Articles in Category: Public Policy
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The Section 232 report and subsequent briefing by the president has put global metal markets in disarray. What makes matters potentially worse: the number of mainstream media sources latching onto a couple of claims from one particular study recently published by a for-profit research and consulting firm (as opposed to a think tank or governmental source).

The findings from this oft-quoted study build upon a prior study (February 2003) conducted by the same authors on behalf of a now defunct trade group, whose original findings were challenged by the U.S. government’s own analysis published by the USITC back in 2003.

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When MetalMiner inquired after whether the current report had been funded by any outside interests, the report’s author Laura Baughman replied via email, “No one funded this research.”

Regardless, the 2003 USITC governmental study examines the assumptions and methodologies of the original study conducted by Baughman and her colleague Dr. Joseph Francois.

The oft-cited finding from their latest report suggests the tariffs will yield a loss of 146,000 jobs. That estimation has been cited in articles by Fortune Magazine, The Washington Post, The Fabricator, AOL as well as other policy and non-profit organizations.

The problem with all of these citations is that nobody has quoted any findings from the only governmental research published on the impact on steel-consuming industries after the imposition of steel safeguard protections. Yet such a study not only exists, but also reveals the actual impact after the last time a U.S. president implemented steel safeguard protections, such as tariffs. This last occurred on March 20, 2002, under President George W. Bush.

So What Are the Key Government Findings?

Read more

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and the stories here on MetalMiner:

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If you’re in the metals industry, you have likely been waiting a long time for word from the White House on what the president will do vis-a-vis the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigations of aluminum and steel imports.

Section 232 buying strategies – grab a copy of MetalMiner’s Section 232 Investigation Impact Report today!

The probes, launched last April, fell under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which grants the president authority to limit imports if they are determined to be detrimental to national security.

After many months, the president announced Thursday that his administration plans to implement tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum next week. More details still need to emerge — for example, will any countries, like Canada or Australia, garner exemptions? — but the announcement yesterday had the whole metals world talking.

Further news should be coming next week, when Trump’s announcement could become an actual legal proclamation. Until then, the MetalMiner team broke down the Section 232 landscape, including what the announcement might mean for you.

To access the MetalMiner team’s full breakdown of the Section 232 issue, visit our dedicated Section 232 Report Investigation Impact page to download the full report.

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It seems all too familiar — one step ahead, two steps back.

The cancelation by India’s top court, the Supreme Court, of all iron ore mining permits in Goa, one of the country’s top producing provinces for this raw material, has led to concerns being raised in industry and and economic circles of the country (not to mention protests by miners like Vedanta).

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Mining in the state of Goa, which, along with tourism, is one of the major sources of revenue and people’s livelihood, will stop after March 15, 2018. The local government will then have to issue new licenses.

Under the new set of rules laid out by the order, ownership is back to the local government; now it will have to auction the leases, as required by the law.

Some agree with the court ruling that held the local government responsible for not following due process in renewing the 88 mining leases for 20 years with retrospective effect from 2007. The prime minister’s office has also sought a report from the government of Goa on the impact of the court ruling.

Incidentally, the Anil Agarwal-run Vedanta Resources is one of the biggest iron ore miners in the state.

Other than Vedanta, this latest Supreme Court ruling will affect other miners, too, many of them local.

It may be recalled that similar judicial action was initiated in 2012 when illegal mining in Goa was ordered shut down. In the year before the ban, Goa had exported about 50 million tons (MT) of iron ore, but the Supreme Court later limited production in the state to 20 MT a year (most of which gets exported to China).

Now comes a report by an international agency that India no longer featured among the “most attractive regions” for investment in the mining sector, probably as a possible fallout of the mining ban. The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute’s annual survey of mining companies ranked India in the bottom 10 countries, at 97 of 104, in the investment attractiveness index in 2016, but now had dropped it from the list of 91 countries in 2017.

A report in the Hindu BusinessLine said the mining ban in Goa would expectedly have a far-reaching impact, not only on the state, but also on India’s image as an investment destination, going by the report by the Canadian public policy think tank report.

Vedanta, for example, expected to produce around 5.5 MT of iron ore from Goa this fiscal year ending March 31. Next year is a question mark — for now.

Expectedly, Vedanta is not happy with the latest development. Agarwal told news agency PTI that the Supreme Court’s decision would “hamper India’s economic growth as raw material for making steel will have to be imported,  resulting in jobs being created outside the country rather than within.”

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Mining is a capital-intensive business — although it has potential, analysts in India are of the view that not many companies would want to put in money in lieu of such an uncertain business environment.

The restrictions put in time and again by the legislative and judiciary on the mining industry in the form of caps on iron mining in Goa and other states (such as Karnataka), and high export duties, were sending out “negative messages” to the world. While FY17 witnessed the highest inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) — amounting to U.S. $43,478 million — into India, the mining sector could attract only U.S. $56 million. What was also needed to boost the mining sector was not only the required permissions, but also high-end technology and equipment to increase extraction and productivity.

All of that requires FDI, but with so much uncertainty, the question is: who will want to invest in India’s mining story?

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After a hectic morning during which it seemed like a Section 232 announcement from President Trump was coming, before it then it seemed like it would be postponed, an announcement did finally come.

Section 232 buying strategies – download MetalMiner’s Section 232 Investigation Impact Report today!

CNN reported earlier today that Trump said his administration will put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports of 25% and 10%, respectively, next week. The numbers as announced today differ from those offered up in the Section 232 recommendations produced by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (which were made public in mid-February).

Unsurprisingly, the announcement was felt throughout the metals world, up and down the value stream.

“We appreciate the President’s commitment to strengthening the U.S. aluminum industry,” said Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association, in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with the President on implementation and to creating a more level playing field.”

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, expressed support but urged Trump to follow through with a broad action.

“We’re on the brink of a potentially historic rebalance of America’s trade priorities,” Paul said in a prepared statement. “As we noted in a letter to the president this week and our cable TV ad, we are confident a robust steel trade action is good for our economy. A decision to retore sanity to global steel markets will help create domestic jobs and preserve our national security.

“But to achieve those results, the president’s enforcement action must be broad, robust and comprehensive. We urge the president to stand by our nation’s steel communities. They are counting on him to follow through on this.”

The announcement was not met positively by everyone, however.

“Today’s decision by the Administration to implement new tariffs severely harms the $37 billion U.S. recreational boating industry and the 650,000 American workers it supports,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, in a statement. “While these tariffs are meant to protect American manufacturing, they do just the opposite. U.S. manufacturers, like those in our industry, which use American-made aluminum, depend on a competitive global market and fair pricing. What’s more, U.S. aluminum manufacturers are at capacity and unable to supply the aluminum sheet used by our members, forcing them to seek it overseas.”

Many associations and government officials alike have warned that the tariffs could set off a trade war, cautioning retaliation should the U.S. impose the tariffs. The European Steel Association (EUROFER), responded to the president’s announcement on Thursday.

 “From one day to the next, EU steel exports to the US – which were at 5 million tonnes in 2017 – will be cut drastically by an estimated 50% or more. The same will happen with all other countries exporting steel to the US. We expect that the tariff could restrict US imports by up to 20-25 million tonnes overall. This would represent a volume representing more than half the total EU imports of 2017 (40 million tonnes),” said Axel Eggert, director general of EUROFER, in a prepared statement. “In the current context of massive global excess steel capacity, markets will be forced to take preventive contingency actions to avoid domestic market disruption from trade deflection.”

The announcement from Trump roiled the markets today. The CBOE’s Volatility Index — or VIX, by its ticker symbol, surged Thursday afternoon, indicating greater volatility.

The VIX shot up Thursday following Trump’s announcement on the intention to impose steel and aluminum tariffs next week. Source: CBOE

Elsewhere, the Dow Jones dropped more than 400 points after Trump’s announcement, CNBC reported.

Steel and aluminum stocks, however, received a boost from the announcement.

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As of just after 3 p.m. Eastern Time, Nucor Corporation was up 3.04%, while AK Steel was up 7.36%. Century Aluminum was up 8.24% for the day, and U.S. Steel posted a 6.09% increase.

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This morning in metals, the president tweets about steel and aluminum (current Section 232 probes under his consideration), Apple’s move on cobalt and China plans to crack down on aluminum price speculation.

Section 232 buying strategies – download MetalMiner’s Section 232 Investigation Impact Report today!

Trump Tweets About Steel, Aluminum; Announcement Possibly Coming Today

According to the Washington Post, during a planned announcement today the president could announce plans for steel and aluminum trade action.

This morning, the president tweeted on the subject, writing:

According to the Washington Post report, there is a chance the announcement might still be postponed.

Apple and Cobalt

Last week, Apple announced it would be seeking to buy cobalt — coveted for its application in things like electric car batteries and cellphones, among other things — directly from miners, as Bloomberg reported.

According to the report, Apple is looking to buy several thousand metrics tons of cobalt for five years or more.

China Targets Excessive Nonferrous Metals Speculation

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology MIIT is looking to crack down on excessive speculation in nonferrous metals, like aluminum, according to a Reuters report.

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According to the report, the MIIT plans to work nonferrous metals associations and other departments to tamp down speculation.

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it is seeking public comment on a recently released draft list of minerals “considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States.”

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An executive order from President Trump in December directed the secretary of the interior (in coordination with other agencies) to publish a list of critical minerals in the Federal Register. As of Feb. 27, there were 102 public comments listed on the Federal Register.

“The work of the USGS (United States Geological Survey) is at the heart of our nation’s mission to reduce our vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals,” said Dr. Tim Petty, assistant secretary of the interior for water and science, in an Interior Department release. “Any shortage of these resources constitutes a strategic vulnerability for the security and prosperity of the United States.”

The published list covers minerals used in a broad range of practical applications, from catalytic agents to batteries.

According to the Executive Order signed Dec. 20 by Trump, a critical mineral is defined according to a trio of components:

  • A non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the U.S.
  • The mineral has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption
  • The mineral serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, “the absence of which would have significant consequences” for the economy and national security

According to the order, within 180 days of publication of the list of minerals, the secretary of commerce — in coordination with the secretaries of defense, the interior, agriculture and energy — will submit a report to the president that will outline, among other things, a strategy to reduce the U.S.’s reliance on critical minerals and an assessment of “progress toward developing critical minerals recycling and reprocessing technologies.”

The full list of critical minerals from the Department of the Interior, including common applications, is as follows:

  • Aluminum (bauxite), used in almost all sectors of the economy
  • Antimony, used in batteries and flame retardants
  • Arsenic, used in lumber preservatives, pesticides, and semi-conductors
  • Barite, used in cement and petroleum industries
  • Beryllium, used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries
  • Bismuth, used in medical and atomic research
  • Cesium, used in research and development
  • Chromium, used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys
  • Cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys
  • Fluorspar, used in the manufacture of aluminum, gasoline, and uranium fuel
  • Gallium, used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs
  • Germanium, used for fiber optics and night vision applications
  • Graphite (natural), used for lubricants, batteries, and fuel cells
  • Hafnium, used for nuclear control rods, alloys, and high-temperature ceramics
  • Helium, used for MRIs, lifting agent, and research
  • Indium, mostly used in LCD screens
  • Lithium, used primarily for batteries
  • Magnesium, used in furnace linings for manufacturing steel and ceramics
  • Manganese, used in steelmaking
  • Niobium, used mostly in steel alloys
  • Platinum group metals, used for catalytic agents
  • Potash, primarily used as a fertilizer
  • Rare earth elements group, primarily used in batteries and electronics
  • Rhenium, used for lead-free gasoline and superalloys
  • Rubidium, used for research and development in electronics
  • Scandium, used for alloys and fuel cells
  • Strontium, used for pyrotechnics and ceramic magnets
  • Tantalum, used in electronic components, mostly capacitors
  • Tellurium, used in steelmaking and solar cells
  • Tin, used as protective coatings and alloys for steel
  • Titanium, overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or metal alloys
  • Tungsten, primarily used to make wear-resistant metals
  • Uranium, mostly used for nuclear fuel
  • Vanadium, primarily used for titanium alloys
  • Zirconium, used in the high-temperature ceramics industries

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Last week, the Department of Commerce released the reports accompanying the Section 232 investigations for both aluminum and steel products. The Department of Commerce initiated the investigations last April under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which grants the president the ability, along with his Department of Commerce, to determine whether certain imports are having an injurious effect on national security. 

Section 232 buying strategies – download MetalMiner’s Section 232 Investigation Impact Report today!

As reported last Friday on MetalMiner, the Department of Commerce proposed two alternative solutions for the alleged harm caused by a glut of aluminum imports. Both solutions seek to restore domestic aluminum production to 80% of capacity utilization. This data may not surprise readers, as the Section 232 steel investigation recommendations include three steel policy alternatives constructed on the same premise.

What MetalMiner found most striking about both report recommendations involves the goal of restoring both the aluminum and steel — stainless steel, too — industries to 80% capacity utilization rates.

The DOC believes an 80% capacity utilization rate reflects a healthy industry. By healthy, the Department of Commerce in the Section 232 steel report acknowledged that, “Industry analysts note that utilization of 80 percent or more is typically necessary for sustained profitability, among other factors.” Moreover the Section 232 report for steel suggested, “For most capital and energy-intensive U.S. steel producers, capacity levels of 80 percent or higher are required to maintain facilities, carry out periodic modernization, service company debt, and fund research and development.” (Sources cited in the Steel Section 232 report included Market Realist’s “Why steel investors are mindful of capacity utilization rates,” October 2, 2014.) 

The aluminum analysis looks similar.

The aluminum report pointed to several factors as driving the need for the 80% capacity utilization rate. The DOC examined employment numbers, the dangers of overcapacity, declining R&D and fewer capital expenditures.

Of these arguments, some will seek to argue that employment is somewhat less important, as gains in efficiency and productivity could lead to a decline in employment. But clearly the overcapacity issue in general has forced all but Alcoa and Century Aluminum to declare bankruptcy. By poorer profitability, the industry will not effectively invest in R&D — because it can’t afford to — which will impact future military applications and capabilities.

Therefore, as with the steel industry, the 80% capacity utilization rate reflects a “healthy” aluminum industry with regard to profitability, efficiency and innovation.

Here is the National Security Argument

When steel and aluminum industries do NOT operate at 80% capacity utilization, the economic viability of the industry to produce materials in various war-time scenarios becomes tenuous. MetalMiner will cover this point more explicitly in our Section 232 steel analysis.

Certainly, when mills do not operate at healthier 80% utilization levels, the means to innovate and develop new products, improve production capacity and further increase efficiencies becomes more challenging.

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Aluminum Products

The Department of Commerce included almost all downstream aluminum products in its recommendations.

However, the scope of the investigation does not include bauxite or alumina, or feedstock for the production of primary (unwrought) aluminum.

The investigation also does not include aluminum waste, aluminum scrap, aluminum powders and flakes.  

(Editor’s Note: In the next part of this series, we’ll look at the domestic industry, other relevant findings and the potential impact on prices.)

When the Department of Commerce announced  last month that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross had forwarded his Section 232 steel report (and the following week, aluminum) to President Donald Trump, the details of the report were not made public.

Section 232 buying strategies – download MetalMiner’s Section 232 Investigation Impact Report today!

That changed Friday, as the department released the reports outlining the potential strategies recommended to Trump (who met with lawmakers earlier this week to discuss potential tariffs on steel and aluminum imports).

“The United States is the world’s largest importer of steel,” Ross said during a briefing Friday morning. “Our imports are nearly four times our exports.”

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 grants the president authority to limit or restrict imports that are determined to have an impact on national security. The last 232 investigation came in 2001, when the George W. Bush administration investigated semi-finished steel and iron ore imports. (The Department of Commerce ultimately determined the imports did not negatively impact national security.)

The U.S. currently has 169 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place for steel, which some critics have argued has served as only a patchwork defense. Of those 169 orders, 29 are against China, Ross added.

Laying the background for the proposals, Ross cited findings of the report, including the global rise in steelmaking capacity, which is up to 2.4 billion metric tons (a jump of 127% since 2000). In addition, global excess capacity is 700 million tons, with China’s excess capacity exceeding the total U.S. steelmaking capacity, according to the report.

“Excessive steel imports have adversely impacted the steel industry,” the report states. “Numerous U.S. steel mill closures, a substantial decline in employment, lost domestic sales and market share, and marginal annual net income for U.S.-based steel companies illustrate the decline of the U.S. steel industry.”

Steel Recommendations Include 24% Tariff on All Products From All Countries

The 232 steel report lays out a trio of options, ranging from a blanket, all-encompassing tariff structure to more targeted approaches:

  1. A global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries
  2. A tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 countries (Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam) with a quota by product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States
  3. A quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of each country’s 2017 exports to the United States

When asked how the department created the list of 12 countries included in the second option, Ross said the selection process wasn’t “formulaic,” but they considered things like the rate of expansion of capacity in recent years and the nature of the products being shipped to the U.S., among other things.

“Anything in trade is very, very complex,” Ross said. “And therefore [there’s] not a single factor. The  rate of increase in exports to the U.S. was in each case a big factor.”

Administration Looks to Provide Jolt to Aluminum Industry

As for aluminum, the three recommendations were:

  1. A tariff of at least 7.7% on all aluminum exports from all countries
  2. A tariff of 23.6% on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam, with all other countries be subject to quotas equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States
  3. A quota on all imports from all countries equal to a maximum of 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the United States.

According to Ross during a Friday morning briefing, the goal is to up the domestic aluminum industry’s capacity, currently hovering around 48%, to 80%. According to the aluminum report, the U.S. imported five times as much tonnage of primary aluminum as it produced in 2016, with the import penetration level rising to 90% from 65% in 2012.

As with steel, the aluminum report pointed to Chinese excess capacity.

“China’s industrial policies encourage development and domination of the entire aluminum production chain,” the report states. “These policies are further intended to stimulate the export of aluminum processed into sheets, plates, rods, bars, foils and other semi-manufactures and to target development of increasingly sophisticated and high-value product sectors such as automotive and aerospace.”

According to Section 232, Trump has 90 days as of receipt of Ross’ report to act. In the case of steel, that makes for an April 11 deadline, with an April 19 deadline set for aluminum.

The Section 232 investigations were launched last April, after which it seemed as if the administration would be set to release its reports by the end of June. But, June came and went without an announcement, as did the remainder of the calendar year. During that year, steel imports rose 15.4% year over year, according to American Iron and Steel Institute report citing U.S. Census Bureau data, leading some domestic industry figures to point out the delay’s impact on import levels.

Ross admitted that timeline was overly ambitious.

“We were a little bit over-optimistic about how quickly such a complicated topic could be brought to a head,” Ross said. “Government tends to move slowly. It’s one of the many lessons I’ve learned coming down here.”

The president does have the authority to revise any of the proposals and come to the table with a different policy solution.

“He will decide what he is going to do,” Ross said of Trump. “It’s not for me to speculate what action he might take. But I do reemphasize that he is not bound by these exact recommendations. He can do something totally different.”

In a release, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, urged action.

“We believe the action must be broad, robust and comprehensive, and the Commerce Department report makes a compelling case for immediate action. Any exclusions deserve appropriate scrutiny. Otherwise, the Washington swamp will be filled with importers trying to undermine American jobs.

“American workers are counting on President Trump to stand up for them.”

In its own response to the release of the reports, the Aluminum Association reiterated past statements, chiefly to ask for a solution that specifically addresses China and does not harm market economy trading partners like Canada and the European Union.

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“We look forward to working with the president on a final decision that helps support continued growth in the U.S. aluminum industry,” said Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association, in a prepared statement. “Ultimately, we favor a negotiated, enforceable government-to-government agreement with China on overcapacity.”

On the subject of retaliation and challenges to any potential trade action at the World Trade Organization, Ross pointed to other nations’ import barriers, citing the automobile tariffs among the U.S. (2.5%), E.U. (10%) and China (25%) as an example.

“There already are extreme protectionist measures,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s a country on the targeted list that we have that doesn’t have far more protective features on its industry than we do already.”

The full steel report is available on the Department of Commerce website, as is the full aluminum report.

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This morning in metals news, the Indonesian government is considering whether or not to extend the copper export contract with Freeport McMoRan, Reliance Steel and Aluminum announces its fourth quarter earnings.

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Indonesia Considers Copper Contract Extension

The Indonesian government will consider whether or not to extend a copper concentrate export contract with the Freeport McMoRan mine, Reuters reported.

According to the report, Freeport’s current export permit will expire Feb. 16.

Aluminum Tariffs Could Mean Pricier Beer?

President Trump has met with lawmakers this week to discuss potential tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

One lawmaker, Wisconsin Republic Ron Johnson, pointed out tariffs on aluminum could have an impact on the price of beer, as tariffs could lead to a higher cost to can.

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Reliance Steel and Aluminum Announces Q4 Earnings

Reliance Steel and Aluminum released its Q4 earnings results this week. In Q4, revenue jumped 15.5% year over year to reach $2.38 billion.