Articles in Category: Supply & Demand

This morning in metals news, the metals supply situation is complicated, Russian steel producer NLMK‘s output rose 3% last year and copper dropped the most it had in almost six weeks.

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What is the Supply Situation?

According to Reuters, stocks of metals in LME industrial warehouses fell by 40% last year, meaning tighter supply and a subsequent rise in prices — at least, that’s the conventional wisdom.

But when it comes to the global picture, it isn’t that simple. According to Reuters, some smaller exchanges aren’t experiencing such drops in inventory, which balances out the supply picture.

For example, warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) went up, as did CME Group warehouse inventories in the U.S.

As such, according to the report, only lead and zinc really fit the bill vis-a-vis being tagged with the tight supply label.

NLMK Sees Output Rise in 2017

The Russian steel producer said its 2017 production rose 3% last year, according to Reuters.

NLMK’s crude steel output amounted to 17.1 million tons last year.

Copper Posts Biggest Drop Since Early December

Is the rally coming to an end for copper? It’s a little early to make that declaration, but according to Bloomberg the metal posted its biggest drop Tuesday since Dec. 5.

Copper dropped 1.8% on Tuesday to $7,078 per ton, according to the report.

The metal, often dubbed “Dr. Copper” for its ability to serve as an indicator of overall economic health, had a strong December. However, 2018 hasn’t been as kind.

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LME copper closed Dec. 1 at $6,733 and closed Dec. 29 at $7,156.50 (a rise of 6.3%). In the new year, however, the metal has tracked back, hitting $7,022 as of Wednesday morning, according to MetalMiner IndX data.

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This morning in metals news, two new vehicles made mostly with steel represent a victory for the steel industry, iron ore prices are down and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) voted to continue its investigation into common alloy aluminum sheet from China.

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New Ram Pickup, Chevy Silverado Made with Steel

As the steel industry battles to remain the dominant material in automotive construction, the news of two new models constitutes a win for the industry.

Fiat Chrysler‘s new Ram pickup and General Motors‘ new Chevrolet Silverado truck are made mostly with steel, Reuters reported. The announcements represent a big win for steel, which is seeing increasing competition from aluminum within the automotive industry.

As Reuters reported, in late 2014 Ford launched the all-aluminum body F-150. While the versatile metal offered improved fuel economy, it comes at a premium to steel. The interplay between steel and aluminum vis-a-vis automobile construction is something that will need to continue to be monitored going forward.

Iron Ore Prices Drop

As Chinese rebar steel futures fell, so too did prices of iron ore in the face of flagging demand, Reuters reported.

Iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange dropped 2.3% to 535 yuan per ton, according to the report.

ITC Continues Aluminum Sheet Investigation

The U.S. ITC announced Friday that it voted to continue its investigation of common alloy aluminum sheet from China.

“The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) today determined that there is a reasonable indication that a U.S. industry is materially injured by reason of imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from China that are allegedly subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value,” the ITC release covering the announcement states.

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Now, a preliminary countervailing duty determination is due Feb. 1 from the Department of Commerce.

LME nickel prices hit $13,200 per ton last Wednesday, the highest level since June 2015 before investors took profits and the price fell back a touch to $12,870 per metric ton.

Prices were led higher by the ShFE, where stock have fallen to 48,920 tons from over 90,000 tons just a year ago — and consumers are worried about a supply squeeze, Reuters reports.

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The Philippines’ ongoing environmental campaign has perpetuated the closure of four key nickel mines in the Zimbales region, according to Wilfredo Moncano, the director or the Philippine mines and geosciences bureau. Moncano said “no extraction, no new mining activities, what’s only allowed is hauling up ores for their stockpiles,” according to Reuters.

The supply squeeze story has been exacerbated by news that Sumitomo Corporation has suspended output from its mine in Madagascar following a cyclone.  Not surprisingly, investment funds are at increased net long positions on the NME and SHFE, with LME positions doubling from early November. LME nickel stocks are still substantial at 368,292 tons, but are down from levels above 470,000 tons in June 2015; however, they’re at double the levels seen in May 2013.

Although nickel prices have pulled back on profit-taking, many are still betting the price could move higher as the market is in deficit. Any supply-side disruption is seen as an opportunity to squeeze supply in the face of continued robust demand.

Nickel supply, however, has picked up.

Current short-term issues accepted, according to Fast Markets, Indonesia had awarded quotas for the export of over 20 million tons of nickel ore after its export ban was relaxed early last year. Only a small portion of this, however, has been shipped. The bulk of 2017 quotas are still to be exported.

The incentive for both miners and authorities is to resolve the current environmental stumbling blocks. Exports are expected to pick up. There should also be nickel pig iron smelters being established in Indonesia in 2018, creating more plentiful NPI availability in the market.

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Under the circumstances, the recent $13,200 price spike may, if not prove to be a peak, at least come to be in the upper range of what will remain a volatile market until supply concerns ease.

The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

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

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  • This week we wrapped up the latest round of posts for our January Monthly Metals Index (MMI) — check out this week’s posts on the following:
  • Oil and gas exploration is a topic that has both passionate supporters and detractors. President Trump’s recent proposal to open up new areas for drilling, not surprisingly, has both of those, as our Stuart Burns wrote earlier this week.
  • Sticking on the subject of oil, Burns surveyed the factors behind crude oil’s continuing rise in price. Political turmoil is one factor, among others, contributing to the increase.
  • The long wait is over … Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has sent President Trump his Section 232 steel report (the statutory deadline was Jan. 15). Trump now has 90 days to decide what to do. A similar announcement for the Section 232 aluminum probe — which was launched last April, one week after the steel probe — should also be coming soon.

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Amongst a plethora of news, comment and opinion, it is often like struggling through a jungle when trying to get clarity on the commodities landscape. Sometimes, there is almost too much information.

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So, an analysis in the Financial Times entitled “Five things to watch as Brent crude oil nears $70” makes a refreshingly simplified but no less comprehensive summary of the key issues currently driving the oil price.

The crude oil price rise has been relentlessly rising for the last 3-4 months and while plenty of opinion has been espoused — in these columns too, I should add — about the moderating effect of U.S. shale oil on global supply (and hence, prices), the reality is so far the impact has been minimal. Prices have continued to show stubborn resistance to any such moderation.

Iran has certainly been a factor. Opinions differ as to how much impact unrest in the region has contributed to price rises. However, as the third-largest oil producer in OPEC, contributing to some 4% of global supply, civil unrest was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted.

In practice, protests had no impact on oil output. The street protests have now subsided, but Iran remains a source of tension in the region, with an antagonistic stance towards Saudi Arabia with respect to its military intervention in Yemen providing the potential for a flare-up. Oil output in the region generally has suffered some setbacks, with output in Kurdistan dropping after Baghdad took back control of disputed oilfields in October.

Output elsewhere has remained restrained in those countries participating in the Saudi-Russian led coalition to reduce inventories, but question marks remain as to how well they will stick to the deal as the oil price remains firm in 2018. Many may believe the heavy lifting is done and treasuries now deserve replenishing.

Not so fortunate to have a choice is Venezuela, which is quietly imploding.

Read more

Before we come to the end of the first business week of 2018, let’s look back at some of the stories on MetalMiner so far this year:

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  • Chinese supply-side reforms generally have a big impact on metal prices — such was the case for copper, as our Stuart Burns wrote early this week.
  • In case you missed it, the fourth episode of our podcast series, Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential, dropped this week. This time, we spoke with Heidi Brock, CEO of the Aluminum Association.
  • With 2018 just under way, many publications are making predictions for the year with respect to the markets and how they will perform (among other things). Burns rounded up some of the predictions being made for the year, ranging from the political to the economic.
  • After a solid 2017, Tata Steel has big plans for 2018, Sohrab Darabshaw writes.
  • Speaking of supply-side actions, Burns touched on oil output cuts led by OPEC.
  • We kicked off our monthly round of Monthly Metals Index (MMI) posts with the Automotive MMI.
  • Gold and Bitcoin, in terms of finance, sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, with the former representing tradition and the latter representing the rise of modern cryptocurrencies. However, their relative fortunes are more connected than you might think, Burns writes.
  • For our second MMI post, we surveyed the month in construction trends and prices.

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After hitting a low of below $43/barrel in mid-2017, the oil price has risen inexorably to its highest level since 2015, according to the Financial Times. Rising some 35% since July, Brent crude hit over $67/barrel as hedge funds heap long positions despite the market, by most accounts, still being in surplus.

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Source: MacroTrends.com

OPEC’s alliance with Russia and a few other non-OPEC producers has certainly restricted supply (and the market is tighter as a result). However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecast in December that U.S. oil production would rise by 780,000 barrels a day in 2018, as prices continue to increase.

But for the first time in several years, the talk is more about demand and geopolitical risk than about excess supply.

Venezuela is rapidly imploding with output from the world’s second largest proven oil reserves failing steadily. Iranian unrest has added further anxiety for fear the protests could continue and possibly begin to impact output. Meanwhile, one-off crises like cracks found in a major North Sea pipeline and a fire in Austria have added a sense of vulnerability to the market that wasn’t there just a few months ago.

“Geopolitical risks are clearly back on the crude oil agenda after having been absent almost entirely since the oil market ran into a surplus in the second half of 2014,” the FT quotes Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB.

Meanwhile, though, the elephant in the room is stirring.

U.S. shale production is on the rise and U.S. exports are also increasing sharply, offering the potential to undermine global markets. Platts estimates in its December 2017 Insight report U.S. crude exports could average 2 million b/d by 2019, having already nearly breached this figure in late September. The capacity is in place to export 3 million b/d now and will be closer to 4 million b/d during 2018, Platts reports.

Source Platts

Nor is rising supply from U.S. shale the only source of supply-side excess.

New projects in Brazil and Canada could add as much as rising U.S. exports matching rising global demand and leaving the market at best in a balanced state. For now, the bulls have the market by the horns — to muddle my metaphors — but 2018 will see a fascinating tussle between OPEC-led cutbacks and growing supply from the Americas.

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On the plus side, strong global growth, both among mature and emerging markets, is lifting demand. For the time being, the bulls are in the ascendancy and it would be a brave wager to bet against them in the short term.

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This morning in metals news, U.S. raw steel production for the week ending Dec. 16 was up from the same week in 2016, Tata Steel is working on technology that cuts emissions and potential copper strikes in 2018 could significantly impact supply going forward.

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U.S. Raw Steel Production Rises 5.7%

For the week ending Dec. 16, raw steel production in the U.S. was up 5.7% compared with the same week in 2016, according to weekly data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

Production for the week was 1,698,000 net tons (NT), which was also up 1.6% from the week ending Dec. 9.

Tata Steel Eyes Emissions Cuts

According to a report in the Financial Times, Tata Steel’s work on technology that can curb emissions has reached its final stage at the firm’s Netherlands facility.

The method, dubbed HIsarna, being tested by Tata aims to potentially replace traditional blast furnaces for making liquid iron.

According to Tata, the process cuts out several steps in the traditional process, resulting in an approximately 20% reduction in emissions.

Copper Strikes on the Horizon?

For copper watchers, labor negotiations in Chile and elsewhere could result in further strikes and, consequently, a tightening of global supply.

Reuters’ Andy Home touched on the possibility of strikes affecting copper miners’ operations next year.

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In fact, three strikes have already taken place at South American operations in recent weeks, Home reported, including one last week at the Quebrada Blanca mine in Chile.

The labor strife has yet to have a significant impact on the copper price, Home reported, but with a significant number of contracts up for renewal in Chile, a failure to find common ground could lead to a rising copper price next year.

China is the world’s top producer of steel, but it hasn’t been that good or profitable for years.

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Despite, or more likely because of the supply side squeeze enforced by Beijing, possibly up to 100,000 tons of “illegal” (not approved) production capacity has been closed down. Much of this was Electric Arc Furnaces (EAF) based on scrap raw material and deemed too polluting to be tolerated by Beijing.

In practice, EAF technology is anything but polluting and should be preferable environmentally to the blast furnace route. However, much of China’s capacity was small-scale private plants lacking environmental controls and permits.

According to Reuters, quoting CRU data, China’s steel capacity has fallen by 240 million tons over the past three years to about 1,020 million tons this year. Ironically, production has never been higher. It rose 6% from January to October, according to Reuters, and 2017 is set to be an official record high.

The key word here is “official” because historically none of this “illegal” capacity appeared in the official figures, so approved mills are running at near record capacity, estimated to be 85%, making up for the removal of their domestic competitors. Many of these EAF furnaces were making rebar, so not surprisingly rebar is in short supply and prices are on a tear.

Iron ore, particularly higher grade 65% minimum Fe content iron ore is also doing rather well. Despite port stocks running at over a month’s supply prices have reached over $72/ton as mills re-stock with the most efficient-to-produce and least polluting highest grade ore, according to Bloomberg.

All this rationalisation of supply and robust domestic demand has taken its toll on exports. As we reported earlier this week, China’s steel exports have slumped by a third this year. And as the domestic market gradually moves from a buyer’s market to an allocation-driven seller’s market, prices are rising. Read more

The Automotive MMI, tracking metals and raw materials used within the automotive industry, jumped 4.3% to a value of 97 for May.

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Here’s What Happened

  • The U.S. HDG steel price tracked by the MetalMiner IndX jumped 11% to an 8-month high for December, last reaching its current level in April 2017. U.S. shredded scrap prices also spiked to an 8-month high, driving this sub-index higher.
  • Our Auto MMI has had a stalwart Q4, with sustained values in the 90s. In fact, the last time this sub-index reached 97 was in September 2014.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • Auto sales in the U.S. were helped along by automaker and dealer incentives for consumers, with the return of the holiday shopping season — especially Black Friday, according to an AP report.
  • Edmunds.com predicted “November sales will rise 3.5 percent over last year to 1.4 million vehicles,” according to that report.
  • The historical picture, however, shows that while car sales are in a longer-term downtrend, light truck sales are in a longer-term uptrend, according to the WSJ.
  • As for the Chinese auto market, vehicle sales increased by 2% year-over-year in October, growing for the sixth consecutive month, according to MetalMiner’s monthly metal buying outlook report. New-energy vehicle sales also boomed this year, driven by government incentives to support the EV sector.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • The state of how sales within the automotive market are structured could offer some hints as to what the future holds. Brandon Mason, a director at PwC’s automotive practice, told Reuters that, “a worrying trend for the industry was a rising number of deep subprime loans. He said subprime levels are at just over 20 percent of originations, against more than 30 percent prior to the Great Recession, but recent increases remain a concern.”
  • HDG prices, however, may be the biggest elephant in the room — not to mention often the single-biggest driver within our market basket of metals used in the auto industry. According to MetalMiner’s analysis in the monthly outlook, while 2016 saw a sizable increase in HDG prices, they’ve begun to level off to the point that real price strength is not yet evident. With slowing Chinese prices and pending circumvention cases, HDG prices may reverse this month’s uptrend just as quickly as it began.

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