Articles in Category: Macroeconomics

Welcome to the (re)launch of the MetalMiner Podcast!

(We’re calling it a relaunch because, well, remember this?)

With everything that’s been happening on the international trade policy front over the past year, we wanted to give metal buying organizations more insight into the issues they may not be reading or hearing enough about — or at all — in the mainstream B2C media.

What better way to do so than go straight to the source — or sources — and interview some key movers and shakers on the manufacturing and policy fronts? So we’re starting a brand-new series called “Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential.”

New Series: Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential

In this first episode of the series, MetalMiner Executive Editor Lisa Reisman interviews Michael Stumo, CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

Stumo’s concerns, and those of his organization, cut across industry sectors and political leanings. In this conversation, Stumo outlines what he sees as the most crucial elements to consider in today’s trade environment, touching on everything from China to the German Mittelstand to Alexander Hamilton as economic visionary.

Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential: Background

If you’ve visited MetalMiner’s digital pages over the past several months, you’re no stranger to the phrase “Section 232” — shorthand for the U.S. Department of Commerce investigation into whether certain steel imports constitute a national security risk, under the namesake section of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

The outcome of the investigation (findings from which were slated to come down last summer but have been delayed) could have significant effects on upstream and downstream manufacturing organizations, ranging from metal producers to buying organizations – even the mom-and-pops.

But Section 232 is only one small part. Trade circumvention, China’s non-market economy status, domestic uncertainty amidst proposed tax plans and many other issues have pushed us to start this new podcast series.

We’ll be publishing several more interviews in the coming weeks and months – stay tuned!

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Heard of the Paradise Papers?

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

How about the Panama Papers a year back? Those revelations brought down the heads of two governments and severely compromised many reputations, exposing as they did a multitude of wrongdoings, notably related to tax evasion.

Well, the Paradise Papers are said to contain highly confidential details of the financial arrangements enjoyed by more than 120,000 people and companies named in the 13.4 million files, many of them leaked from offshore law firm Appleby, the Washington Post and Telegraph report.

The documents have been reviewed by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

We are used to stories of the super rich dodging their taxes. Some might even admire the ingenuity of their advisors, conveniently forgetting that when our local school is closed through lack of funds or we blow a tire on a highway that desperately needs pot holes to be filled, it is because our city, state or central government lacks the funds to keep such services running effectively.

Those funds are raised from taxation, and while you and I are paying our tax, there is a significant number of the super rich and many corporations that pay little or no tax. British charity Oxfam is quoted as stating that the top 1% of people in the world own more wealth than the other 99% combined. Or, in other words, 62 of the richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.

Nor is it just the eye-wateringly wealthy. Plenty of household names are among those revealed in the Paradise Papers.

Lewis Hamilton, four-time world F1 champion is among those running scams that allows him to run a private jet but not “own” it, thus avoiding declaring the income needed to run it as income. There will be many, many more similar revelations over the coming weeks, but whether it will bring any changes in controlling these ever more sophisticated avoidance arrangements is subject to doubt. It should be added, however, many of them are not illegal — they just exploit loopholes our politicians have allowed to be exploited for years.

OK, enough of the populist rant, you might be saying. What does this have to do with the metals markets?

Well, prominent names coming out as clients of Appleby, exploiting tax avoidance schemes on a grand scale are names like Facebook, Apple, and metals miner and trader Glencore, among others (including India’s Jindal Steel).

Some of Glencore’s most shadowy dealings are around the operation of and payments made in connection to its copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it runs the Katanga copper mine. Papers appear to support rumors already circulating that an associate of Glencore’s Dan Gertler, an Israeli businessman, is said by the Telegraph to be linked to allegations of bribery and corruption in central African countries over many years.

It must be said, nothing in the papers directly implicates Glencore in making payments of an unethical nature, but the suspicion seems to be where there is smoke there may well be — or may well have been — fire.

Glencore is one of the largest miners in the world, with sales of $152 billion (£116 billion). But even accepting that the papers raise the question of why firms need a shadowy web of 107 offshore companies to run such an enterprise, why are shareholdings and dealings held in these offshore entities if not for tax avoidance purposes? No company or individual is obliged to pay more tax than the law requires. Unfortunately for the majority of us, our lawmakers are incapable of agreeing internationally how we should tax corporations or those wealthy enough to access similar sophisticated services.

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As a result, in excess of $150 billion a year of tax goes unpaid, according to the graph below from The Washington Post.

AdobeStock/Stephen Coburn

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was.

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quka/Adobe Stock

Tin prices decreased last month with high volatility. The drop in prices appears similar to a pattern that took place in February and June.

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

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Price drops of this magnitude on heavy trading volume usually point to price weakness. However, this year tin prices have recovered from similar price drops.

Before the latest price drop, tin prices increased somewhat dramatically. The price increase  occurred on heavy buying volume, and tin prices looked poised to follow other base metals for a bull run.

Readers might remember that tin outperformed many other base metals last year. Tin prices rallied throughout 2016. Tin prices began to waver only in the beginning of this year, which then pushed tin into more of a sideways trend and/or up-and-down trend.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Despite the volatile drops, tin prices appear to keep returning to the same levels throughout this year. Although price drops appear hard to predict, they often appear as buying dips for buying organizations.

What About Industrial Markets?

To understand the industrial metals complex, MetalMiner analyzes the underlying DBB index trend. Both the long- and the short-term trends still point to a bullish market.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Stockcharts

Even if the DBB index fell in September — caused by price retracement in some base metals, such as copper or nickel — no doubt October saw a big increase. Most base metal prices increased this month, driving the DBB index to higher levels.

The CRB index (commodities) has also traded higher this month, correlating again with the DBB index. We still expect upside movements for most base metals and the DBB index.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

What Does This Mean for Buying Organizations?

Tin price drops appear as buying dips. However, given current market trends, buying organizations should be watching closely as to when to commit purchases to reduce risks. At the beginning of October, MetalMiner published a long-term perspective for base metals and steel.

For those who want to reduce risks when committing purchases, MetalMiner analyzes the market each month. Readers can take a free trial now or subscribe to the Monthly Outlook. 

Iakov Kalinin/Adobe Stock

As a microcosm of how power generation is evolving around the world, the U.K. is not exactly a perfect example.

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

But many of the trends being played out there are, to a greater or lesser extent, mirrored in other countries.

Striving for Coal-Free

The U.K. government has undertaken to be coal-free for electricity power generation by 2025, which is some pledge for a country sitting on coal reserves said to be sufficient for 300 years of demand (albeit much of it is at depth and not as economically attractive as it may sound).

In 2012, the U.K. produced 40% of its power from coal, much the same as in the U.S. at the time. Unlike the U.S., where coal now makes up a declining but still substantial 30% or so, in the second quarter of this year coal usage in the U.K. fell to 2.1%.

In fact, on April 21 – a particularly windy day – the U.K. was coal-free for 24 hours for the first time since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

The major beneficiaries will come as no surprise for anyone familiar with British weather.

Read more

It seems to be the perennial question among those dependent on and those active in the metals market – what are the prospects for China?

And, well,  we should be concerned.

As both the world’s largest producer and largest consumer – in many cases constituting nearly half of global consumption and production of many metals – China and what its economy does is the primary driver on price direction and pace of change.

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What’s Happened in China This Year…So Far

This year, metal prices have risen strongly on the back of robust demand fueled in part by a mini stimulus boom initiated last year. Anxiety is growing as to how long China can keep that demand solid and what the medium-term impact of the country’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio will be. The rising “credit gap” is split 70% in the stodgy public sector, which is contributing relatively less to growth and not in the more dynamic private sector where most growth is being generated.

As such, Beijing feels it has enough ammunition to handle any fallout without it seriously impacting the economy — and with the economy growing in a broad-based manner, across manufacturing, trade and services as well as construction. HSBC, in their most recent Metals Quarterly, remains cautiously optimistic that growth will remain solid around 6.7% next year.

What This Means for Metal Buyers

For metals consumers, however, it has been about more than macroeconomic issues.

Supply-side reform has been a major driver of price this year, with enforced consolidation in the steel sector driving shortages of certain product areas like rebar, and hence fueling price rises. Meanwhile, smelter closures in aluminum have pushed prices to multi-year highs. Arguably those price rises are investor-fueled and could, at current levels, be somewhat overdone — but much depends on how vigorously Beijing continues to implement environmental policies during the upcoming winter heating period.

Clearly the market thinks it will follow through with the policy as investors are positioning themselves for shortages within China. Although the rest of the world is technically in deficit, comparing production to consumption in that country results in still more than 85 days of inventory with unknown additional tonnage available in stock and finance trades. This will act as a damper on price rises in the medium term, but the market is quite capable of spiking further in the short term.

We will have a follow-on article on steel, nickel and stainless, where despite prices being off recent peaks, there is much to suggest we will not see a sell-off next year and prices could be well supported at current levels.

Irina K./Adobe Stock

Steel Market Update’s 2017 Steel Summit kicked off in Atlanta this week and the topic on everyone’s minds was Hurricane Harvey and the far-reaching impact it will have on the Houston region.

The humanitarian impact of Harvey cannot be overstated, but the economic impact on Houston, an industrial hub in the southern United States, will be felt in both the short- and long-term, with freight transportation at a virtual standstill (Port Houston operations resumed today, according to an alert on the Port Houston website).

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

According to SMU, FTR Transportation Intelligence reports up to 10% of U.S. truck capacity will be disrupted in the next two weeks.

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

Gas Prices Surge

In response to fuel supply disruptions from Hurricane Harvey, average national gasoline prices grew to $2.37 per gallon earlier this week, and continued to surge to $2.51 Friday morning, according to the AAA website.

“It’s still really early to tell what this is going to mean for long-term supply,” Denton Cinquegrana, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, told SMU. “If some of these refineries are flooded, it’s going to take weeks to get the water out of there and then get into damage assessment.”

How will steel and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth steel price forecast and outlook in our brand-new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report.

For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

Nickel prices maintained near nine-month highs mid-week, due in part to Chinese stainless steel mill demand and decreased supplies from the Philippines, a top exporter of ore.

According to a report from Reuters, nickel prices peaked earlier in the week to $11,885 a ton, its highest point since November 2016. Year-over-year, nickel prices are up more than 15%.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

“Stainless steel demand in China and elsewhere has surprised on the upside and talk about nickel consumption in lithium-ion batteries has helped,” Societe Generale analyst Robin Bhar told the news source.

“Supplies have been under stress,” Bhar added. “The Philippines exported less for various reasons, including monsoon rains, mine inspections and shutdowns. Some NPI (nickel pig iron) capacity has been shut in China because of environmental inspections.”

Nickel Lagging Behind in the Bull Run

Our own Irene Martinez Canorea recently wrote that nickel, along with tin and lead, are more reticent to join the bull rush with aluminum, copper and zinc.

She writes: “Even though the industrial metal outlook remains bullish, lead and tin seem to be behaving on their own terms. Buying organizations will want to pay careful attention to trading volumes in the coming month.”

How will nickel and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth nickel price forecast and outlook in our brand-new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report.

For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:


The International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) released its August report, which found the global market for refined zinc metal was in deficit during the first half of the year. Total reported inventories declined over that time, as well.

Global production from zinc mines grew 5.4% compared to the first half of last year, mostly due to a boost in output from Peru, India and Eritrea.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

Furthermore, zinc production suffered in places like Canada, Thailand, Peru and the Republic of Korea, leading to an overall worldwide increase of just 0.5% after factoring in growth in places like France, Brazil and India.

The ILZSG report stated: “Despite a decrease in Chinese apparent demand for refined zinc metal of 2.1%, global usage rose by a marginal 0.6%. This was mainly due to increases in the United States and Taiwan (China).”

Gauging the Zinc Price Ceiling

Our own Fouad Egbaria wrote just last week that zinc has really hit its stride, recently hitting its highest price point in more than a decade ($3,180.50).

Just how high can the zinc price fly? Reuters’ Andy Home states:

“But right now the LME zinc market is bubbling away with stocks falling and spreads tightening. Volatility seems assured but can zinc return to the heady days of late 2006/early 2007, when the price peaked out at $4,580?”

How will zinc and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth zinc price forecast and outlook in our brand-new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report.

For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

An interesting article in the Financial Times explores the decline of global capital flows since the financial crisis and how the nature of capital flows has changed markedly since 2007.

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

The article draws on research by the McKinsey Global Institute looking at how bank lending, particularly European cross-border bank lending, has shriveled up and been partially replaced by company fixed-asset investment. That, we would normally say, is a good thing. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is usually a more productive commitment by companies in factories and other facilities.

But the concern is the main factor behind the expansion in FDI has been the flow of investment booked in “financial centers” — the polite phrase for low-tax countries such as Ireland, the Financial Times says.

A lot of this money represents tax-motivated profit shifting that simply shows up on balance of payments as FDI flows.

Cross-border capital flows are down significantly from where they were when the global financial crisis began, the Financial Times reports. The $4.3 trillion that flowed around the world last year was only a third of the peak of $12.4 trillion in 2007. While no one is suggesting a return to those levels would be a good idea – much of that liquidity resulting from savings in China and other emerging market economies and the wealth of oil exporters found its home in U.S. property, helping build a bubble that led to the financial crisis — but nor is it healthy that firms are squirreling away billions off-shore to avoid tax at home. Think Apple’s massive off-shore war chest, as an example.

Another major change that the world is only just catching up to is the shift in capital account balances.

At the time of the financial crisis, China had the world’s biggest surplus while the U.S. had the largest surplus on its current account – mainly trade. Now, it is China and Japan, as the graph below shows, and politicians in the U.S. are only just catching up to the idea that Germany is the mercantilist of the second half of this decade, not China. It should be said, however, that all imbalances have declined relative to GDP.

Source Financial Times

Finally — and this will not come as any surprise — the role of mature economies is waning compared to emerging markets.

Developed economies are sending significantly less money overseas in the form of FDI than they did before the crisis. Their share of global FDI has also been falling as China’s role has grown. This is already causing a reaction in the U.S. and Europe to Chinese firms buying up famous and occasionally strategic firms and assets, and may yet lead to legal barriers being raised to prevent further encroachment.

Free Download: The August 2017 MMI Report