Market Analysis

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I know, it’s not really a metals topic — my editor will no doubt berate me for wandering off the reservation — but it has to be said the current speculation about which car Bond will drive in the next movie has got to be of the topic of the month, hasn’t it?

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According to the Financial Times, there is a battle royal developing between Aston Martin – long considered the only authentic wheels for our hero — and upstart Lotus, provider of Bond’s principal transport on two occasions (“The Spy Who Loved Me” in 1976 and in the 1981 film “For Your Eyes Only”).

We are not suggesting Lotus does not make fine cars, although arguably their road cars never quite lived up to the promise of their track record. From their racing debut in the late 1950s, a series of iconic drivers and Colin Chapman’s magic combined to create a dream team that competed at the highest level in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Drivers like Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti, not to forget possibly the greatest of them all Jim Clark (winner of two F1 titles for Lotus), firmly established the mark as an innovative and exciting brand that, from its humble origins in Norfolk, took on the might of Ferrari, Renault, Honda and other famous British teams, like Brabham and BRM.

There is no question Lotus has a fine racing pedigree. As a road car, however, they have never attained the same suave mix of power, prestige and understated competence that is and always has been Aston Martin.

Bond, though, is quintessentially British, and following a brief ownership by Ford, Aston Martin Lagonda has been privately held for over 10 years by a consortium including British and Kuwaiti investors. Soon to go public via an IPO, you too could buy a slice of history when it goes public later this year.

Not so for Lotus which, along with Swedish Volvo and British-based London cab company London Electric Vehicle Company is owned by Chinese Geely. To be fair, much like Volvo, Geely is a good steward of Lotus, allowing the firm to create its own direction and innovation while providing ample funding when needed. Still, diehards would argue it dilutes the Britishness of the brand.

Featuring in a Bond movie, though, would certainly help revitalize lackluster sales at Lotus and may create other one-off opportunities.

For example, Aston recently produced a series of 25 DB5 models — the same as used in “Goldfinger” — made at the car’s original home in Newport Pagnell, the company will sell the specials for £2.75 million apiece. Styling and design for the movies can, like technology developed for racing, feed back into road cars, according to the Financial Times. Much of the engineering for the DB10 car, a model created exclusively for the most recent Bond film “Spectre,” went into the company’s latest models (the DB11 and the Vantage).

Some argue that Bond should go back to Bentley, the brand used in his first film and in Ian Fleming’s books. A brand that in the heyday of the Bond series became a “poor man’s” Rolls Royce – if the buyer of a Bentley could ever be termed a “poor man.”

But in this decade, Bentley has emerged as a fine builder of high-powered executive saloons — maybe not quite what they were in Bentley’s own racing days, but that was well before F1.

No, for 50 years Bond and Aston Martin have been indivisible. Every attempt at substitution – Lotus, BMW, Ford, once a Lincoln convertible for goodness sake – has fallen flat.

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There really is no substitute — please, EON Productions, just don’t be tempted to make it electric.

The aluminum market is facing much more uncertainty now than it was in February 2018 when Norsk Hydro agreed with Rio Tinto to buy the 205,000-ton-per-year capacity ISAL aluminum smelter, located in Hafnarjordur, Iceland.

According to the Financial Times, that deal included the balance 53.3% share in the Aluchemie anode plant in the Netherlands that Hydro does not own and a 50% share in the aluminum fluoride plant in Sweden, from Rio Tinto.

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The transaction to acquire Rio’s last remaining aluminum assets in Europe was initially expected to be finalized in the second quarter of 2018 following the surprise agreement by Rio to sell its aluminum Dunkerque smelter in France to Liberty House for U.S. $500 million in June.

The announcement of sanctions on Oleg Deripaska in April this year — and by extension En+ and Rusal, the largest aluminum producer outside of China — has cast some doubts on alumina supplies for European smelters, as Rio sources some of the alumina for its ISAL plant from the Russian company’s Aughinish refinery in Ireland.

But Rio seemed quite confident it could source alumna from elsewhere and Norsk Hydro certainly has enough alumina supply options around the world that raw material supply should not be a major issue.

No, the main reason the firm pulled out seems to be the initial feedback from the E.U. competitions authority, which was raising concerns about market domination reducing competition in Europe if the deal had gone through.

Norsk Hydro makes around 2.1 million tons of primary aluminum a year and ISAL would further consolidate its position as the largest primary supplier in the European market. However, competition authorities may still have had one eye on the Rusal situation.

If, as some are now beginning to question, the sanctions are not lifted in October when the current extension expires, primary metal supply will become very tight in Europe again.

Rusal produced some 3.7 million tons last year according to its annual accounts. While a proportion is consumed domestically, some 0.9 million tons, a significant percentage is exported to the European market, usually under annual supply agreements. If that tonnage is denied the European market due to sanctions, competitions authorities may worry the remaining suppliers will have too much influence to ensure an open and competitive marketplace.

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Fortunately, Rio is making good profits out of its aluminum business, the Financial Times reports — some U.S. $1.58 billion last year — so it is hardly desperate for a sale.

Still, investors were not heartened by the news. Rio’s share price dropped $0.14 on the news, down nearly 16% from its 2018 high of $86.75 in May of this year.

Grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) prices fell for the second month in a row, with multiple large power equipment manufacturers requesting exclusions from the Section 232 tariffs.

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What makes these requests noteworthy involves the arguments made by each of the firms. One of the most interesting arguments pits two different firms on opposite ends of the national security argument – Eaton Corp (parent company of Cooper Power Systems) and AK Steel.

The Section 232 exemption request form asks a specific question with regard to whether the steel is used to support national security requirements. Cooper Power responded by stating the materials in the exemption are used to make transformers for the electrical grid, of which infrastructure is considered essential to national security: “This product allows Cooper Power Systems, LLC to meet federally maintained efficiency requirements in Liquid Filled Transformers as published by the D.O.E.”

The Cooper Power request involved, “chemically etched or mechanically scribed Domain Refined Grain Oriented Electrical Steels, capable of retaining domain refined properties post anneal, used in the manufacture of Distribution Transformers,” according to its exemption request. Cooper Power argued “the only domestic producer of electrical steels in the U.S., does not manufacture a Domain Refined Electrical Steel capable of being annealed after Transformer core production, while still retaining the Domain Refined properties.”

Ironically, Metglas, and not AK Steel, offered a rebuttal to the Cooper Power exclusion request that specifically addressed alternative products, notably amorphous ribbon, that could meet DOE requirements. Metglas also challenged the volumes Cooper Power had indicated – specifically that the volumes requested in the exclusion far exceed Cooper Power’s actual volume requirements.

Meanwhile, ABB’s exclusion request cited insufficient U.S. availability of 27M-0H, which it claims is not manufactured in the U.S. (This grade is high-permeability GOES.)

AK Steel — the only mill that challenged the ABB exclusion — made several arguments in its rebuttal, including:

ABB has moved away from several suppliers in the US and globally over the past few years. Changing suppliers and materials seems to be less of a concern to ABB when it achieves a financial return by purchasing foreign GOES. AK Steel is, and has been for many years, the largest supplier of GOES to the U.S. market. ABB knows AK Steel’s product very well and both ABB and its customers can plan to incorporate AK Steel GOES with little effort or hardship, just as they have in the past.

The company goes on to say, “As the largest domestic producer of GOES, a large percentage of transformers utilize AK Steel GOES products and it is a very well-known and broadly utilized product, both by ABB and their customers.” However, neither the buyer or supplier has explained fully why the GOES market appears more opaque than many other steel markets.

The Takeaway

In reality, power equipment manufacturers deploy a more multifaceted approach to the GOES sourcing decision. In fact, multiple GOES grades can meet various requirements as established by the DOE but the ultimate award decision made by a buyer considers many variables, such as: core loss, regulatory requirements, and the price arbitrage among alternative GOES products at any one given time. Together, these variables impact the buying decision.

From a sourcing perspective, manufacturers want and need the ability to maintain flexible sourcing options, not only to mitigate risk but to minimize the pricing power of a monopoly supplier. Moreover, the transformer market is dominated by global players who can easily shift production of transformer cores elsewhere (as they did after the unsuccessful 2014 anti-dumping case brought by AK Steel).

Buying organizations will continue to shift production away from the U.S. if the sourcing equation does not make economic sense. Regardless, should Big River Steel indeed move into this market —  as many hope that they will — AK Steel will need more than Section 232 to defend its market position.

In a subsequent post, MetalMiner will address the exemption request from Posco and the Section 301 tariffs.

Exact GOES Coil Price This Month

The U.S. grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) coil price fell for the second month in a row from $2,857/mt to $2,763/mt. The MMI fell seven points from 207 to 200.

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The GOES MMI® collects and weights 1 global grain-oriented electrical steel price point to provide a unique view into price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the GOES MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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Some commentators were calling the imminent collapse of the aluminum price last month — certainly, it tested the bottom of its recent range, at just below $2,000 per metric ton on the LME.

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But the price has since rallied and is currently range bound between $2,000-$2,075, seemingly suppressed by a strong dollar and the general depression of commodity prices by fears of a trade war. Yet, it is supported by the net deficit position the Western world’s aluminum market has been in last year and this year.

One dynamic that has not featured greatly — but is fast becoming a major concern — is the alumina price.

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The Stainless Steel Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell again this month. The slide of six points moved the index to 72 from the previous 78 reading. Lower nickel prices led the fall, while domestic stainless steel surcharges also fell.

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The drop in the index comes a result of a MetalMiner adjustment to a couple of metals that make up the Stainless MMI. The adjustment is not due to a dramatic fall in nickel or stainless prices.

LME Nickel

LME nickel prices traded lower in August and have continued to drop so far in September.

Nickel prices seemed more volatile in August than for the whole of 2018. Current prices have returned to January 2018 levels. Despite the recent downtrend, nickel prices have remained in an uptrend since last summer (June-July), when prices started to increase sharply.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

A fundamental tightness in the nickel market could also add more support to nickel prices. Combined nickel stocks have fallen by 45% since the beginning of 2016. LME nickel stocks have fallen for 11 consecutive months, and currently stand at 248,328 tons (back to 2013 levels).

SHFE stocks have fallen by 82% since 2016, when SHFE stocks reached 110,000 tons. Current SHFE stock levels stand at 18,844 tons.

Domestic Stainless Steel Market

Domestic stainless steel surcharges fell for the second time since the beginning of the year. The 316/316L-coil NAS surcharge fell to $0.99/pound, while the 304/304L decreased to $0.70/pound.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The pace of stainless steel surcharge increases seems to have slowed this month, along with steel (and stainless steel) price increases. However, stainless steel surcharges remain in a clear uptrend and appear well above 2015-2017 lows.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Stainless steel price momentum slowed down slightly this past month. However, both steel and nickel remain in a bull market.

Therefore, buying organizations may want to follow the market closely for opportunities to buy on the dips. To understand how to adapt buying strategies to your specific needs on a monthly basis, request a free trial of our Monthly Outlook now.

Actual Stainless Steel Prices and Trends

Both Chinese 304 stainless steel coil fell by 1%, while Chinese 316 stainless steel coil prices increased this month by 3.02%.

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Chinese Ferrochrome prices decreased this month by 4.25%, falling to $1,848/mt. Nickel prices also fell 9.56% to $12,570/mt.

The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) traded sideways this month, driven by slower domestic steel price momentum. The current Raw Steels MMI fell to May 2018 levels.

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Domestic steel prices have started to fall slightly. Prices traded lower in August, showing some downward momentum. Buying organizations may want to remember that this year domestic steel prices have remained at more than seven-year highs.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

All forms of steel decreased in August. HRC, CRC and HDG showed weaker momentum. Meanwhile, plate prices held stronger in August. Plate prices had the support of low metal availability. However, plate prices lost momentum at the end of August and prices decreased. So far in September, prices for all steel forms declined.

The recent slowdown in steel prices may comes down to historical steel price cyclicality. Domestic steel prices have remained in a sharp uptrend since January 2018. Prices have started to come off slightly but remain higher than last year’s average.

Chinese Steel Prices

So far in September, Chinese steel prices have increased. Chinese steel prices increased in August, recovering price momentum. Chinese steel prices appear to be in a recovery and have started an uptrend, after a slight downtrend since the beginning of the year. Higher Chinese domestic demand has supported prices.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Chinese steel prices tend to drive U.S. domestic steel prices. Therefore, buying organizations may want to keep a close eye on pricing.

The Spread

The hot-rolled coil and cold-rolled coil spread seems to be weaker than historical pricing.

The spread has been historically around the +/- $100/st level. However, the spread started a divergence back in November 2015, reaching around $200/st. 

The current spread now stands at $79/st. This means that CRC and HRC prices have become closer than anticipated. Market anomalies sometimes create divergences in prices. However, this may correct soon.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Since steel prices remain high, buying organizations may want to follow price movements closely to decide when to commit to mid- and long-term purchases. Adapting the right buying strategy becomes crucial to reducing risks.

Only the MetalMiner monthly outlooks provide a continually updated snapshot of the market from which buying organizations can determine when and how much to buy of the underlying metal. Click here for more information on how to mitigate price risk year-round and request your two-month free trial.

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Actual Raw Steel Prices and Trends

The U.S. Midwest HRC 3-month futures price fell this month by 3.68%, falling to $785/st.

Chinese steel billet prices increased sharply this month by 11.56%, while Chinese slab prices increased just by 1.17%, moving to $634/mt.

The U.S. shredded scrap price closed the month at $354/st, decreasing from last month.

In September, the Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell again by four points. The Copper MMI has continued to slide, mainly driven by weaker LME copper prices in August. The current Copper MMI stands at 73 points.

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The recent Copper MMI hit July 2017 levels, when prices breached the $5,980/mt then-resistance level and started to skyrocket.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets

Copper pricing has been sliding, driven by concerns about a Chinese economic slowdown. However, fundamentals indicate the metal will remain in a deficit. Stock levels have decreased on the major exchanges.

Supply issues have eased in most Chilean mines. Workers at the Chilean Escondida mine signed a new labor agreement after the government mediated  the conflict. However, workers at the Caserones mine remains on strike.

Meanwhile, copper production at Codelco, Chile’s state-owned mine, increased 2% in the first six months of 2018 to 813,000 tons.

Russia seems to have moved toward developing the base metal, too. Construction has just started at the biggest undeveloped copper deposit in Russia. Udokan serves as the largest undeveloped copper deposit in Russia, with 26.7 million tons of copper (it is also one of the biggest in the world).

However, copper faces one large problem. Smelting capacity continues to grow, but the base metal availability has moved moved toward a larger deficit. Therefore, buying organizations may see decreasing treatment and refining charges next year.

Chinese Scrap Copper

LME copper prices and Chinese copper scrap prices tend to follow the same trend. Both appear to be in a long-term uptrend.

However, both LME copper and scrap copper prices fell again this month. So far in September, copper scrap prices have fallen less than LME copper prices. The spread has tightened again (the wider the spread, the higher the copper scrap consumption and, therefore, the price).

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Copper scrap has come into the line of fire of the new 25% tariff imposed by China. The tariff went into effect Aug. 23. The new levies imposed by China on $16 billion of U.S. goods include U.S. scrap metals, waste paper and plastic cargoes.

In Q1 of this year, China imported 132,000 metric tons of copper scrap. The U.S. serves as the second-largest supplier of copper scrap to China, just behind Hong Kong.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Despite the recent dip, LME copper prices still remain strong. Buying organizations will want to understand how to react to the latest copper price movements. Adapting the right buying strategy becomes crucial to reduce risks. Only the MetalMiner monthly outlooks provide a continually updated snapshot of the market from which buying organizations can determine when and how much to buy of the underlying metal.

Click here for more info on how to mitigate price risk year-round and request your free trial to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

Actual Copper Prices and Trends

In August, most of the prices comprising the Copper MMI basket decreased.

LME copper fell again, dropping 6.21% month over month as of Sept. 1. Indian copper prices decreased by 5.9%, while Chinese primary copper prices fell by 4.8%.

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Prices of U.S. copper producer grades 110 and 122 fell by 6.42%. Meanwhile, the price of U.S. copper producer grade 102 fell by 6.10%, down to $3.54/pound.

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MetalMiner’s Global Precious Monthly Metals Index (MMI) — tracking a basket of platinum, palladium, gold and silver prices in several geographies across the globe — continues its trek downward.

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The Global Precious MMI clocked a value of 81 for its September 2018 reading, down 1.2% from 82 last month — and reaching a low not seen since January 2017.

Here’s What Happened

Both U.S. platinum and U.S. gold took sizable hits this month.

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As the Oct. 23 deadline approaches, the aluminum market is taking no risks on continued supply from Russia’s Rusal, Reuters reports.

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The industry traditionally gets together in Berlin this week to negotiate annual supply contracts for 2019 with billet makers, rolling mills and casting plants rubbing shoulders at a conference known, as Reuters notes, as the “mating season” … except one stag in the herd has been shut out.

European customers will avoid 2019 supply deals with Rusal. “We can’t agree a deal with Rusal on the basis that sanctions will be lifted by Oct. 23,” a Rusal customer in Europe is quoted by Reuters as saying, adding “Anyone that has a relationship with Rusal will be preparing for the sanctions to remain in place for now.”

The aluminum market has so far been relaxed about the fallout from Rusal being placed under sanctions at the beginning of April once a stay of execution was granted later in the month. The expectation has been the sanctions would be lifted in October.

But over the last week or two, doubts are being raised and the fear factor is dissuading buyers from taking the risk.

This is no small issue for the industry, although the market has since had time to adjust to the idea. The reality is the aluminum supply market is in deficit and Rusal still contributes some 6% of global supplies.

Even if sanctions are somehow avoided next month, Rusal will be without its normal quota of annual supply contracts, forcing it to sell on the spot market. Reuters suggests this will contribute to volatility next year, even if the market can access all the metal it needs.

But if Oleg Deripaska fails to sufficiently distance himself from Rusal and En+, such that sanctions are applied as currently expected, expect physical delivery premiums in Europe to rise again and for considerable disruption to the supply market next year. You cannot take nearly 4 million tons a year of metal out of an already tight market and not expect there to be casualties.

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The industry’s calm over the summer is going to be tested in coming weeks as the deadline approaches. Even if sanctions are avoided, the result of Rusal being left with only a spot market next year will in itself contribute to volatility buyers could do without.

The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) dropped one point this month, falling for a reading of 17.

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China Raises Quota for Rare Earth Smelting, Separation

On Aug. 27, China’s Ministry for Industry and Information Technology announced it would increase the quota on rare earth smelting and separation.

The quota increased 15% to 115,000 tons, according to Reuters.

Caught in the Crossfire

The South China Morning Post reported on a Chinese company that could get caught up in the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.

Shenghe Resources Holding, as the Post notes, is one firm in a consortium that has invested in the Mountain Pass mine in the U.S. (which was the only operating rare earths mine in the U.S. before owner Molycorp filed for bankruptcy in 2015).

If the back and forth results in China imposing a tariff on U.S. rare earths, as the article notes, that could throw a wrench into the consortium’s plans to export materials from the mine to China and, moreover, impact the mine’s viability.

Rare Earth Recycling

The US Federal Laboratories Consortium recently recognized a team of researchers for their work on a rare-earth magnet recycling process.

According to Recycling International, researchers from the Critical Minerals Institute and Ames Laboratory were honored with the Notable Technology Development Award for their work on a rare-earth magnet recycling process.

”A unique strength of this technology is that operational hazards and negative environmental impacts associated with acid-based dissolution process are eliminated without sacrificing purity, efficiency and potential economic impact” said Ikenna Nlebedim, the lead investigator for the research, in an Ames Laboratory release on the news.

Given China’s overwhelming dominance of the global rare earths market, the U.S. has continued to explore options to move away from dependence on foreign sources of the materials. According to the release, the process entails magnets being “dissolved in water-based solutions, recovering more than 99 percent purity rare earth elements.”

According to the Ames Laboratory announcement, collaboration is ongoing with a commercial partner, Infinium Metals, to produce metal ingots at a larger scale.

Per the release, patents are being filed for the researchers’ recycling process.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Yttrium fell to $32.88/kilogram, down 0.5%. Terbium oxide fell 0.5%, down to $427.39/kilogram.

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Neodymium oxide dropped 1.5% to $46,245.80/mt. Europium oxide fell 6.8% to $43.10/kilogram. Dysprosium oxide fell 0.9% to $167.30/kilogram.