Articles in Category: Non-ferrous Metals

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This morning in metals news, Tata Steel completed its buy of the bankrupt Bhushan Steel, Chinese steel mills are turning to scrap and Turkey is preparing to respond over the U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel.

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Tata Steel Buys Bhushan Steel

Indian firm Tata Steel completed its purchase of the bankrupt Bhushan Steel for $5.2 billion, Reuters reported.

Bhushan has an annual steelmaking capacity of 5.6 million tons, according to the report.

Scrapping Plans

Amid environmental rules, Chinese steel mills are looking to use more scrap, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.

The recycling of material comes as the government continues to crack down on “smoke-stack industries,” according to the report.

Turkey Plans Response on Section 232 Tariffs

Turkey is among the many countries not to have won an exemption from the U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum; unsurprisingly, Turkey is planning a response, according to one report.

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Turkey plans to impose tariffs worth about $266.5 million on U.S. products, including coal, paper, walnuts, almonds, tobacco and unprocessed rice, among other items, according to a report by the Hurriyet Daily News.

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Full disclosure – I am an owner of an iPhone, iPad and Macbook — and I don’t mind admitting it, a  longtime fan of Apple’s products — but even I cringe when the firm claims to have “worked with other metal companies to develop the proprietary technique, which allows for the generation of ‘green’ aluminium for the first ever time.”

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The claim follows the announcement late last week that at its Pittsburgh research center, Alcoa has developed a replacement for the carbon anodes used in the smelting of alumina to aluminium.

The carbon anode has the important role of delivering a strong electric current through the melt, but in the process carbon is converted to carbon dioxide and considerable levels of greenhouse gas emissions are produced.

But although Apple is said to be investing C$13 million (U.S. $10 million) in the joint venture called Elysis, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the C$120 million of funding from the governments of Canada and Quebec and, further, the C$55 million invested by Alcoa and Rio Tinto in order to achieve commercialization of the technology over the next five years.

Indeed, Alcoa and Rio each have a 48% stake in the JV, with the rest owned by the government of Quebec, so quite how Apple can claim any fame in this venture is hard to see.

OK, Apple’s hubris aside: is this a step forward in lowering aluminum’s carbon footprint?

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Major metals industry players Alcoa and Rio Tinto last week announced the world’s first carbon-free aluminum smelting process, which the firms billed as “the most significant innovation in the aluminium industry in more than a century.”

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The firms announced the innovation, which is the development of a smelting process that yields oxygen and removes greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process, according to a joint announcement from the companies.

“To advance larger scale development and commercialization of the new process, Alcoa and Rio Tinto are forming Elysis, a joint venture company to further develop the new process with a technology package planned for sale beginning in 2024,” the Alcoa release stated.

“Elysis, which will be headquartered in Montreal with a research facility in Quebec’s Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, will develop and license the technology so it can be used to retrofit existing smelters or build new facilities.”

According to the release, Alcoa and Rio Tinto are investing $55 million (CAD) in the venture, with Canada and Quebec investing $60 million (CAD) each.

Apple is also in on the venture, investing $13 million (CAD). Apple will also contribute technical support to the joint venture partners, according to the release.

“This discovery has been long sought in the aluminum industry, and this announcement is the culmination of the work from many dedicated Alcoa employees,” Alcoa President and CEO Roy Harvey said in the prepared statement. “Today, our history of innovation continues as we take aluminum’s sustainable advantage to a new level with the potential to improve the carbon footprint of a range of products from cars to consumer electronics.”

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The announcement certainly would mark a victory for greener processes — and with the reported investment totals going into Elysis, there is quite a bit of institutional support behind it.

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This morning in metals news, the deadline for Section 232 tariffs exemptions for certain countries falls tonight at midnight, AK Steel’s stock is up and the LME copper price tracked up Monday.

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Tariff Exemption Expiration Approaches

Several countries negotiated temporary exemptions from the Trump administration’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum (imposed last month). Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and the E.U. won temporary exemptions. South Korea also won a temporary exemption, which eventually became a long-term exemption after the progression of talks on the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

The key term there is “short term” — the deadline for the expiration of that exemption falls at midnight tonight.

Naturally, the E.U. and others are scrambling to win long-term exemptions before the tariffs hit their metal exports.

“For the time being our priority is the ongoing high-level dialogue to secure a permanent exemption,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, the E.U. trade commissioner, as quoted by the BBC.

AK Steel Stock Rises

After AK Steel reported better-than-expected Q1 financials, its stock jumped 2.3%, according to a MarketWatch report.

According to the report, the company expects market conditions to strengthen in Q2.

Copper, Aluminum Up

LME copper and aluminum rose on Monday, Reuters reported, as the U.S. dollar fell back from a recent three-month high.

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Despite light trade Monday, according to the report, LME copper rose 0.4%, while aluminum was up 0.1%.

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This morning in metals, steel mills in China’s second-biggest steelmaking province are shutting down, U.S. Steel reports its Q1 financials and Ecuadorian officials are engaging in talks to potentially bring a copper refinery to the country.

Chinese Mills Shut Down in Pollution-Curbing Measure

Several steel mills in the Chinese city of Xuzhou have been shut down in a pollution crackdown effort, Reuters reported.

According to the report, at least three mills have been shut down until they meet anti-pollution rules.

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The three mills have a combined annual steel capacity of 4.25 million tons, according to the report.

U.S. Steel Brings in $18M in Q1

U.S. Steel made $18 million in Q1, the Northwest Indiana Times reported, a far cry from the $180 million loss it posted in Q1 2017.

According to the report, U.S. Steel reported its stronger balance sheet was aided by investment at its mills in addition to the Section 232 measures from the Trump administration last month.

Potential Copper Refinery in Ecuador

According to a Bloomberg report, Ecuadorian officials are in talks with foreign companies with respect to building a copper refinery in the country.

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According to the report, Rebeca Illescas, the Ecuadorian mining minister, said Chinese and Japanese companies might be interested in the project, in addition to Glencore.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.