This morning in metals news, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has reportedly locked down a mining province for 48 hours, the U.S. steel sector’s steel capacity utilization rate is 81.7% for the year through March 14 and Ford provided an update on its North American operations amid the coronavirus crisis.
The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose three points for a March MMI reading of 23.
The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) held flat this month for a February MMI reading of 20.
U.S. mining production rises in 2019
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the estimated value of nonfuel mineral mining production reached $86.3 billion, up 3% from 2018’s revised total of $84.0 billion.
The January 2020 Monthly Metals Index (MMI) report is in the books, including coverage of rising steel prices, U.S. automotive sales, construction spending and much more.
This month, all 10 of the MMIs increased.
The GOES, Rare Earths and Global Precious MMIs were the biggest risers, surging by 19.1%, 5.3% and 4.5%, respectively.
Some highlights from this month’s MMIs:
- U.S. steel prices made gains across the board during the first half of December.
- Copper prices made gains but were capped somewhat by concerns over demand.
- U.S. automotive sales were forecast to fall 1.7% in 2019 compared with the previous year.
- U.S. construction spending in November picked up 4.1% on a year-over-year basis.
Read about all of the above and much more by downloading the January 2020 MMI Report below:
The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) gained two points for a January MMI reading of 98. (Editor’s Note: This report also includes analysis of grain-oriented electrical steel.)
Several U.S. majors named in lawsuit over child mining of cobalt
CBS News reported last month that several U.S. tech companies were named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging the use of child labor in cobalt mining operations in Africa.
According to the report, citing a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., the companies named in the lawsuit as defendants included Apple, Google parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Dell and Tesla.
According to the report, the lawsuit was brought by nonprofit group International Rights Advocates on behalf of 13 anonymous plaintiffs from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) ticked up one point for a January reading of 20.
Malaysian regulators opt not to increase Lynas’ processing limit
Lynas Corp., the largest rare earths firm outside of China, announced in December that Malaysian regulators did not increase the firm’s lanthanide concentrate processing limit for calendar year 2019.
The Australia-based miner and processor operates a refinery in Kuantan, Malaysia. Last year, the Malaysian government granted Lynas a six-month renewal of its license to operate in the country.
However, regulators opted not to extend the firm’s permitted lanthanide concentrate processing limit for 2019.
Week in Review: Tariffs on Argentina, Brazil?; nickel prices slide; Saudi Aramco debuts on Riyadh exchange
Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner:
- Stuart Burns on President Donald Trump’s recent announcement regarding tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and Brazil.
- Nickel prices have seen a significant downward correction.
- November proved to be a solid month for automotive sales in the U.S. market.
- Burns delved into the economic and political situation in Zimbabwe, plus their implications on mining.
- India appears set to become a net importer of iron ore next year.
- U.S. construction spending in October picked up 1.1% on a year-over-year basis.
- Oil behemoth Saudi Aramco finally floated some shares, albeit only on the Riyadh exchange.
- Australian rare earths miner and processor Lynas Corp. announced the site for its new cracking and leaching plant.
- Indian steel demand fell in October for the first time in seven months.
- U.S. steel prices have bounced back over the last month.
- The spread between palladium and platinum widened this past month.
- Glencore announced a cobalt supply deal with South Korean company SK Innovation.
- Power outages in South Africa resulted in price support for palladium and platinum.
The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell one point for a November MMI reading of 97.
Slowing Cobalt Mine Output
According to research group Antaike, global cobalt output growth is expected to slow in 2020, Reuters reported.
The report cites Antaike nickel analyst Joy Kong, who said cobalt production is expected to rise by 5,000 tons in 2020.
The cobalt price has suffered over the last 18 months. On the LME, cobalt has plunged from around $95,000 per ton as of March 2018 to as low as $25,000 per ton earlier this year.
Cobalt is coveted for, among other applications, its use in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, which will be expected to drive demand for several metals as EV demand rises.
However, plunging prices have proved to be a challenge for miners, even mining giant Glencore.
Earlier this year, Glencore announced it would idle production at its Mutanda copper and cobalt mine — the world’s largest cobalt mine — in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the end of the year.
MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns earlier this year weighed in on the miner’s decision.
“Glencore has a record of taking the hard decisions early and shuttering mines that are loss-making,” he wrote.
“The miner closed zinc mines in 2015 in response to low global prices; its actions are credited with helping the zinc market recover as a result.
“Cobalt demand has traditionally been driven by its use as an alloying element, but it is increasingly being seen as part of the lithium battery demand story because of its role in production of advanced batteries. The electric vehicle (EV) market, though, has failed to match up to its hype this decade. Although both lithium and cobalt prices have risen as a result of battery makers securing their supply chain, the reality is supply is perfectly adequate.”
In fact, LME cobalt has had some upward momentum in recent months, reaching $35,000 per ton this week.
Furthermore, Burns added the fundamentals for the much-coveted cobalt remain strong.
“In the longer term, though the fundamentals remain solid, EV sales will rise over the next decade as prices become more affordable, ranges extend and charging infrastructure improves,” Burns explained. “Glencore is putting Mutanda on care and maintenance for the next two years, after which it will review its options.
“Taking some 20% of global supply out of the market will put a floor under prices and shorten the timeframe over which prices will recover.”
Trafigura’s Bet on Cobalt
Sticking with the cobalt theme, Burns delved into trader Trafigura’s bet on cobalt amid its price resurgence in recent months.
“According to the Financial Times, Trafigura is betting that the Mutoshi mine, which is owned by DRC-based company Chemaf, can become a competitive producer, just as demand starts to rise on the back of a global rise in EV sales,” Burns wrote.
“Trafigura is looking to contribute financing in return for marketing rights on the cobalt. Mutoshi hopes to produce 16,000 tons of cobalt annually by the end of next year, should financing be put in place.”
The GOES Monthly Metals Index (MMI), which tracks grain-oriented electrical steel, dropped five points for a November reading of 181.
The GOES price fell to 2.6% month over month to $2,499/mt as of Nov. 1.
AK Steel, the only U.S. producer of electrical steel, recently reported its third-quarter financial results. In the third quarter, the company’s stainless/electrical segment saw shipments of 187,900 tons, down from 206,600 tons in Q3 2018.
Meanwhile, for the nine months ending Sept. 30, AK Steel’s stainless/electrical segment saw shipments of 592,900 tons, down from 628,800 tons during the same timeframe in 2018.
Actual Metal Prices and Trends
The U.S. steel plate price fell 7.1% month over month to $684/st as of Nov. 1.
Chinese steel plate fell marginally to $572.71/mt. Korean steel plate jumped 1.3% to $555.83/mt. Japanese steel plate fell 0.2% to $796.27/mt.
The Chinese silicon price increased 1.6% to $1,463.76/mt.
The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) dropped one point this month down to an MMI reading of 21.
U.S. Looks Beyond China
One point of underlying tension between the U.S. and China, as the two countries have waged a bitter trade war over the past year, has been China’s dominance of rare earths.
The materials, crucial for use in a wide variety of high-tech capacities, overwhelmingly come from China.
As such, the U.S., looking to wean itself off dependence on China for said rare earths, is looking to form partnerships elsewhere, as MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns recently explained.
“Many will recall, and not a few lament, the failure to support California’s Mountain Pass mine, source of the country’s rare earth metals, as an example of how exposed the U.S. has become,” Burns explained.
“According to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DFIDS), the U.S. was largely self-sufficient for most of the 20th century, with all of its rare-earth needs being met by the Mountain Pass mine.
“However, following a free trade deal between the U.S. and China in the 1990s, lower labor costs and regulatory requirements meant China could undercut Mountain Pass. Combined with problems over water supply pollution and stricter regulations, Mountain Pass was forced to shut down.”
As such, the U.S. is looking to shore up its rare earths supply chains by forming partnerships elsewhere.
“Now, the U.S. is seeking cooperation from potential supply countries outside of China — notably Australia, but also Greenland, Botswana and Peru,” Burns continued. “The U.S. is looking to develop not just alternative raw material supply but, more importantly, to develop refining facilities, too.
“A new body, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, is set to play a significant role in facilitating the U.S. government’s efforts to take equity positions in mining projects and encouraging private sector investment, according to Frank Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for energy resources, according to Reuters.”
Trudeau, Trump Talk Rare Earths
Continuing the aforementioned theme, Bloomberg reported late last month that U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently discussed efforts to secure supply chains for rare earths.
According to the report, a joint action plan will be presented to the government coalition that forms after the Oct. 21 elections in Canada.
“It is in our interests to ensure that we have reliable supplies of these important minerals for technology, and it’s a conversation that our government is leading on,” Trudeau was quoted as saying at a recent press conference. “Canada has many of the rare earth minerals that are so necessary for modern technologies.”
Also of note, the next round of U.S.-China trade talks are scheduled for later this week.
However, the two countries are already on shaky ground heading into the talks.
Following a tweet by Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets NBA franchise, in which he expressed support for anti-government protestors in Hong Kong, Chinese businesses announced they would sever ties with the organization. Chinese broadcast partners Tencent and the state-owned CCTV announced they would no longer broadcast Rockets games, marking yet another point of tension between the two countries.
In addition, the Bureau of Industry and Security announced it would add 28 Chinese organizations to the Entity List for “engaging in or enabling activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States.”
“The U.S. Government and Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said. “This action will ensure that our technologies, fostered in an environment of individual liberty and free enterprise, are not used to repress defenseless minority populations.”
Actual Metal Prices and Trends
Chinese yttrium prices rose 0.4% month over month to $31.48/kilogram as of Oct. 1. Chinese terbium oxide dropped 1.2% to $540.68/kilogram.
Neodymium oxide fell 0.8% to $44,695.50/mt.
Europium oxide rose 0.3% to $30.78/kilogram. Dysprosium oxide fell 2.0% to $260.90/kilogram.
Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at this week’s coverage on MetalMiner, which included analysis of Chinese steel production, the U.S.’s search for sources of rare earths outside of China, and falling copper and aluminum prices.
- Despite production cuts aimed at mitigating pollution levels, Chinese steel production continues to rise.
- The U.S. is looking to secure new supplies of rare earths in an effort to lessen its dependence on China for the materials critical for a wide range of high-tech applications.
- Global steel production in August jumped 3.4% year over year.
- Copper prices are forecast to fall heading into the rest of 2019 and into 2020.
- Supply-and-demand fundamentals and a strong U.S. dollar are depressing the aluminum price.
- India is looking to ramp up its nuclear power capacity.
- MMI week is off and running with coverage of the automotive and construction sectors.