Articles in Category: Supply & Demand

tariffs headline over $100 bills

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Despite howls of protest from consumers, the Biden administration has doubled down on the Trump administration’s trade barriers with its latest move on aluminum tariffs.

The administration recently slapped semi-finished flat rolled aluminium anti-dumping duties on 18 countries supplying the US market.

Don’t miss the MetalMiner analyst team on March 24 at 10 a.m. CDT for a 30-minute metals market forecast and strategies to deploy in falling markets: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_6J8wAyYySfihVk3ZUH9yMA.

Aluminum tariffs

Previous administrations’ focus on China — first on extrusions in 2011 and then foil and sheet in 2018 — succeeded in bringing down imports from 620,000 metric tons in 2017 to 170,000 tons last year, Reuters reported.

However, the wider Section 232 10% tariff is so riddled with exclusions and special exemptions that imports from the rest of the world have continued to make up a significant proportion of the market supply landscape.

Imports of sheet, plate and strip totaled 1.3 million metric tons in 2019. That represented about 62% of total aluminum product imports that year, according to Reuters. Although volumes shrunk sharply to 836,000 tons last year, this was due to the broader COVID-19 disruption to the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Total semis imports last year fell by 20%. Domestic shipments dropped by only 13% through November, suggesting the imposition of preliminary duties in October was already impacting buyers’ decisions.

According to Reuters, the new duties hit seven of last year’s top 10 product suppliers to the U.S. market, including South Korea, Germany and Turkey.

Canada, Saudi Arabia avoid aluminum tariff

The duties spared Canada, however, from which imports increased by 17%. They also spared Saudi Arabia, where Alcoa retains a close relationship with the Ma’aden smelter and rolling mill, despite having divested its 25.1% shareholding in 2019.

That Alcoa and its Saudi partner should essentially get an exemption comes as no surprise.

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The Stainless Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose by 4.3% for this month’s reading, as news of a supply deal by China’s Tsingshan Holding Group helped push the nickel price downward.

March 2021 Stainless MMI chart

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Nickel price falls on Tsingshan supply deal news

The nickel price, like most other base metals, surged through the first two-thirds of February.

The LME nickel price reached as high as $19,722 per metric ton as of Feb. 21.

From there, however, the price dropped, particularly after news of supply deals by China’s Tsingshan Holding Group.

Tsingshan will provide a total of 100,000 metric tons of nickel matte to Huayou Cobalt and CNGR Advanced Material, Reuters reported.

“Nickel’s narrative has largely been predicated on a shortage of battery-grade metal driven by EV demand,” MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns explained earlier this month.

“However, Tsingshan’s supply contract and capacity announcements suggest there will be sufficient supply. As a result, the nickel market reflected a sharp rethink of the deficit view.

“Demand undoubtedly remains robust for nickel. Its medium- to longer-term outlook remains positive on the back of stainless and battery demand.”

A price drop at some point was expected.

“It’s expected that the market would see some price corrections,” MetalMiner CEO Lisa Reisman explained. “Now we are looking closely to see if prices break support levels or hold. Most of the base metals appear to have held onto their support, with the exception of nickel.

“However, the falling nickel price will not result in more availability or shorter lead times. In fact, more fabricators and OEMs have started to pursue import options to help alleviate supply chain hiccups.”

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hot rolled steel

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner, which this week includes coverage of steel capacity utilization, the latest OPEC ministerial meeting and much more.

Overall, most base metals seem to be retracing from a late February peak. LME copper and aluminum have both been declining since late February.

The tin price’s dive has been more stark. LME three-month tin has dropped over 13% since Feb. 25. However, in the long term, the outlook for tin remains promising, particularly given its application in electronics.

The MetalMiner team will be presenting a commodity forecast for copper, aluminum, stainless and carbon steel on Wednesday, March 24, at 10:00 a.m. CDT: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_6J8wAyYySfihVk3ZUH9yMA. 

Week of March 1-5 (steel capacity, oil prices and more)

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oil barrels featuring flags of OPEC nations

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This morning in metals news: ministers of oil-producing countries agreed this week to by and large maintain March output levels in April; Texas and Florida posted gains in small-scale solar capacity last year; and China’s steel imports surged in 2020.

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OPEC ministers agree on output levels for April

While still not meeting in person, energy ministers of oil-producing nations met virtually Thursday for the 14th OPEC and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting.

The members agreed to largely maintain oil production levels from March to April.

However, the members agreed to allow production increases for Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia will be able to increase output by 150,000 barrels per day, while Kazakhstan will increase output by 20,000 barrels per day.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, previously announced a two-month output reduction of 1 million barrels per day as of Feb. 1. The kingdom agreed to extend that reduction into April.

“The Ministers also commended Saudi Arabia for the extension of the additional voluntary adjustments of 1 mb/d for the month of April 2021, exemplifying its leadership, and demonstrating its flexible and pre-emptive approach,” OPEC ministers said in an official statement.

Oil prices have shown strength so far in 2021. After falling below $25 per barrel last spring, the Brent crude price moved above $66 per barrel this week.

Meanwhile, the WTI crude oil futures price closed Thursday at $61.28 per barrel. The price is up by  $14.10 per barrel from a year ago, per the Energy Information Administration.

Texas, Florida add solar capacity

California leads the US in small-scale solar capacity, but other states are ramping up.

Texas and Florida, in particular, were among the top risers in 2020, the Energy Information Administration reported.

The US added 4.5 GW of small-scale solar capacity in 2020, of which California accounted for 31%. Texas added 422 MW, while Florida added 282 MW.

“State incentives, strong solar resources, and policy changes are largely driving these gains,” the EIA said.

China steel imports surged in 2020

As Beijing aimed to pull China out of the economic doldrums stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s steel imports surged by 150% in 2020, Nikkei Asia reported.

Citing customs data, China’s steel imports reached 38.56 million tons last year, the news source reported.

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nickel

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Up to this week, the nickel bull story had been roaring along.

Talk of metal shortages and runaway electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid battery demand have supported that story.

But one announcement has seen that bull run hit a brick wall.

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Nickel bull story slows

News that China’s Tsingshan Holding Group has signed a one-year contract to supply nickel matte to Huayou Cobalt Co and CNGR Advanced Material Co, on March 3 prompted a sharp sell-off.

Under the agreement, Tsingshan will supply 60,000 tonnes of nickel matte to Huayou and 40,000 tonnes a year to CNGR, starting from October 2021. Tsingshan is China’s largest producer of stainless steel.

Just this morning, news sources like MetalBulletin were still promoting the bull narrative, saying nickel premiums continue to rise in China, while ore prices set another record high (even as the European cut cathode premium rises a further 5%).

But almost simultaneously, Reuters reported hot-off-the-press details of the Tsingshan deal and a sharp sell-off ensued. The post noted nickel fell 8.5% to $15,945 per metric ton on the LME for the biggest intraday loss since 2016. Shanghai prices fell by the most in nine months. The SHFE June nickel price ended 6% lower at RMB 130,510 ($20,181) per ton, according to Reuters.

Investment and the supply outlook

The Economic Times posted further details, reporting Tsingshan plans to expand investments in Indonesia. Tsingshan plans for its nickel equivalent output to reach 600,000 metric tons this year. Meanwhile, it has a target of 850,000 tons in 2021 and 1.1 million tons by 2023.

Nickel’s narrative has largely been predicated on a shortage of battery-grade metal driven by EV demand.

However, Tsingshan’s supply contract and capacity announcements suggest there will be sufficient supply. As a result, the nickel market reflected a sharp rethink of the deficit view.

Demand undoubtedly remains robust for nickel. Its medium- to longer-term outlook remains positive on the back of stainless and battery demand.

Indonesia’s efforts are finally paying off. The country is ramping up refined metal output, albeit under Chinese control. As a result, output of battery and refined grades of nickel is increasing. Meanwhile output of lower grade nickel pig iron is declining.

Nevertheless, the world does not seem quite as short of nickel today as it did yesterday.

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auto sale

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The Automotive Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose by 7.1% this month, as US auto sales were strong in February.

March 2021 Automotive MMI chart

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US auto sales

Ford Motor Co. reported its February US retail auto sales reached 163,520 vehicles, down 1.8% year over year.

Ford truck sales increased 10.2% year over year. Meanwhile, SUV sales ticked up 0.2%. Ford car sales fell 56.5%.

Ford’s estimated retail share in February reached 12%, up from 11.7% last year.

“Share gains came from trucks and new product offerings of Bronco Sport and the fully electric Mustang Mach-E,” Ford said.

Honda sales overall fell 11.4% to 106,328 vehicles. However, the automaker reported its best-ever February for Honda truck sales. Truck sales rose 5% year over year.

Electric vehicles (EVs) still represent a small percentage of Honda’s total sales. Nonetheless, the automaker reported EV sales rose 96.2%, with deliveries nearing 8,000 vehicles.

Nissan, which moved to quarterly reporting last year, in January reported Q4 2020 sales in the US fell 19.3% year over year.

US auto sales growth in February

Late last month, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive forecast sales growth in February.

The automotive intelligence groups forecast a 3.3% increase year over year when adjusting for differences in selling days.

“Despite challenges posed by inclement weather in most of the country, retail sales demand continues to be strong with the industry posting a second consecutive month of year-over-year gains,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “Typically, weather related sales disruptions are made up in the weeks following, so most of the sales lost at the beginning of February will be made up at the end of February and trail into early March.”

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supply chain chart

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When we first started reporting on global freight costs in Q4 last year, we expected that the pandemic bounce-back would probably be a relatively short-term effect, easing around the Chinese Lunar New Year. Around then, Chinese manufacturers closed down and the shipping industry had a chance to catch up on backlogs.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, the situation has not gotten better.

If anything, it has gotten worse.

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Supply chain woes

According to the Financial Times, the cost of shipping goods from China to Europe has more than quadrupled in the past eight weeks. Costs have hit record highs as a result of a shortage of empty containers disrupts global trade.

The post states the cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Asia to northern Europe has increased from about $2,000 in November to more than $9,000, quoting shippers and importers.

MetalMiner’s own research has found the worst increases are on the China to US West Coast and Northern Europe routes. Other origins, such as India, have doubled but not tripled since spring 2020, with the largest increase coming in the last 3-4 months.

The Chinese Lunar New Year closedowns barely happened this year. New COVID-19 outbreak containment measures in China encouraged Beijing to dissuade all but essential travel. As a result, a majority of workers in the cities were available to work over what would normally be a near two-week holiday period.

Product, therefore, continued to be delivered to the docks. Demand on shipping lines barely abated.

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U.S. trade

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This morning in metals news: the US international goods trade deficit moved up slightly from December to January; meanwhile, MetalMiner sister site SpendMatters took to LinkedIn for feedback on President Joe Biden’s executive order on supply chains; and, lastly, Sweden will be home to what will reportedly be the world’s largest “green hydrogen plant.”

US trade deficit rises in January

The US trade deficit in January reached $83.7 billion, the Census Bureau reported.

The trade deficit increased from $83.2 billion in December.

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Spend Matters analyst looks at Biden administration’s supply chain executive order

Speaking of the trade deficit and trade in general, in light of President Joe Biden signing an executive order to address US supply chain problems for semiconductor chips, large-capacity batteries for electric vehicles, rare earth minerals and pharmaceuticals, Spend Matters analyst Pierre Mitchell took to LinkedIn to get a conversation started.

“Hey, if a 78-year-old guy from Scranton gets it, maybe more C-level execs will finally now get serious about supply chain risk management,” Mitchell writes. “Actually, most do, especially after the pandemic, but it’s still depressing when so many wait until they get a major disruption. Is this finally a sea change … or ‘C-change’?”

MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns recently outlined the geopolitical chess game taking place over rare earth materials.

To be a part of the conversation, engage with Mitchell’s post on LinkedIn to voice your opinions.

World’s largest ‘green hydrogen plant’

Steelmaking is a traditionally high-polluting industry. But, slowly but surely, steelmakers around the world are touting newfound green bona fides.

CNBC reported yesterday that Sweden could soon be home to the “world’s largest green hydrogen plant.”

The firm, H2 Green Steel, will aim to provide the European market with steel made with a “fossil-free manufacturing process,” CNBC reported.

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President Joe Biden’s latest executive order seeks to secure a variety of important supply chains.

For example, in one higher-profile case, General Motors recently announced it would extend downtimes at several plants as a result of a semiconductor shortage.

As we’ve noted in our Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) series, rare earths supply has long been a point of concern for the US, particularly the Pentagon. (Recently, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns delved into China’s overwhelming control of the rare earths processing market and indications Beijing is considering tighter rare earths export regulations.)

In that vein, the president’s latest executive order — his 33rd in just over a month in office, which the White House said he would sign Wednesday — aims to secure those critical supply chains.

The White House said the order focuses on six key areas:

  • the defense industrial base
  • the public health and biological preparedness industrial base
  • the information and communications technology (ICT) industrial base
  • the energy sector industrial base
  • the transportation industrial base
  • supply chains for agricultural commodities and food production

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list of commodities prices

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Investment banks love a super cycle.

It spurs irrational investment and sucks in unwary investors. Furthermore, it encourages passive funds to up their allocation, even if only by fractions of a percent.

But with some $14 trillion invested in US equities alone, even a modest increase in passive investments into ETFs would reap significant rewards in fees.

As such, it may be not surprising that the big boys — like JP Morgan, as reported in Bloomberg, and Goldman Sachs, as reported in the Financial Times (admittedly focused more on oil) — are calling the start of the next commodities super cycle.

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Commodities super cycle?

On the face of it, they appear to have some foundation.

As a separate post in the Financial Times observes, metals, agricultural and oil commodity indices have risen up to 40% since last July.

In part, this is due to a surge of interest in green-energy projects.

The EU, US and China have all promised to spend big. Hydrogen projects alone could receive €30 billion from the EU.

Copper has rallied to eight-year highs, around $8,375 per ton. The metal is benefiting from strong Chinese demand and the prospects for a more rapid transition to electric vehicles gains momentum. Glencore is quoted as saying world copper demand will double by 2050 and that mine investment is insufficient,

All of that certainly makes for a bullish landscape.

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