Articles in Category: Manufacturing

Chances are you’ve probably heard the term “farm-to-table,” the increasingly popular culinary movement that prioritizes local sourcing. Some restaurants even tout their local sourcing on their menus, listing vendors from whom they acquire their foods — whether it’s beef, cheese, beer, or fruits and vegetables, they want you know where the elements on your plate originated.

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The same mentality can be applied to manufacturing at large, particularly in a world currently dominated by tariffs.

MetalMiner’s latest white paper, “‘Farm-to-Table’ Becomes ‘Maker-to-User’: How a Manufacturing Movement is Emerging,” explores the concept of local sourcing, in addition to evidence suggesting local sourcing is picking up steam among U.S. manufacturers.

The paper looks at import trends by sector and analyzes the various benefits of local sourcing, which include the positive impact on local economies, greater flexibility and innovation, and shorter lead times.

In addition, with the U.S. engaging China, a major supplier of just about everything — including parts and a wide variety of intermediate goods used in final products — as part of its Section 301 investigation of China’s trade practices, manufacturers might find themselves in a bind if a product they import is subject to a tariff. Given the number of products that have already come in for new tariffs (or could be subject to new tariffs, once the U.S.’s $200 billion tariff proposal goes through its review process), the odds are good that a manufacturer is going to be affected in some way.

Following along the lines of our recent discussion about risk mitigation with Resilinc President and CEO Bindiya Vakil, local sourcing can do just that: mitigate risk and offer manufacturers peace of mind in an increasingly volatile trade climate.

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You can read about all of the above — and much more — by downloading the new white paper here.

In an approximately 80-minute speech ranging from jobs and manufacturing to North Korea and Iran, President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address also touched on issues impacting the metals industry — albeit, perhaps not as directly as one might have expected.

(As a brief aside, according to the American Presidency Project, which tracks the length of State of the Union addresses, Trump’s speech was the third-longest since the speech lengths were tracked beginning with the Johnson administration. Bill Clinton’s State of the Union addresses of 1 hour, 24 minutes and 58 seconds and 1 hour, 28 minutes and 49 seconds are the only addresses longer than Trump’s speech last night.)

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Many in the metals industry were looking for good news regarding infrastructure (including, as we reported this morning, Nucor President and CEO John Ferriola during Tuesday’s quarterly earnings call). On that front, Trump called on Congress to put together a $1.5 trillion plan for infrastructure spending.

“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need,” Trump said. “Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

He also referred to streamlining the construction permitting process and reclaiming the country’s “building heritage.”

However, for those in the metals industry looking for policy specifics, particularly with respect to trade cases, Trump did not offer much.

For those paying attention to the ongoing Section 232 probes of steel and aluminum imports – of which Chinese excess capacity and state-aided commodities is a focus of much discussion — the president did not refer to those, or any other ongoing trade cases. This isn’t necessarily surprising for a State of the Union address, which are often short on policy specifics or nitty gritty minutiae, a which Section 232, Section 301, and other anti-dumping and countervailable duty investigations could fall under, depending on whom you ask.

Even so, the omission stood out, even as China — along with Russia — was mentioned as a threat.

Trump mentioned China three times: twice during a story about a North Korean defector and another time in a general call for defense spending. (Reuters reported recently that Trump is expected to ask Congress for $716 billion in defense spending for 2019, which would mark a 7% increase from 2018.)`

“As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad,” the president said. “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.”

In addition, the word “steel” was only mentioned once in the speech, and that in a metaphorical sense when extolling Americans’ perseverance and the “steel in America’s spine.” Aluminum was not mentioned once during the speech.

While anti-dumping and countervailable duty investigations didn’t get their time in the State of the Union sun, Trump did once again reiterate his stance on what he perceives as bad trade deals — particularly relevant in the shadow of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation talks that concluded Monday in Montreal, capping the sixth round of talks focused on revamping the now 24-year-old trilateral trade deal.

On trade, Trump said the “era of economic surrender is over.”

Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office. He has also consistently attacked NAFTA, which he has called the worst trade deal ever made, citing the loss of American manufacturing and jobs.

“From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal,” Trump said. “We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau data through November, the U.S. had a $65.68 billion trade deficit with Mexico last year and a $15.33 billion deficit with Canada.
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, was not impressed with Trump’s presentation on trade and infrastructure.

In general economic indicators, Trump touted job creation figures, saying that since the election (a time frame which of course includes the final months of the Obama administration), “we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.”

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.1 millions jobs were added in the 2017 calendar year, down from 2.2 million in 2016.

Rising wages would traditionally sound a warning bell for manufacturing companies, but a recent article in The Economist explores many positive aspects of the current surge in blue-collar wages in the U.S.

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Stagnant wage growth since the financial crisis has not only been a reflection of poor productivity growth but also, many would argue, laid the foundations for the populist support which swept Donald Trump to power. The Economist notes that in the five years following the end of the recession from June 2009, wages and salaries rose by only 8.7%, while prices increased 9.5%. In 2014 the median worker’s inflation-adjusted earnings, by one measure, were no higher than they were in 2000.

Yet in 2015, the article notes, the median household income, adjusted for inflation, rose by 5.2% followed in 2016 by another 3.2%. Rather than abating, this year to the third quarter wage growth for factory workers, builders and drivers outstripped that for professionals and managers, with some blue-collar workers seeing rises of 11% in the buildings trade.

Unfortunately, this is not being paid for by rising productivity.

In the manufacturing sector, for example, the article notes output per hour worked is just 0.1% higher than a year ago and remarkably has not grown at all in the past five years.  To the extent rising wage costs are being met, it appears to be due to a cheapening dollar. On a trade weighted basis, the article says the dollar has fallen by almost 9% since the start of the year. A weakening dollar and growing world economy have increased demand for American goods, with exports up in the first three quarters of the year by nearly 4% over 2016.

More encouragingly, a rising oil price has spurred investment in the tight oil and gas markets.

Data from Baker Hughes show that the active oil rig count in America has risen from 568 a year ago to 907 today. Indeed, so significant as the oil and gas industry been that the article reports UBS data saying that energy investment has driven nearly three-fifths of all economic growth in 2017. As a result, however, wage growth has not been equal in all regions. Southern oil states such as Texas and Oklahoma account for almost all the acceleration in manufacturing employment this year, whereas those areas that have been in long-term manufacturing decline have seen almost no growth at all.

So far, inflation has remained subdued despite the proportion of male prime age workers remaining close to a record low of 89%, with nearly all growth coming from increases of women in the workforce. Hopefully, rising wages will encourage more male jobseekers in the 25-54 age range to return to the workplace — a development that will be needed if rising wages are not to spur greater inflation.

And inflation is showing the first signs of reawakening. Whether that is due to unemployment falling to a 17-year low or other effects is not clear, but the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s underlying inflation gauge has jumped to 2.96%, a post-Lehman high.

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Nevertheless, rising incomes for lower and middle earners will not only have the beneficial effect of reducing inequality. By spreading wealth amongst the wider population, it will be a greater spur to GDP than if it were concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few.

In case you missed it, just before President Trump went on his Asia tour (including a state visit with China’s President Xi Jinping), the U.S. finally went on record in ruling that China is still not a market economy for purposes of determining anti-dumping duties.

To folks inside the Beltway on the front lines of trade policy, this is a big deal.

In fact, it’s China’s single-biggest trade issue, said Tim Brightbill, partner at Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, D.C., in the second episode of our series, “Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential.”

So what will this mean for the U.S.-China relationship?  What will happen if the U.S. slaps China with even bigger tariffs after the Section 232 investigation is completed? Will China retaliate? How?

Listen to the full episode!

Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential: Background

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’ve started a brand-new series called “Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential.”

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!

Listen to more episodes and follow the MetalMiner Podcast on SoundCloud.

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!

Follow the MetalMiner Podcast on SoundCloud.

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

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  • In case you missed it, our October MMI report is out. Make sure to check out the free PDF download for the rundown on the last month for our 10 MMI sub-indexes: Automotive, Construction, Aluminum, Copper, Renewables, Rare Earths, Raw Steels, Stainless Steels, GOES and Global Precious.
  • Also, our Annual Outlook is out, too. Check it out for a comprehensive look ahead to 2018.
  • Coal India Ltd. is looking to diversify beyond coal, Sohrab Darabshaw wrote earlier this week.
  • Aluminum officials are in “wait-and-see mode” when it comes to the ongoing Section 232 probe vis-a-vis aluminum imports. The investigations into the national security impact of aluminum and steel imports were launched in April and have a January statutory deadline; at that point, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross must present President Donald Trump with a report and recommendations.
  • Glencore bet big on zinc — and won, our Stuart Burns writes.
  • Although oil prices are well below 2014 numbers, supply cuts in some cases have seen the price start to climb. Are more cuts on the way, further constraining global supply and driving up prices? Burns wrote about the subject and what OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo called a “rebalancing process.”
  • In big news, Kobe Steel is in hot water for a data falsification scandal, one which threatens the firm’s credibility among consumers and manufacturers. The scandal has already had major financial ramifications, as the company’s share price has been in free fall since the news hit.

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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).

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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:

AdobeStock/vvoe

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.

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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:

The lead price grew this week following a Chinese-issued ban on North Korean exports.

According to a report from Reuters, lead’s sister metals also rebounded, in response to once-rising geopolitical tension easing up a bit and Chinese data, a top metals consumer, coming in higher than expected.

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!

“Those Chinese numbers (on Monday) were quite soft … I suppose the only glimmer of light came in the new yuan loans, which beat consensus, and maybe that suggests that things will remain stable as we go forwards,” Robin Bhar, head of metals research at Societe Generale in London, told Reuters.

“The metals seem well poised. After a period of consolidation this week perhaps we’ll have another push towards those (recent) highs going forward,” Bhar added.

Lead Price Movement in August

Earlier this month, our own Fouad Egbaria reported that Chinese primary lead posted a price increase, growing 3.3% to $2,694.90/metric ton.

How will lead and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth lead 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: