Industry News

Sanjeev Gupta has been sometimes called a knight in shining armor, saving the workforce of distressed steel mills across Europe and Australia.

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Now, Liberty House Group — the Gupta-controlled metals and engineering empire — plans to enter the Indian market, and is looking at investing in the renewable energy, auto component, shipping,  engineering and infrastructure sectors.

If it happens, in a sense, life would have come a full circle for the Punjab born, U.K.-based Gupta.

In an interview with the Indian newspaper Live Mint, Gupta said the entry would probably be through the acquisition of distressed assets or direct investment.

Gupta hurried to add they were in no hurry to enter this market segment, though.

In mid-July, the steel tycoon bought the U.K. assets of Amtek Global Technologies Pte, a subsidiary of India’s debt-ridden Amtek Auto, for an undisclosed amount. It would save 550 jobs. The Liberty Group is also said to be actively looking at bidding for the ABG Shipyard Ltd and the India assets of Amtek Auto. Amtek and ABG Shipyard are two of the 12 large defaulters identified by the Reserve Bank of India for launch of early bankruptcy proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

These two acquisitions could be the stepping stone for Liberty House’s entry into India, though only time will tell.

“Give me your distressed and I shall retain their jobs” seems be the motto of Liberty House, though some experts and sector observers have started questioning the viability of its business plan.

After all, where other majors had failed, what magic formula does Liberty House have to turn around the same, loss-making businesses?

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This morning in metals news, a recent report predicts the precious metal catalysts market will reach $19.4 billion by 2022, Reliance Steel and Aluminum Co. posted strong second-quarter numbers and   China’s Ministry of Commerce says it is willing to work with the U.S. on global aluminum market issues.

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Precious Metal Catalysts Market to Grow to $19.4B

Precious metal catalysts will prove to be especially precious on the market in the near future, according to a report from Research and Markets.

The report indicates the market will grow from $14.37 billion this year to $19.41 billion by 2022, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.19%.

Why is this metal sector set to become even more precious? Advances in automobile technology and pharmaceutical applications will see a rise in demand for this subset of metals, according to the research report.

“The newly developed emission standards demand additional improvements in catalyst technologies to successfully remove toxic substances from car exhausts, which will, in turn, drive the precious metal catalysts market growth through the automobile sector,” the report states.

A Good Q2 for Reliance

Reliance Steel and Aluminum Co. — the largest metals service center operator in North America,  headquartered in Los Angeles — posted strong numbers for this year’s second quarter.

According to a report on the Nasdaq website, the company reported a bottom line of $103.1 million, ($1.40 per share), compared with $99.5 million, or $1.36 per share, for Q2 of 2016.

The company’s revenue total also rose in Q2 by 12.7% to $2.48 billion, up from $2.20 billion last year.

China Signals Willingness to Work on Aluminum Market Issues

Ever since announcing Section 232 investigations of steel and aluminum, the Trump administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce have made it clear that Chinese excess capacity is the primary focus (notwithstanding the fact that Chinese steel and aluminum represent relatively small portions of U.S. imports).

On the heels of the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC) Section 332 report on competitive factors affecting U.S. aluminum, China’s Ministry of Commerce suggested a global approach to tackling problems within the aluminum market, Reuters reported.

According to the Reuters report, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng did not agree with the assessment that the USITC report accused China of “sponsoring” its aluminum industry.

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The results of the aluminum investigation will likely not be coming for some time, as the steel report is expected to come first. However, June came and went without a steel 232 announcement. Plus, if President Donald Trump’s comments earlier this week are any indication, steel trade policy doesn’t seem to be a top priority at the moment, particularly as the health care debate continues to heat up.

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This evening in metals news, President Donald Trump indicated yesterday Section 232 might be going on the backburner, data show a sharp rise in steel imports during June and a new report predicts the 3-D printing metals market will be worth $12 billion by 2028.

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Taking 5 on Section 232

The Trump administration’s Section 232 investigations are being watched closely by metals producers around the world — but Section 232 is just one thing on the administration’s plate.

On Tuesday, President Trump told the Wall Street Journal that when it comes to enacting measures against steel imports (like tariffs or quotas), “we don’t want to do it right now.”

In April, the administration launched a national-security probe of steel and aluminum imports. Under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has 270 days to present the president with a report and recommendations.

With health care currently in the spotlight — in addition to Trump’s announcement today regarding banning transgender individuals from serving in the military — Section 232 has seemingly lost a little steam. Previously, the steel investigation results were expected to be announced by the end of June.

Steel prices performed well in the weeks following the April announcement, but that initial optimism has fizzled. Trump’s noncommittal comment regarding the investigation sent several domestic steel companies downward yesterday, according to MarketWatch, including AK Steel, Nucor and ArcelorMittal.

Steel Imports Rise in June

U.S. imports of steel rose sharply for the month of June, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) on Wednesday.

The country imported approximately 3.87 million net tons in June. In the year to date, 19.64 million tons have been imported, up 25% from the same time frame in 2016. Finished steel imports amounted to 15 million tons in the year to date, up 17.2% compared with the same time period in 2016.

Per the report, products which saw significant increases from May to June included: reinforcing bars (84%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (61%), heavy structural shapes (40%), cold-rolled sheets (32%), hot-rolled sheets (29%), mechanical tubing (25%), oil country goods (19%), hot-rolled bars (12%) and plates in coils (11%).

Notable year to date increases versus the same period in 2016 include: oil country goods (248%), cold rolled sheets (41%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (36%), standard pipe (35%),  line pipe (32%), mechanical tubing (29%), hot-rolled bars (28%), sheets and strip hot-dipped galvanized (26%), tin plate (17%) and wire rods (10%).

3-D Printing Worth $12B by 2028: Report

Momentum continues to build for 3-D printing technology, so much so that a recent report predicts the growing sector will be worth $12 billion in just over a decade from now.

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The report, from IDTechEx Research, states that “at this stage it would be a mistake to underestimate the enormous potential for innovation in 3D printing of metals.”

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The U.S. steel industry upped its production levels during the week ending July 22.

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In total, U.S. raw steel manufacturers produced 1.77 million net tons for that week, according to weekly data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Compared with the previous week (ending July 15), that figure makes for a 0.6% increase.

Meanwhile, compared with the same week in 2016, production was up 6.4%.

Production is also up when comparing the year to date (until July 22) with the same time frame last year. Thus far in 2017, U.S. steel amounts to 50.3 million net tons, a 2.5% increase from the 49.1 million net tons in 2016.

The weekly AISI report also breaks down production by region. Once again, the Great Lakes region came in first with 677,000 net tons, followed by the Southern region (637,000), Northeast (214,000), Midwest (166,000) and Western (79,000).

Of course, the elephant in the room continues to be the Section 232 investigation into steel imports.  The results of the Department of Commerce probe were expected to be announced by the end of June, but that has long come and gone.

Most have speculated that the administration will opt to slap tariffs on steel imports in an effort to combat excess capacity from China.

It remains to be seen when the administration will announce anything on Section 232. However, if tariffs come to pass, other steel-producing nations will likely have something to say about it. As reported yesterday, Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, warned of the opening of a Pandora’s box — meaning, nations might retaliate by placing tariffs on other products.

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That is on top of comments made in June by European Commission Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom regarding the EU’s intent to retaliate in the face of U.S. steel tariffs.

According to preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. imported 3.1 million tons of steel, with a monetary value of about $2.6 billion. The preliminary May data show Canada leading the way in steel exports to the U.S. (514,488 tons). Mexico shipped 266,544 tons, while Germany (135,279), Turkey (139,728), Korea (298,527) and Brazil (513,889) featured near the top of the list. China, meanwhile, exported 73,594 tons, according to the preliminary May data.

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This morning in metals news, the chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation warns that U.S. tariffs on its steel imports could lead to retaliation, copper hit its five-month high and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro expects 2017 to present a balanced aluminum market.

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Section 232 Tariffs, If Instituted, Could Lead to Blowback

The world continues to wait for the Trump administration’s announcement regarding the conclusion of its Section 232 investigation into steel imports. Most, however, predict that tariffs will be the remedy President Donald Trump chooses, a course of action which EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in recent weeks said would lead to retaliatory measures from the EU.

Japan has also joined the fray in warning of retaliation if tariffs are slapped onto steel coming into the U.S.

In a report from Industry Week, Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, told reporters Monday that other countries could respond with protectionism on products other than steel, opening Pandora’s box.

Copper Riding High

Copper continues its strong run, hitting a five-month high Tuesday, Reuters reported.

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Positive news on the Chinese economy and a weak U.S. dollar contributed to the rise for copper.

Earlier today, our Stuart Burns wrote about copper’s big year to date.

A Balanced Market

Norsk Hydro CEO and President Svein Richard Brandtzaeg said he expects a “largely balanced” global aluminum market this year.

“We see a global primary aluminium deficit in the quarter. This is driven by increasing deficit outside China. For the full year, we are maintaining our 4-6 percent annual aluminium demand growth outlook for 2017 and expect a largely balanced, global aluminium market,” Brandtzæg said in the aluminum producer’s second-quarter results announcement.

Hydro, which earlier this month announced the acquisition of Sapa, reported second-quarter earnings of NOK 2,930 million.

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For India, a recent development may turn its minerals industry on its head.

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Scientists from the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a department under the Ministry of Mines, recently discovered millions of tons of precious stones and minerals under the deep waters that surround peninsular India.

What’s more, the discovery lies within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which means India will benefit the most.

It was sometime in 2014 that the scientists found the huge presence of marine resources off the Indian coast, extending till the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and around Lakshadweep. The amount of lime mud, phosphate-rich and calcareous sediments, hydrocarbons, metalliferous deposits and micronodules called for a more extensive exploration, and that’s precisely what the GSI team did.

After three years of exploration, they hit paydirt.

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This morning in metals news, a team of researchers has developed a magnesium alloy that is billed to be at least 1.5 times stronger than aluminum sheet metal, copper is up and one analyst writes that China should not be the primary focus of the U.S. steel industry.

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A New Metal

Aluminum is renowned for its many qualities, including its strength, light weight and durability.

Now, scientists have developed a new magnesium alloy that appears to be even stronger than aluminum sheet metal.

According to a phys.org report, a team at NIMS and Nagaoka University of Technology has developed a high-strength magnesium sheet metal that “has excellent formability comparable to that of the aluminum sheet metal currently used in body panels of some automobiles.”

According to the report, the new magnesium alloy is lighter than aluminum and composed of common metals, making it a low-cost material.

Copper Gets a Boost

Copper rose Monday on news of supply disruptions and a weak dollar, according to Reuters.

The metal crossed the $6,000 dollar mark while the U.S. dollar approached 13-month lows.

Elsewhere, halting of mine operations also pushed prices up. In Chile, talks last week fizzled between union workers and management at the Zaldivar copper mine.

According to the report, the government-mediated talks will continue into this week.

China’s Not the Problem?

Ever since the Trump administration announced Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports, China has been the primary focus. Chinese excess capacity, the administration and many in the U.S. aluminum and steel industries argue, has driven prices down worldwide and negatively impacted U.S. primary producers.

Clyde Russell, however, writing for Reuters, argues that China isn’t the U.S.’s biggest obstacle when it comes to strengthening its domestic steel industry.

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Russell points to statistics showing China’s relatively small U.S. market share, which even lags behind fellow Asian countries Japan, South Korea and India. In May, China was the 10th-largest supplier of steel products to the U.S., Russell writes.

Russell argues that rather than looking at China, the U.S. should focus on fellow North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners Canada and Mexico, which exported significantly more steel in May to the U.S. than did China.

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Before we dive into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week in metals news:

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  • Our Stuart Burns started out the week with a piece on confirmation bias and how those in the media and metal-buying communities can sometimes let bias affect their interpretation of data.
  • What’s the diagnosis for the ailing U.K. steel industry? According to Burns, it’s a product of a lack of government support and global oversupply. A recent report showed that the U.K. steel industry has declined in monetary output value by 30% from 1990 to 2013.
  • In case you missed it, our July MMI report has long been in the books. You can download it here.
  • What did the recent G20 summit in Germany mean for India? Our Sohrab Darabshaw touched on the subject this week.
  • What’s up with oil prices? Unsurprisingly, as with the metal markets, prices are so low because there is just so much of the stuff out there. Burns dug deeper into oil price trends in a piece earlier this week.
  • What’s a Section 332? In short, it’s a fact-finding investigation by the United States International Trade Commission, which recently conducted a large-scale look into the competitive factors affecting the U.S. aluminum industry.
  • Another big story, the ongoing debate regarding a potential renegotiation of NAFTA, got an update this week when it was announced that the U.S., Canada and Mexico will come together for talks beginning Aug. 16.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

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It didn’t take long for President Donald Trump to extricate the U.S. from one trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now, the Trump administration is looking to make good on a promise to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

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On Wedesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced the first round of negotiation talks will be held Aug. 16-20 in Washington, D.C.

A 90-day consultation period with Congress and the public kicked off May 18. Late last month, the Office of the USTR held public hearings over three days regarding NAFTA, welcoming comments from lawmakers, businesses and other stakeholders. Some U.S. industry sectors agreed NAFTA has been largely successful, but that the agreement forged in 1994 needs modernizing tweaks.

Lighthizer also announced John Melle, the assistant U.S. trade representative for the Western Hemisphere, will serve as the chief negotiator during the NAFTA talks. Melle has worked for the Office of the USTR since 1988.

The USTR also released its trade objectives for the negotiations on Monday. Perhaps not surprisingly, the primary goal for the Trump administration is a reduction of trade deficits with Mexico and Canada.

“President Trump continues to fulfill his promise to renegotiate NAFTA to get a much better deal for all Americans,” Lighthizer said in the prepared statement released Monday. “Too many Americans have been hurt by closed factories, exported jobs, and broken political promises. Under President Trump’s leadership, USTR will negotiate a fair deal. We will seek to address America’s persistent trade imbalances, break down trade barriers, and give Americans new opportunities to grow their exports. President Trump is reclaiming American prosperity and making our country great again.”

In 2016, the U.S. had a $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico and an $11 billion deficit with Canada. In 1994, when NAFTA went into effect, the U.S. had a $1.3 billion trade surplus with Mexico.

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According to a recently released study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a border tax or the U.S. exiting the agreement could negatively impact U.S. automotive manufacturers. The study argues that a 15% border tax would cost U.S. automakers and suppliers $22 billion a year and a 20% tariff on Mexican imports would drive up production costs per vehicle by $650 on average.

Whatever happens, though, Mexico and Canada clearly would like to get the ball rolling.

Reuters reported today that diplomats from the U.S.’s NAFTA partners are hoping to reach a deal quickly to put an end to uncertainty in the business community regarding the trade deal’s future.

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This morning in metals news, the wait for Section 232 continues, investors are betting on copper as electric cars grow in popularity and palladium is having a record year.

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Section 232 Watch Drags On

These days, folks in the aluminum and steel industries are looking for any sliver of information regarding what the Trump administration will do with its Section 232 investigations.

Many expected the steel investigation results to be announced by the end of June, but that never happened. Regardless, on Wednesday President Trump told a reporter that tariffs on steel imports “could happen.”

Not exactly the most illuminating quote, but it’s something. Given Trump’s economic rhetoric, both as a candidate and as president, the likelihood of some form of protective measures being instituted seems fairly high.

Copper and Cars

As automotive companies, from Tesla to traditional automotive industry stalwarts, compete to develop next-generation vehicles, investors are betting on copper, according to a report in the Financial Times.

How much more copper will be needed to back the next wave of automotive production?

Estimates vary, but one thing is certain: copper will play a very big role and, as such, demand for it will be high.

Big Year for Palladium

It’s been an up-and-down year for some metals in 2017 — but not palladium.

In fact, palladium is expected to hit its highest annual average price on record this year, Reuters reports. Even more, platinum has outperformed platinum in a big way.

But the question is: Can it last?

“We remain constructive on palladium’s outlook,” Standard Chartered analyst Suki Cooper told Reuters. “Not only is the market set to deliver a deficit this year, but it looks set to be undersupplied over the coming years.”

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While it’s easy to look askance at something that shoots up in price so quickly, there are indications that palladium will continue to be a strong player in the market.