

But the damage has already been done.

Due to the non-arrival of vessels in both Europe and Asia, there will be trips out of both regions that are already being canceled (so-called blank sailings), because the container ships do not reach the ports on time and cannot unload and get new cargoes on board.

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and the metals storylines here on MetalMiner, including coverage of the semiconductor shortage, the Midwest Premium and more.

A fire at a Japanese chip-making plant last week has slammed automotive operations. General Motors, Ford and many other automakers have announced idling of production as a result of the shortage.

Meanwhile, on the supply side, Intel announced plans to invest $20 billion to build two new Arizona plants. Furthermore, Intel said it aims to “serve the incredible global demand for semiconductor manufacturing.”

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

Week of March 22-26 (semiconductor shortage, Midwest Premium and more)

semiconductor and automobile

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hot rolled steel

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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, which this week includes coverage of steel capacity utilization, the latest OPEC ministerial meeting and much more.

Overall, most base metals seem to be retracing from a late February peak. LME copper and aluminum have both been declining since late February.

The tin price’s dive has been more stark. LME three-month tin has dropped over 13% since Feb. 25. However, in the long term, the outlook for tin remains promising, particularly given its application in electronics.

The MetalMiner team will be presenting a commodity forecast for copper, aluminum, stainless and carbon steel on Wednesday, March 24, at 10:00 a.m. CDT: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_6J8wAyYySfihVk3ZUH9yMA. 

Week of March 1-5 (steel capacity, oil prices and more)

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supply chain chart

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When we first started reporting on global freight costs in Q4 last year, we expected that the pandemic bounce-back would probably be a relatively short-term effect, easing around the Chinese Lunar New Year. Around then, Chinese manufacturers closed down and the shipping industry had a chance to catch up on backlogs.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, the situation has not gotten better.

If anything, it has gotten worse.

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Supply chain woes

According to the Financial Times, the cost of shipping goods from China to Europe has more than quadrupled in the past eight weeks. Costs have hit record highs as a result of a shortage of empty containers disrupts global trade.

The post states the cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Asia to northern Europe has increased from about $2,000 in November to more than $9,000, quoting shippers and importers.

MetalMiner’s own research has found the worst increases are on the China to US West Coast and Northern Europe routes. Other origins, such as India, have doubled but not tripled since spring 2020, with the largest increase coming in the last 3-4 months.

The Chinese Lunar New Year closedowns barely happened this year. New COVID-19 outbreak containment measures in China encouraged Beijing to dissuade all but essential travel. As a result, a majority of workers in the cities were available to work over what would normally be a near two-week holiday period.

Product, therefore, continued to be delivered to the docks. Demand on shipping lines barely abated.

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