MetalMiner Prices

Aluminum Prices

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Nickel Alloy Prices

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Titanium Prices

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Articles on: Metal Prices

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Higher is the simple answer. The world with the exception of China was in deficit before U.S. sanctions against Oleg Derispaska and his aluminum company Rusal.

So when the three million tons of primary metal Rusal exports outside of Russia are taken out of a market already worried by the recent partial closure of Norsk Hydro’s Alunorte alumina plant and Albras primary smelter, one should not be surprised by price increases and panic.

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Not only is the market deprived of new deliveries by the sanctions, but according to Bloomberg some 36% of global stockpiles on the LME and up to one million tons of metal held in inventories outside of China supporting financing deals is currently in limbo as buyers, traders, banks and brokers refuse to handle it for fear of falling foul of sanctions.

Part of the problem is that a large percentage of Rusal’s metal is traded and resides in stock financing deals, compared to top metal from other producers like Norsk Hydro and Alcoa. This is a legacy of the flood of metal that started to swamp the global market from the 1990s onwards after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Technically there is no legal restriction on buying metal produced and sold by Rusal before the sanctions were applied, according to Bloomberg. Even so, the products have become less desirable in the U.S. and Europe as consumers are unsure of the status.

In addition, this week the LME has banned any further deliveries into its system, raising the question of what Rusal is going to do with with the three million tons of metal it is churning out every year. There will be buyers out there, especially in Southeast Asia, but they will demand a discount to handle the brand. With restrictions of sales of its alumina, Rusal could simply cut production rather than try to dump metal into less well regulated overseas markets.

Maybe more of a risk is the fate of Rusal’s alumina production as the firm supplies other smelters than just its own, potentially depriving alternative producers from supplying an already tightening market. Alumina prices have surged to over $600/ton as the LME primary metal settlement prices have risen to over $2,500 per ton.

So where to now? Have buyers missed the boat? It’s impossible to say. There could well be a short-term correction, but Bloomberg quotes CRU analysts as saying that prices could reach $2,800-3,000/ton, levels not seen since 2008.

Alunorte’s alumina production cuts, forced following allegations of river pollution, could be resolved later this month like the resulting cuts at downstream Albras. But that would only return the primary plant from 230,000 tons to its capacity of 460,000 tons, a drop in the ocean next to Rusal’s three million tons. Brace yourselves: aluminum remains firmly in bull territory.

U.S. domestic steel prices steadily increased after the release of the Section 232 report and President Donald Trump’s formal proclamation. However, the pace of the increases has started to slow down, signaling a possible top.

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After what now looks like sluggish steel momentum in 2017, the current steel price rally appears to have no end. Prices climbed to more than seven-year highs. However, MetalMiner previously reported on a possible top for steel prices.

U.S. HRC and CRC prices. Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

So far, steel prices have not dropped. In fact, HRC and CRC prices have moved closer toward the $900/st and $1,000/st, respectively. Also, the approaching date of May 1, when several countries’ tariff exemptions expire, could still add support to domestic steel prices. This expiration date involves the Section 232 country exemptions for the EU, Argentina, Brazil and Australia.

The only exception is South Korea, which is exempted from steel imports under the bilateral trade deal, KORUS. The agreement with South Korea removes steel tariffs permanently but replaces that with a quota. The steel quota is equivalent to 70% of South Korea’s average exports to the U.S. from 2015-2017. In return, South Korea has agreed to improve access for U.S. automakers, who can now export up to 50,000 vehicles per OEM per year. South Korean aluminum tariffs however will go into effect after May 1, similar to the other countries listed above.

Whether the countries remain exempted or not may affect U.S. domestic steel prices. The country exemption could create downward price pressure on steel. However, steel prices could stay well supported if the country exemptions go away.

Global Steel Demand

According to the World Steel Association, global steel demand is forecasted to grow by 1.8% in 2018 and 0.7% in 2019. Despite the steel markets’ risks from current trade tensions (Section 232 tariffs, Section 301), the world’s favorable economic momentum may drive actual demand growth. Global steel demand in 2018 is forecasted to reach 1.616 billion tons, increasing to 1.627 billion tons next year. Read more

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Happy Friday, MetalMiner readers! Here’s a look back at this week’s top stories.

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  • A number of aluminum associations around the world wrote a joint letter urging G20 leaders to hold a forum on global aluminum overcapacity at this year’s G20 Summit, scheduled to take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 in Buenos Aires.
  • After a steady downward trend, LME aluminum prices recovered, rising more than 13% in a week.
  • The U.S. International Trade Commission will advise the U.S. Trade Representative on proposed modifications to the U.S. Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).
  • The EU is demanding compensation at the WTO for the U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, arguing that the tariffs were imposed to protect U.S. industry. What is behind the U.S.’s national security argument?
  • Irene Martinez Canorea’s mid-month metals analysis shows aluminum as April’s top performer so far. Prices for copper and nickel have also risen, while other base metals have fallen.
  • U.S. and India have announced a joint task force on natural gas.

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

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This morning in metals news, there has been a flood of applications from U.S. companies for exemptions from the Section 232 tariffs. Nickel prices reached a three-year high, stoked by fears of more sanctions, and Alcoa shares jumped in after-hours trade following rosy Q1 results.

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Applications for Tariff Waivers Surge

The U.S. Department of Commerce is being inundated with applications from American companies requesting waivers from the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, the Washington Post reported. As of last week, there have been more than 1,200 applications for exemptions from the steel tariffs and 125 applications regarding aluminum tariffs.

Kevin Dempsey, general counsel at the American Iron and Steel Institute, told the Post that he anticipates “several thousand exclusion requests” to be filed.

Nickel Price Reaches 3-Year High

Speculations that Russian nickel producer Norilsk Nickel will be added to U.S. sanctions have helped nickel prices reach their highest levels since 2014, according to MarketWatch.

Nickel prices rose to $15,875 per ton on Tuesday. This jump in nickel prices by more than 10% is also the biggest one-day move for the metal since 2008. Read more

Numerous factors weigh heavily on the base metals and commodity complex: the Chinese copper scrap ban, the Section 232 proclamation on aluminum and steel combined with country-specific exemptions set to expire on May 1, the Section 301 investigation, and multiple strikes at copper and nickel mines to boot. After the turmoil of the first few months of 2018, MetalMiner reviews how base metals and commodities performed during Q1.

Aluminum, copper and nickel on the rise

Aluminum, copper and nickel prices started 2018 weaker than at the end of 2017. The end of 2017 showed a sharp rally for these base metals, following the bullish uptrend that began in the summer of 2017.

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The short-term downtrend sounded alarms as prices dropped significantly, not finding a floor. However, LME prices started to climb at the beginning of April, leaving the downtrend behind.

Read more

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This morning in metal news, Chinese iron ore futures rebound from a 10-month low, Saudi Arabia emerges as OPEC’s leading supporter for further reducing oil supply, and researchers discover a major supply of rare earth minerals in the seabed near a remote Japanese island.

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Chinese Iron Ore Rebounds from 10-Month Low

After dropping to a 10-month low on Tuesday, Chinese iron ore has rebounded somewhat, Reuters reported.

The price of iron ore had dropped nearly 15% this year as a result of oversupply, with stocks totaling 161 million tons. As the Wall Street Journal’s Rhiannon Hoyle wrote, “there’s enough iron ore sitting at Chinese ports right now to produce more than 100 million automobiles, in theory.” However, experts say that most of the iron ore is likely of low-quality.

A $100/Barrel Oil Price

Saudi Arabia wants to see the price of crude to rise to $80 to $100 per barrel. Reuters reported that these were the figures discussed by senior Saudi officials in recent closed meetings.

In January 2017, OPEC, Russia and other producers had agreed to reduce supply, a pact that extends until December 2018. Although the original goal of the pact is in sight, with oil prices currently at $73 a barrel, Saudi Arabia is emerging as the OPEC’s leading supporter for further supply cuts.

Off the Coast of Japan, a Rare Earths Find

A team of Japanese researchers recently discovered a treasure trove of rare earth minerals in the Pacific Ocean seabed near Minamitori Island, a small Japanese island about 1,150 miles from Tokyo, CNN reported. Read more

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This morning in metals news, aluminum prices have risen to a seven-year-high following the London Metal Exchange’s ban on Rusal metal, the EU pushes back against the U.S.’s steel and aluminum tariffs, and renewable energy takes center stage among major U.S. companies.

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A 7-Year High for Aluminum Prices

Aluminum prices surged to their highest levels since 2011 in midst of the scramble that has resulted from U.S. sanctions on Russian producer Rusal, the Financial Times reported. On Monday, the price of aluminum rose more than 5% to push past $2,400 per ton, a seven-year high. This marks the biggest one-day gain for aluminum prices since 2011.

The London Metal Exchange has banned Rusal metal produced or sold after April 6, and the ban comes into effect tomorrow.

EU Challenges U.S. Tariffs

Although the European Union has a temporary exemption from the U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, it is demanding compensation at the World Trade Organization, Reuters reported.

The EU is arguing that the U.S. tariffs were imposed only to protect U.S. industry, rather than for security measures. Read more

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This morning in metals news, oil and gold prices opened slightly lower despite the missile attacks on Syria that took place early Saturday morning local time. NAFTA renegotiation talks speed up in face of Mexico’s upcoming presidential election.

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Oil, Gold Traded Lower Following Syria Strikes

Oil and gold prices have not yet spiked following the missile attacks that the United States, Britain and France launched on Syria over the weekend, instead trading slightly lower when markets reopened, according to Reuters.

“Gold has benefited in recent days as a safe-haven asset amid a U.S.-China trade dispute and the escalating conflict in Syria, which also pushed oil above $70 a barrel because of concerns about a spike in Middle Eastern tensions,” Reuters’ Jan Harvey and Jessica Resnick-Ault wrote.

The LME’s Aluminum Woes

The London Metal Exchange’s decision to no longer accept aluminum from Russian producer Rusal has led to a scramble to withdraw non-Russian metal from the LME’s warehouses, the Financial Times reported. Buyers have also been in a bind to find alternative sources of aluminum. Read more

At the end of week before last, aluminum prices seemed to struggle; some thought the metal might have shifted to bearish country.

However, after that LME aluminum prices jumped by more than 13% in a week.

LME aluminum prices retraced to August resistance levels ($1,972/mt), and then increased sharply again.

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The fact that LME aluminum prices rebounded to the current level suggests a sign of price strength. Buying organizations had a chance to commit to some volume last month, to reduce price risks on their aluminum purchases.

In bullish rallies, staying on top of buying dips remains critical.

A Brief Look at Other Base Metals

This latest price rally has extended to  other base metals. The two-month downtrend in copper prices reversed this month, as prices have increased. Copper prices again appear to have moved  toward the $7,000/mt level.

Nickel prices also traded higher so far this month, reaching $13,810/mt. However, 2018 nickel prices did not fall as far as aluminum or copper did.

Both zinc and lead prices show weaker trading volume. The price trend is more sideways and less volatile than the other base metals (copper, aluminum and nickel).

However, LME zinc prices have shown a strong long-term uptrend since the beginning of 2016.

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

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

The LME aluminum price retracement gave buying organizations a good opportunity to buy, as prices skyrocketed again.

Adapting the right buying strategy becomes crucial to reducing price risk. Given the latest jump in LME aluminum prices, buying organizations may want to take a free trial now to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook to identify future buying dips.

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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 headlines here on MetalMiner:

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