Compounding changes to the China import/export tax and VAT rebate schemes in July of 2007, additional changes were announced on December 14 for implementation on January 1. With help from Jason Zhang, our metals expert in China, we review these changes and offer some early insight into the likely effects.
Broadly, there are three different changes that have been made or are taking place that will affect the markets going forward. These changes specifically include: import duties, changes in export duties and changes in the RMB/USD exchange rate. Read more
In the face of a slowing US economy, a mixed position for the European economies and a still strong Asian market, it is a particularly tough call this year to judge where prices will go. Our call is the US will teeter on recession. Europe though restricted by high ECB interest rates will still enjoy some (if reduced) growth providing the Euro/US Dollar exchange rate does not strangle exports. Asia in general and China in particular are still enjoying robust growth. China may well drop from the double digit growth of the last 5 years to high single digit figures but that is still a very significant driver for the world economy and particularly the world metal markets.
So here are the 2008 predictions:
I mentioned to you a couple of days back that from time to time, I would share a few war stories on these virtual pages. But since we are still getting to know each other, I won’t be able to get into some of the more scandalous stories (like about a former boss of mine from my aluminum trading days who lived a parallel life to Marc Rich — who incidentally was one of the most entertaining characters in the metals industry). You all might remember Rich as the guy who evaded taxes but who was pardoned by Clinton right before he left office (I think my former boss and Rich, in fact, knew each other from their Phibro days). Or how my first trading deal was with Carlos Slim (okay, not him directly but his company Productos Nacobre)…but those tales will also have to wait.
Today, I’m just going to share a quick tidbit about one of the firms Stuart and I used to work with in Russia called Rusal. I happened to type them into Google this evening just to check out their latest happenings and lo and behold, I found this article from Reuters about what their access to cheap Siberian hydropower has allowed them to do and that is to become the number one aluminum producer in the world. Back in my early trading days (1994 to be specific), energy was important but it didn’t seem to dominate the headlines as it does now. There were so many market inefficiencies and with a nascent internet, it was easy as a trader to identify un-competitive suppliers and subsequently undercut them. Moreover, the notion of vertical integration – shoring up energy supplies combined with the mining and or manufacturing processes had waned as companies were looking to shed non-core assets. But more recently, things have changed. Competitive advantage in the metals industries can be gained and lost based upon access to low cost energy supplies. We have seen Chinese suppliers duke it out for contracts with the winning supplier just undercutting its closest competitor by minimizing its energy costs.
We are also seeing buying organizations of all sizes doing more to identify the cost drivers behind the quotations. Just recently I heard of a Fortune 500 company seeking to implement a strategy of multi-tier sourcing in China. We also know of a small consumer products manufacturing firm seeking to do the same thing by aggregating component supplies across their Chinese supply base. The challenge will be accessing the cost information from component suppliers. Without question, the times they are a changin’.
Could aluminum prices rise in the face of a recession?
Citing opinions from some 25 metal market analysts, Harbor Intelligence is predicting a better than 50% chance that the aluminum price will rise in 2008, hitting a peak of over $2600/mt in 2008 and over $2700/mt in 2009. At the same time that Morgan Stanley is predicting a full blown U.S. recession next year, the Harbor report cites four price support pillars that will see aluminum price increases next year. Read more
British broadsheet newspaper The Daily Telegraph recently illustrated the supply market risks facing any significant user of gold, quoting Kevin McArther, chief executive of GoldCorps. We won’t build a mine where we won’t go on holiday, he says of mining investments. The Daily Telegraph noted that the world’s reserves of gold are dwindling fast. At the same time, demand is rising. In addition to its obvious uses in jewelery, gold is a key component in PCBs and other high performance electronic circuitry due to its unique conducting properties. Miners, however, are failing to invest in new facilities because so much of the probable reserves exist in countries run by demagogues or serial expropriators, including areas in South America, Russia, and many parts of Africa. Gold production in South Africa is down to its lowest level since 1932, while production costs are at their highest level ever. So with a tight supply market, world credit instability, and political uncertainty, it’s probable that gold will continue to attract buying interest and see long term price support. Allowing for inflation, gold would have to reach $2,500/ounce to match the last peak in 1980, meaning that the current level of $800+ may not be as unrealistic as we would immediately think. We would already expect miners to talk up the market, but when investment analysts join in, we should take notice. Following a correction between now and the end of the year prices in excess of $900/ounce are being touted for first quarter 2008 and even over $1000/ounce as the year unfolds. With oil at $80+/barrel, both resins and gold are likely to remain high for the foreseeable future. For the PCB makers, then, there is no relief in sight.
Almost everyone knows the age-old adage, Buy Low, Sell High, with the possible exception of a scoundrel trader for whom I used to work. He practiced a Buy low, but do whatever you need to sell strategy. Although buying low and selling high is a rather duh concept, I always get a kick out of hearing how XYZ company offloaded some old nickel or copper they purchased before the markets went crazy. So this article suggesting that now might be a good time to sell off gold jewelry purchased several years ago made me chuckle. Playing the price arbitrage game can work for buyers and sellers of all sizes.
I once met with the VP of global purchasing for a middle market manufacturing group who suggested that metals prices (we’re talking about the raw materials here) are similar throughout the world. But this couldn’t be any further from the truth. In fact, the arbitrage opportunities for buyers are probably more abundant as commodity volatility increases. Simply put, the more the prices for metals gyrate, the greater the opportunity to take advantage of arbitrage. Perhaps we can find an academic who would be willing to run some regression analysis for us to confirm that last statement. As an example, if the market is going down and a domestic supplier sets his price using a trailing three-month average, while a Chinese producer is using a spot price to set his price, a buyer can take advantage of an arbitrage opportunity (provided the product does not involve complicated tooling or high switching costs). Of course, there are many other variables, including the buyer’s required lead time, quality requirements, etc., but if the purchasing organization develops and creates multiple supply options for a particular category, there could be some savings or cost avoidance opportunities.
In the meantime, it is tempting to consider a little profit from those old gold necklaces!
The Dubai Air Show ended recently, and already the papers are announcing the massive sales secured by Airbus and Boeing — not just for their new offerings, the A380 and 787 Dreamliner, but for the stable stock in trade of A320’s and 777’s. Both makers have bulging order books with more than 1000 aircraft each on order. In addition, producers of smaller commuter aircraft like Embraer and Bombardier are also booming.
We see so many opportunities for the aircraft industry, but how does this affect the supply market feeding these production lines? After several years of sustained growth both in the West and Asia, the metals markets are already tight, particularly for the supply of semi-finished metals like plate, larger diameter bars, and the famous fasteners that have so delayed the Dreamliner. Read more