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Articles on: Metal Prices

Lead prices’ big ride over the past few weeks reminds me of a day at Cedar Point. If you like amusement parks you have to check out the Point.

3-Month London Metal Exchange Lead rebounds after a sharp drop. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com data.

Lead prices surged in Q4, but prices increased too fast. With prices overextended in late November, a correction was of little surprise.

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Prices fell sharply in December, bringing a great opportunity for buyers to purchase metal near support levels. A tightening market and recent weakness in the dollar pushed the metal higher in January.

Tightening Market

Lead refined production vs. usage. Source: Metalminer analysis of ILZSG data.

The latest International Lead and Zinc Study Group data showed a tighter supply/demand situation. The lead metal supply exceeded demand by only 16,000 metric tons during the first 11 months of 2016.

In addition, global lead mine production fell 7.5% over the first 11 months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. As mine output falls at a faster pace than refined output, this should eventually lead to a depletion of concentrate stocks. Meanwhile, strong U.S. and Chinese auto sales in December bode well for lead’s demand.

When To Buy Lead

The lead supply/demand demand picture is not as bullish as zinc’s. However, lead’s production is falling and, in the context of a bull market in the industrial metals complex, we can expect prices to at least remain supported above $2,000.

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On the other hand, given the increase in price volatility, it might take some time before prices overcome their peak in late November. Buyers can expect some range-bound trading ($2,000-$2,400) in Q1.

vvoe / Adobe Stock

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group released its initial 2017 report, which found the global market for refined zinc metal was in deficit over the first 11 months of last year with total reported inventories declining over the same time frame.

The ILZSG revealed a significant increase in Chinese output while the world’s zinc mine production fell overall by 1.2%.

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!

“Global refined zinc metal production over the first eleven months of 2016 was at the same level as the corresponding period of 2015 with increases in China and the Republic of Korea offset by reductions in Australia, India, Japan, Mexico and the United States,” the ILZSG report stated.

The rise in worldwide demand for refined zinc metal, to the tune of 3.5%, was mostly due to an 8.8% increase in Chinese apparent usage with European demand at the same level in 2015 and US demand falling 12.7%.

Also of note: Chinese imports of zinc contained in zinc concentrates represented a 42.3% decrease compared to the same time frame in 2015 with the Far East nation’s net imports of refined zinc metal growing 7.9%.

Zinc Benefits from Investor Interest

Our own Stuart Burns wrote last week that aluminum has benefited from renewed investor interest, particularly over the course of 2016, but that it hasn’t experienced the same jolt as zinc and copper have seen.

“Although net long positions have been trimmed back following some recent significant deliveries into LME warehouses, the consensus remains positive regarding prices for 2017,” Burns wrote.

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

China has issued its first batch of crude oil import quotas for non-state companies at 68.81 million metric tons, or 1.38 million barrels per day (bpd), four refining sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

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29 Companies received quotas, including independent refiners and trading companies, the sources said, citing an official document.

Architecture Billings End Year Strong

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) concluded the year positive, with the December reading capping off three straight months of growth in design billings. As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine- to 12-month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

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The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the December ABI score was 55.9, up sharply from 50.6 in the previous month. This score reflects the largest increase in design services in 2016 (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

Threats of a trade war intensified over the weekend, as President-elect Donald Trump said the U.S. dollar “is too strong.”

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In one day, Trump will be president and he also warned BMW that it will face a 35% tariff on imports to the U.S. from a plant it’s building in Mexico. In addition, Trump specifically called out China and its weakening currency, stating that U.S. companies can’t compete with China because the dollar is too strong.

Dollar Index Falls to a 1-Month Low

The U.S. Dollar Index Falls to 1-Month low on Trump’s talk. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

Trump’s words helped sink the U.S. dollar index by 1% vs. other major currencies, falling to its lowest level in a month. Previous administrations have maintained a steady policy of backing a strong dollar and presidents have tended to refrain from commenting on the currency altogether. Read more

Or at least if that wasn’t the intent, it’s likely how the smelters feel.

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In an about face on Indonesia’s 2014 export ban across a range of minerals, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan said this week that local miners might be allowed to export up to 5.2 million tons of low-grade nickel ore a year, partially reversing the ban intended to force buyers to set up value-add refining facilities in Indonesia.

The export ban has been relatively successful. Export volumes, of course, plummeted from about 60 million metric tons before the 2014 ban was enforced but new refineries have been set up and refined volumes of value-add material have increased. Read more

Lead ore. Source: Adobe Stock.

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group released its initial report for 2017, which found world refined lead metal supply exceeded demand during the first 11 months of last year with total reported stock levels increasing during that same time frame.

The ILZSG report identified reduced output in China, India, Australia and the U.S. as contributing to the overall reduction in global lead mine production, to the tune of 7.5%, over the first 11 months of last year when compared to the same time frame in 2015.

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!

The ILZSG states: “World production of refined lead metal decreased by 1.2%. This was primarily due to a fall in Chinese production which more than balanced increases in Australia, Kazakhstan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).”

Furthermore, the 9.1% reduction in Chinese demand was offset, in part, by a 9.5% rise in European usage.

“Chinese imports of lead contained in lead concentrates totaled 697,000 metric tons, a decline of 24.6% compared to the first eleven months of 2015,” concluded the ILZSG’s January report on lead.

Lead Buyers Saw Ample Opportunity to End 2016

Just last month, our own Raul de Frutos wrote about metal buyers finding good opportunities to time their purchases with prices pulling back following a bullish run. For lead in particular, de Frutos wrote:

“Zinc’s cousin, lead, is also retracing near an area where we should see investors coming in to support prices. If this year’s bull market is set to continue, which for now we continue to expect it to do so, lead buyers will find a good opportunity to time their purchases if prices rebound at these levels.”

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

Our January MMI report saw almost universal price pull backs in December, but that’s to be expected in a bull market with active investors.

The monthly MetalMiner IndX showed only moderate (less than 4%) price falls, even though they were visible across almost all the sub-indexes.

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The price prospects for most of the metals we track remain strong and we have already seen some renewed price increases since we initially published our sub-index reports starting on the first of the year.

The Chinese economy and the strong dollar continue to power the metals bull market… at least for now. Happy new metals year!

Indonesia issued significant new mining rules last Thursday that will relax its ban on exports of nickel ore. Over the weekend, I went to check analysts’ opinions on this new development. Not surprisingly, almost everyone thinks this is bearish news for nickel prices.

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I am often a contrarian and this time, of course, I have a different opinion. I think the outcome of this revision is bullish for prices. What’s more, I think this is a great opportunity to buy nickel since prices might trade above today’s levels for the rest of the year.

Indonesian Nickel Ban

Before we get to analyze the price impact of the new rules, let’s quickly review what the ban was about in the first place:

Indonesia imposed an export ban for unprocessed material — essentially raw ore — back in 2014. A year before the ban kicked in, Indonesia exported around 60 million metric tons of nickel ore. Nickel ore contains an average of 1 to 3.5% of nickel. Indonesia banned exports to encourage downstream investment as this would eventually be better for the country, as it would generate more revenue as the material is processed domestically and it would build a local processing industry. Read more

tin-ore

S_E/Adobe Stock

Last week, tin prices on the London Mercantile Exchange increased but the real story has been overall commodity pressure to begin 2017.

According to a recent report from the Economic Calendar, tin has ebbed and flowed in a narrow range to begin the year with last week’s upward move attributed to “a slight pullback in the value of the U.S. dollar.”

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!

Donald Levit wrote: “Tin experienced a positive performance in 2016 amid solid demand from China with idled domestic tin capacity resulting in the need for higher imports. However, concerns are that China will start to ramp up its idled capacity, and that will change the market.”

China’s manufacturing PMI registered higher than expected recently, adding to tin’s momentum. In November, China imported more tin ore and concentrates with refined tin imports falling off substantially, the news source stated.

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

Indonesia introduced new rules last week that will allow exports of nickel ore and bauxite and concentrates of other minerals under certain conditions in a sweeping policy shift by the key global supplier, Reuters reported.

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A ban on unprocessed ore exports was imposed in 2014 to, the thinking went, encourage investment in mills and smelters in the islands. The government of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy has faced a hefty budget deficit since and missed its 2016 revenue target by $17.6 billion.

The resumption of shipments may have been drafted to help stop the gap.

The new regulations, which took effect on Wednesday, sent nickel prices tumbling more than 5% to a four-month low of $9,660 a metric ton before they recovered.

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The rules include broad changes to permit extensions, which may now be applied for up to five years in advance of expiration, as well as new divestment requirements.