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This morning in metals news, U.S. steel imports fell in August compared with July, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the beginning of an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump and Indian mining companies are concerned about the impending expiration of leases for non-captive iron ore mines.

Keep up to date on everything going on in the world of trade and tariffs via MetalMiner’s Trade Resource Center.

Steel Imports Drop

According to preliminary U.S. Census Bureau data, U.S. steel imports reached 1.8 million metric tons in August.

The August steel import level marked a decline from the 2.7 million metric tons imported in July.

Markets React to Impeachment Inquiry News

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced her intention to initiate impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump.

As a result, stock markets dipped Tuesday morning, but recovered later in the day.

The CBOE’s volatility index, the VIX, reached a three-week high, ascending to 17.77 early Wednesday before dipping just below 17 later this morning.

Indian Companies Worry Over Mining Leases

According to the Economic Times, concerns abound in India regarding the expiration of 31 non-captive iron mines March 31.

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RK Sharma, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries, told the Economic Times that the mines in question account for 45% of the domestic steel industry’s iron ore requirements.

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A new Cold War — does that sound ridiculous? Does it sound alarmist?

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It would have been a month or more back, but today it is a plausible statement.

A post by Edward Luce in the Financial Times refers to a Bloomberg expose reporting on how China’s People’s Liberation Army has installed secret micro-chips on motherboards that were used to operate big corporate data servers, giving them unprecedented access to American military and technology secrets on an epic scale.

The microchips are said to be smaller than a grain of rice and thinner than the tip of a sharpened pencil, yet could provide backdoor access into the most secret of American technology. We quote Luce when we say, according to Bloomberg, China may have infiltrated U.S. military hardware, including drones, fighter jets, and so on.

It must be said, major retail hardware providers like Apple vehemently denied the existence of such malicious chips, but Bloomberg’s investigation has been going on for three years and begs the old saying — no smoke without fire.

The investigation apparently is still ongoing. But the consequences, coming on top of an escalating trade war and recent military skirmishes in the South China Sea, herald a new superpower rivalry.

There may be some who scoff at the suggestion that China could rival the U.S. as a superpower, but that is to misunderstand the trajectory of history.

China is on the rise, faster in terms of technology than it is even economically.

Take these secret microchips. As Luce points out, the creation and clandestine inclusion of such sophisticated technology is so hard to pull off that it was likened by a professional hacker to getting a unicorn to jump over a rainbow. It would take years, the article suggests and the deepest knowledge of how to manipulate the most cutting-edge technology across the global supply chain, for China to do this — yet, it did.

Roughly 75% of U.S. smartphones and 90% of semiconductors are made in China; it is safe to bet that domination is set to decline, but it can’t happen overnight.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

In a heated and politically charged scenario, it is not unrealistic to think government will mandate or reward firms that reshore technologically sensitive supply chains, with profound implications for what has become a hugely interdependent world.

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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®:

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This morning in metals news, German steel companies are being hit with fines over price rigging, worker contract negotiations are underway at U.S. Steel and the U.S. Senate approved a symbolic measure that served to express frustration over the Legislature’s current lack of say in the process of imposing Section 232 tariffs.

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€205M in Fines Handed Down

According to the Financial Times, German authorities have meted out a total of €205 million in fines to six German steel companies, a steel association and 10 individuals.

The fines come as a result of the exchange of sensitive information and price rigging between 2004 and 2015, according to the report.

Time to Talk

U.S. Steel and the United Steelworkers union began contract negotiations this week, working toward a new labor deal before the current deal’s Sept. 1 expiration, the Northwest Indiana Times reported.

The last contract between the union and the steel firm was negotiated in 2015, per the report.

Senates Expresses 232 Frustration

In a non-binding vote Wednesday, the Senate voted 88-11 to direct negotiators to push for giving Congress a role in making decisions vis-a-vis tariffs when national security is a concern; that is, in the application of Section 232, which President Trump has already used twice (with tariffs on steel and aluminum already in effect and potential tariffs on automobiles and automotive components pending).

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has spearheaded the effort to divert some of the institutional power behind Section 232 from the executive (i.e., the president) to the legislative (i.e., Congress).

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“We have to rein in abuse of presidential authority and restore Congress’ constitutional authority in this regard,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was quoted as saying.

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was via some of the metals stories here on MetalMiner®:

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MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

If there’s one success story being written in India, it’s that of renewable energy.

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By the government’s own reckoning, despite India’s energy needs likely to double over the next seven years (going by the current rate of economic growth), the nation is likely to meet two-fifths of its electricity needs with renewable sources by 2030.

Power and Renewable Energy Minister R K Singh told reporters recently that the efficiency of solar panels itself had already reached 30%, and prices were likely to reduce due to an increase in usage.

The government’s stipulated target is of 175 Gigawatt (GW) of renewable generation by 2022, which includes 100 GW of solar and 60 GW of wind generation, up from the current total renewable energy generation capacity of about 59 GW (with wind already now at about 33 GW).

What’s more, a report this month by the International Energy Agency (IEA) said India’s renewable energy capacity would more than double by 2022, which would be enough to overtake renewable expansion in the European Union for the first time.

India’s present-day renewable energy installed capacity is about 59 GW. “By 2022, India’s renewable capacity will more than double. This growth is enough to overtake renewable expansion in the European Union for the first time,” IEA said in its latest renewables market analysis and forecast.

The IEA added that the solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind together represented 90% of India’s capacity growth, as auctions yielded some of the world’s lowest prices for both technologies.

India needs an investment of around U.S. $100 billion to meet the target of 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022.

As of now, China was the undisputed leader of renewable electricity capacity expansion over the forecast period, with over 360 GW of capacity coming online. China, as per the IEA, had already exceeded its 2020 solar PV target three years ahead of time and is set to achieve its onshore wind target in 2019.

China, India and the U.S. will account for two-thirds of global renewable expansion by 2022, according to the IEA report. The total solar PV capacity by then would exceed the combined total power capacities of India and Japan today, it added.

The power consumption of electric vehicles — including cars, two- and three-wheelers, and buses — was expected to double over the next five years. Renewable electricity is estimated to represent almost 30% of their consumption by 2022, up from 26% today.

This year’s renewable forecast was 12% higher than last year, mostly because of solar PV traction in China and India.

Macro photo of a piece of lead ore

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) released its monthly report for July, which found that global refined lead metal demand outgrew supply during the first five months of the year.

Furthermore, total reported stock levels increased over this time, as well.

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The ILZSG report revealed an increase in global lead mine production of 12.7% when compared to the first five months of 2016. This was mostly attributed to increased output in China and India, which counterbalanced decreases in Peru and Australia.

According to the ILZSG: “A rise in world refined lead metal output of 7.2% was primarily influenced by increases in China, India, the Republic of Korea and the United States. An increase in US apparent demand for refined lead metal of 23.3% was principally a consequence of a sharp rise in net imports. Chinese apparent usage rose by 13.7% and in Europe by a more modest 1.7%. Overall global demand rose by 10.3%.”

The ILZSG report concluded that Chinese imports of lead contained in lead concentrates dropped 4.9%. Meanwhile, net imports of refined lead metal grew substantially, from 12kt in 2016 to 41kt this year.

Lead Price Outlook for 2017

How will lead and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth lead price forecast and outlook in our brand-new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report.

For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

 

Since the beginning of March, steel prices in China have fallen sharply while prices in the U.S. have risen. That is simply not sustainable.

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These price divergences happen once in a while but they don’t last long. Over the next few weeks we’ll either see a rebound in Chinese prices or weakness in US steel prices.

US HRC (in blue) vs. Chinese HRC (in purple). Source: MetalMiner IndX.

Why do we say this? Well, China’s output accounts for more than 50% of world steel production. Currently, China isn’t a major exporter to the U.S., but it is the biggest exporter to the rest of the world. Therefore, Chinese prices put a floor under international steel prices.

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Since prices peaked in February, China’s hot-rolled coil prices have fallen nearly 15%. During the same period, U.S. HRC prices have risen nearly 8%. Interestingly, we saw a similar divergence last summer, when the U.S. imposed strong anti-dumping measures against imports. Such a wide international price arbitrage didn’t last long, as we predicted last year, this price arbitrage narrowed after that summer.

CRC price arbitrage US-China. Source:MetalMiner IndX.

U.S. steel prices are now expensive again relative to Chinese prices. In the case of cold-rolled coil, the price spread stands now at $344 per metric ton, quite high compared to historical levels and not far from last summer’s peak of $420 per mt. A level that has proven unsustainable before.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

We continue to be long-term bullish on steel markets. However, buyers should closely monitor the recent divergence between Chinese and US prices. We should see a recovery in Chinese steel prices soon, otherwise US steel mills will have a hard time justifying further price hikes. Remember that we are in a global world and although US steel prices can temporarily move apart from Chinese prices, they will eventually move in tandem because otherwise, buyers will start looking to buy steel overseas.

Palladium has been the best performer among precious metals for some time now. Since the beginning of 2016, palladium is up 65%, easily beating the price increases seen in platinum, gold and silver.

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What factors made palladium outperform its peers and what should palladium buyers pay attention to this year?

Global Demand for Cars

According to Inside Advantage’s Outlook 2016 report, “the primary bullish factor might be the expansion of auto catalyst demand for palladium, particularly in China where air pollution problems are increasing. The auto sector accounts for around 80% of palladium demand.”

Chinese car sales for the first two months of 2017 beat expectations and were 8.8% higher compared to the same period in 2016. According to a Market Watch report, the pace is still weaker than the 14% increase reported last year by the industry as tax incentives urged customers to buy cars. In Q4 of 2016, China announced a 50% cut in its sales tax from 10% to 5% for small automobiles. The tax cut was effective until the end of 2016.

Most analysts were expecting a big slowdown in the largest automobile market this year, but China continues to surprise markets. The country agreed to extend the cut, although at a higher rate of 7.5%. In 2018 it will revert to 10%. Therefore, while auto sales might not beat the high levels reached last year, Chinese citizens will still likely take advantage of a lower tax in 2017.

According to a recent Reuters article, “March’s figures for the world’s second-largest automotive market came in below market expectations and gave early evidence that the growth in America’s car sales may be running out of steam. Sales in March fell by 1.6% compared with the same month a year ago.”

Overall, auto markets were really strong in 2016, contributing to a 50% rise in palladium prices last year. This market might surprise again in 2017 but signs of a plateau in the U.S. and uncertainties in China due to an extended but higher tax cut are factors to watch this year.

Strong South African Currency

South African Rand Index. Source:MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

South Africa is the largest producer of palladium, and controls around 40% of world output. The Rand (South African currency) has been one of the best performing currencies since 2016. A rising Rand makes South African exports more expensive to the rest of the world, limiting producers margins and potentially leading to a reduction of output. Read more

China’s aluminum industry is under siege. You wouldn’t think so from the booming production figures, rising prices and howls of protest from aluminum producers in the rest of the world.

Benchmark Your Current Aluminum Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

But, arguably, China’s aluminum industry is the victim of its own success.

Liquid metal

The Chinese aluminum industry has been able to cut costs by essentially selling liquid metal to nearby product manufacturers. Source: Adobe Stock/Kybele.

On the one hand, the political heat is rising as China’s production capacity has exceeded 50% of global output even as a combination of low aluminum prices and the collapse of physical delivery premiums in recent years has forced producers in the rest of the world to rationalize production, mothball plants and shelve capital investment plans that do not seek to simply slash costs.

Rise of Semis Buoys Industry

The rise of Chinese semi-finished product exports has stimulated a wave of legal challenges around the world alleging unfair trade practices and causing considerable uncertainty for Chinese manufacturers with aspirations beyond their own shores. Read more