The Renewables MMI rose seven points in August, reaching a reading of 84.

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The basket of metals in this sub-index posted a strong month. Steel plate from Japan, Korea and China rose in the month. U.S. steel plate, however, fell 4.6%.

Meanwhile, in the topsy-turvy world of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES), the U.S. GOES price jumped 7.3%.

Of the nine metals in the sub-index, only one (U.S. steel plate) posted a drop in price as of Sept. 1. Chinese silicon, cobalt and neodymium all also posted price gains.

Charged Up for Cobalt

Last month, we wrote about cobalt, which is in high demand for its application in electric vehicle batteries. Cobalt is mined predominantly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been shaken by violence and political instability this year.

The instability there has seen production in the DRC decrease this year, yielding significant price increases in the metal. As we wrote last month, the instability of cobalt (not to mention growing ethical concerns vis-a-vis child labor at mines) has some battery makers looking to adjust their metal formulas, in some cases suggesting the use of more nickel, instead.

According to a Reuters report, however, cobalt has been boosted by projections touting a rise in purchases of electric vehicles. According to the report, UBS forecasted electric vehicles will account for 3.1% of global car sales in 2021 and 13.7% in 2025, up from 1% this year.

In addition, cobalt listings have skyrocketed, the report says. As of the end of July, 100 companies that explore or mine for cobalt were listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange, up from fewer than 30 in 2015, according to SNL Financial.

In short, despite issues of supply volatility — and, thus, material cost — cobalt’s profile continues to rise in tandem with the rise of electric vehicles.

What About U.S. Steel Plate?

Like the rest of the U.S. steel industry, steel plate producers are anxiously awaiting the Trump administration’s determination in its Section 232 investigation of steel imports.

The investigation, announced in April, has a January deadline. The investigation picked up steam earlier on in the summer, but has seemingly been put on the backburner for the time being. As such, initial optimism from U.S. steel producers regarding potentially imminent trade action stemming from the investigation began to wane.

In a letter to the Trump administration last week, the American Line Pipe Producers Association (ALPPA) urged the president to take action, also mentioning steel plate in the process.

“The ALPPA strongly supports the imposition of tariffs to address this crisis,” wrote Timothy Brightbill, counsel to the ALPPA. “With tariffs in place, we could quickly return to full capacity, adding hundreds of direct jobs in addition to upstream and downstream jobs as well.

“However, in order for tariffs to be effective for our industry, steel pipe must be included in any tariff covering steel coil and plate, as failure to do so would be devastating for domestic large diameter line pipe producers and workers.”

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

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Details are pretty sketchy at present, but a recent Reuters article sheds light on an investigation underway by Germany’s competition regulator into a suspected violation of antitrust laws in the steel industry.

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According to Reuters, the investigation expands an ongoing cartel office inquiry, which already covers makers and sellers of stainless steel, car manufacturers and suppliers, as well as companies in the forging sector.

The suspicion is of “anti-competitive collusion between companies” on flat steel products. Although not all steel firms are currently under investigation, many of the largest ones are.

Both ArcelorMittal and Salzgitter have confirmed units of their company have been searched in the first phase of an operation late last month that included seven companies and three private homes in Germany. According to the Reuters report, Manager Magazin reported that included in the investigation is the German Steel Federation, an industry association, although the publication did not cite any sources in its report.

Interestingly, any collusion may be limited. Kajor steel producer Thyssenkrupp and steel distributor trader Kloeckner & Co. both said they had not been searched, according to Reuters, nor is this part of a wider European Union action. Allegations appear to be restricted to several steel producers in Germany, although some of them, such as ArcelorMittal, are multinationals.