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The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

Last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it had launched anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing duty investigations of steel rack imports from China.

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The alleged dumping margins in the AD case are 130.0-144.5%, according to a DOC release.

The DOC added there 28 alleged subsidy programs for steel racks, “including five preferential loan and interest rate programs, one debt-to-equity swap program, six income tax and other direct subsidy programs, two indirect tax programs, seven less than adequate remuneration (LTAR) programs, as well as seven grant programs.”

The petition in the case was filed by the Coalition for Fair Rack Imports, which estimates that imports of steel racks in 2017 were valued at approximately $200 million.

Products covered in the investigation includes “steel racks and parts thereof, assembled, to any extent, or unassembled, including but not limited to, vertical components (e.g., uprights, posts, or columns), horizontal or diagonal components (e.g., arms or beams), braces, frames, locking devices (i.e., end plates and beam connectors), and accessories (including, but not limited to, rails, skid channels, skid rails, drum/coil beds, fork clearance bars, pallet supports, column and post protectors, end row and end aisle protectors, corner guards, row spacers, and wall ties).”

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The U.S. International Trade Commission is scheduled to make a preliminary ruling by Aug. 6, with the DOC following suit Sept. 13.

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The U.S. and India are scheduled to sit across the table this week in Geneva to discuss the case filed by India with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute settlement mechanism over the U.S.’s imposition of import duties on steel and aluminum.

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The talks will be held under the aegis of WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism, according to a news report by the Press Trust of India.

India is part of the group of nations — which includes China, Russia and Norway, among others — to have filed separate dispute claims on the topic with the WTO. The meeting is part of the consultations the U.S. will be holding with all such countries on July 19-20.

It may be recalled that the U.S. had imposed a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports from India. India’s exports of the two commodities to the U.S. stands at about U.S. $1.5 billion per annum. India had initially tried to raise the issue with the U.S., and then informally with the WTO, calling the move an “abuse of global trade provisions that could spiral into a trade war,” — sentiments similar to the one expressed by India’s neighbor, China.

In May, India dragged the U.S. to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism over the imposition of import duties.

Consultation is the first step of the dispute settlement process. Incidentally, both the countries are already involved in disputes at the global trade body in the areas of poultry, solar, and export subsidies, to name a few.

According to another news report, senior trade officials of India and the U.S. will meet later this month in Washington to conclude negotiations on a “mutually-acceptable trade package.” Quoting an unnamed official source, it said the meeting comes amid an escalation of the global trade war.

Since India’s proposed additional tariff worth U.S. $235 million on 29 U.S. goods — including almonds and apples — are retaliatory in nature, any rollback of the additional duty on Indian steel and aluminum by the U.S. will lead to a withdrawal of corresponding taxes by the Indian Government on U.S. goods, too.

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The U.S. sees good prospects for its companies in the Indian civil aviation, oil and gas, education service, and agriculture segments.

It was another busy month in the world of metals.

Then again, these days quiet months in metals or in trade, generally, are few and far between.

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Trade tensions continued to rise, as $34 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect (China responded in kind), and an additional $16 billion in tariffs are under review. This week, President Donald Trump announced the intention to impose an additional $200 billion in tariffs on China, ratcheting up the stakes even further.

Meanwhile, a Section 232 investigation focusing on imports of automobiles and automotive components is unfolding. More than 2,300 public comments were submitted as part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s review process, and public hearings are scheduled for next week.

Meanwhile, in metals markets, most base metals were down last month, with steel being the exception.

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A few highlights from this month’s round of Monthly Metal Index (MMI) reports:

  • Since peaking at $7,316/mt in June, the LME copper price dropped 12%.
  • The subindex for grain-oriented electrical steel was the only MMI to post an increase on the month.
  • The U.S. silver price hit its lowest level since January 2017, while U.S. gold bullion dropped to a one-year low.
  • Aluminum prices were also part of the general downtrend, as prices continued to move away from this year’s April peak (after Russian companies and their owners, including aluminum giant Rusal, were slapped with sanctions by the U.S.).

Read about all of the above and much more by downloading the July MMI report below.

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Here’s What Happened

MetalMiner’s Global Precious Monthly Metals Index (MMI), tracking a basket of precious metals from across the globe, dropped four points (a loss of 4.5%) for the June reading after holding flat for three straight months.

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Incidentally, the July 2018 MMI value hit its lowest point since exactly one year ago, when it last clocked in at 84.

Individual price points within this precious metals basket hit some historic lows as well.

The U.S. silver price hit $16.09 per ounce for the July 1 reading, the lowest since January 2017 (when it took an anomalous dip down to $15.80 for one month before bouncing back up). U.S. gold bullion has languished back down to the mid-$1,200s, a one-year low.

And both platinum and palladium have come off considerably, with the U.S. bar price of the former dipping below $900 per ounce for the first time since February 2016.

What Buyers Should Consider

  • Keep an eye on the U.S. dollar. A stronger dollar of late, which had gotten a bump from recent better-than-expected U.S. manufacturing data at the beginning of the month, pressures platinum prices because “it makes greenback-priced precious metals more expensive for holders of other currencies,” according to Reuters.
  • Gold is also in the crosshairs of a stronger dollar. In fact, that has become “the biggest obstacle” for gold prices in the near and long term, according to a recent JP Morgan price forecast report cited by Kitco.
  • The threat of auto tariffs has also burned platinum pricing. Due to the pricey PGM’s use in diesel engines, “the threat of protectionist policies has fueled bets that slower trade activity will disrupt the global economy, reducing commodity consumption” — including that of platinum in cars, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

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The collapse of iron ore prices in the face of oversupply has been threatened for the last few years.

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Following massive investments in Australia and Brazil, oversupply was expected to hit dwindling demand on the back of a cooling Chinese property market and an environmental crackdown on excess steel production.

Yet despite repeated dire warnings, prices have, if anything, gone the other way, rising to over $67 per ton during May and only falling back during the following month.

Finally, it seems gravity is reasserting itself and prices are beginning to ease.

While oversupply has not manifested itself as a flood, producers have shown remarkable market discipline, and it has meant ample margins remove one barrier to producers following the market down.

In part, Chinese efforts to reduce excess capacity have supported steel prices by supporting finished steel prices and, hence, steel producers’ margins, rather than impact iron ore demand. A focus on pollution has boosted demand for higher-grade iron ore, supporting prices for the highest purity Australian and Brazilian grades and reducing demand for lower-grade material produced in India, Africa and Iran.

According to Reuters, constraints on steel producers have tightened the domestic steel market and demands that steel companies and coke producers meet ultra-low emissions targets has further supported prices for top-grade material.

Spot ore with 62% content delivered to north China was at $63.85 a ton, according to Mysteel.com. But prices have lost ground of late, with further expectations for an easing in prices by the end of the year coming amid signals China is cooling off.

Fears over the effects of a trade war with America have not only hit the stock market.

A combination of cooling demand as debt tightens and new supply in Brazil and Australia has to find a home and will, it is believed, drive down prices for both steel products and iron ore. Iron ore may get dragged lower in the second half as global mine supply expands, steel prices ease off, and renewed production curbs at mills in China blunt overall demand.

Prices may drop to $60/mt in the next quarter and $55 in the fourth, according to Sun Feng, senior ferrous metals analyst at Orient Futures Co, who has more than a decade of experience tracking the market, as quoted in the Gulf Times.

CRU Group also sees a slight fall, with prices bottoming just below $60 in October or November.

“The outlook of iron ore prices is not rosy, particularly in the fourth quarter,” Sun was quoted as saying.

The death of iron ore has been predicted many times over the last few years. However, a combination of higher-than-expected demand and market discipline by suppliers has kept prices relatively buoyant.

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Nonetheless, it does seem as if the stars are aligned now for a fall.

The Stainless Steel Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell slightly this month, down to 82 from 84.

Despite the fall in the Stainless Steel MMI, the index remains at February 2015 highs.

The index dropped due to a slight decrease in LME nickel prices in June. However, stainless steel surcharges inched higher again this month, remaining in a strong uptrend.

LME Nickel

In June, nickel price momentum slowed down slightly. However, the short-term slide in June came as a result of a general downtrend in base metals. LME nickel prices remain in a long-term uptrend since June 2017.

Nickel long-term prices. Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Buying organizations can expect higher prices in the coming months.

MetalMiner previously recommended buying some volume forward. Given the current uncertainty in the steel and stainless industries, nickel prices remain supported for the short term.

A fundamental tightness in the nickel market has also added support to the latest nickel price increases.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines announced a possible halt to mining in the country due to environmental damage. In June, 23 out of 27 mines passed an environmental review, easing the uncertainty of supply. However, nickel supply uncertainty still remains as a result of environmental measures.

Domestic Stainless Steel Market

Following the recovery in stainless steel momentum, domestic stainless steel surcharges increased again this month.

The 316/316L-coil NAS surcharge reached $1.06/pound, while the 304/304L went up to $0.7698.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The pace of stainless steel surcharge increases appears to have recovered its previous level again this month. Stainless steel surcharges remain in a clear uptrend and appear well above 2015-2017 lows.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Stainless steel momentum slowed down slightly this 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, take a free trial to our Monthly Outlook now.

Actual Stainless Steel Prices and Trends

Chinese 304 stainless steel coil prices fell this month by 5.91%, while Chinese 316 stainless steel coil prices fell by 4.98%.

Chinese Ferrochrome prices decreased this month by 1% to $1,970/mt. Nickel prices fell 1.38% to $15,000/mt.

The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell two points this month, dropping to 90 from the previous 92 reading.

Domestic steel price momentum continued, as domestic steel prices increased again. Chinese steel prices also increased in June, adding support to domestic steel prices.

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Domestic steel prices remain at a more than seven-year high.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Steel prices also increased at the beginning of July (except for HDG, which dropped slightly). The pace of the increases seems to have slowed, but prices remain in an uptrend. Therefore, buying organizations can expect high steel prices.

However, the historical cyclicality may move prices lower at some point.

Domestic steel prices have stayed in a sharp uptrend since January 2018. Current prices have started to trade more sideways. Despite the increase in prices, prices may begin to come off slightly at some point this year. Buying organizations may want to identify that moment to commit to purchases and reduce risks.

The Spread

The CRC-HRC domestic spread appears to be back at its historical level.

The domestic spread should be around $100/st. However, in 2016 the spread started to increase, reaching more than $200/st. The spread currently stands at $111/st.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Chinese Steel Prices

Chinese steel prices recovered from a previous downtrend and increased again in June.

Early July price indications show slightly lower prices. However, Chinese steel prices appear to be in a recovery uptrend.

All Chinese forms of steel have dropped slightly so far in July (except HDG prices, which inched higher).

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Chinese steel output increased again in May, despite steel product exports dropping around 20% during the first four months of the year. Strong Chinese domestic demand has kept mills running at full capacity.

However, Chinese steelmakers are currently seeking alternative markets, such as Africa and South America.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Since steel prices remain high, buying organizations may want to closely follow price movements to decide when to commit to mid- and long-term purchases.

Buying organizations looking for more clarity on when to buy and how much to buy may want to take a free trial now to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

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Actual Raw Steel Prices and Trends

The U.S. Midwest HRC 3-month futures price fell this month by 5.86%, falling to $852/st.

Chinese steel billet prices decreased again this month by 0.17%, while Chinese slab prices fell further by 3.72%, moving to $640/mt.

The U.S. shredded scrap price closed the month at $371/st, trading flat from last month’s reading.

The GOES Monthly Metals Index (MMI) jumped by 14 points, marking the second consecutive monthly increase. The increase came as a result of tightness globally for thin gauge material, Section 232 import tariffs and healthy global demand.

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Japan excels at the production of thin gauge material used to improve transformer efficiency. Last month, MetalMiner reported Japanese mills sought to raise prices for the second half of this year by $100+/ton. A recent TEX report suggests European mills will seek similar increases for the second half of this year for middle-grade materials.

That leaves the sole domestic producer, AK Steel, in a strong position to ask for price increases for 2019 as buying organizations come back into the market for contract pricing. Meanwhile, Big River Steel earlier this year announced plans to produce grain-oriented steels, including H1B. The company, according to its website, wanted to first produce all of the nine grades of motor lamination steels and will now turn its focus toward grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) and non-oriented electrical steel (NOES) – a welcome development to buying organizations.

Meanwhile, in early July, Nachi American Incorporated filed five additional exclusion requests for M2 materials. All of the materials within those exclusion requests appear within the standard product range for AK Steel. Nachi American a cited lack of sufficient availability as the reason for requesting the exclusion. The company currently imports its material from Japan.

South Korea, by way of negotiated agreement, remains exempt from the tariffs, though subject to quotas. However, according to International Trade Administration import data and MetalMiner analysis, South Korean imports make up only a paltry 26.3 tons. In other words, more imports from South Korea could come into the U.S. without the tariff.

GOES imports dropped dramatically since the Section 232 proclamation but Japan still represents the lion’s share: 

Source: ITA

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Exact GOES Coil Price This Month

The U.S. grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) coil jumped for the second straight month from $2,712/mt to $2,914/mt. The GOES MMI increased 14 points from 197 to 211.

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.

The July Aluminum Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell six points, falling to April 2018 levels. The Aluminum MMI now stands at 95 points.

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LME aluminum prices fell in June and have continued to slide so far in July.

However, the rate of the declines has slowed.

Price changes do not appear sharp and selling trading volume remains weak. The price decrease looks like a retracement after the peak in April due to Russian sanctions.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

LME aluminum prices have fallen toward December 2017 and April 2018 lows. These levels served  as a support to aluminum prices both times, and could cause aluminum prices to bounce back after reaching support.

Global Aluminum

At least for the short term, it appears as though trade policies will impact the global aluminum market.

After the U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum in March, plus additional sanctions on Russia, aluminum now waits for its next cue.

Canada announced punitive measures on C$16.6 billion ($12.63 billion) worth of American goods in response to U.S. tariffs. The measures will stand until Washington changes the current aluminum and steel tariffs on Canada. Europe also responded to the U.S., approving provisional measures.

Russia became the seventh complainant to ask for a consultation with WTO members against the U.S. duties on steel and aluminum. China, India, the E.U., Canada, Mexico and Norway previously filed similar complaints.

SHFE Aluminum

Chinese SHFE aluminum prices decreased slightly in June, following the LME aluminum trend.

The slide appears less sharp than for LME aluminum prices, but still follows the main short-term downtrend.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

U.S. Domestic Aluminum

As a result of ongoing uncertainty in the aluminum market, U.S. Midwest aluminum premiums have skyrocketed this year.

July’s premiums, however, have held flat since last month at $0.20/pound. Current levels remain  at more than four-year highs.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Despite the recent downtrend, the LME aluminum price trend suggests a continuation of the bull market that started last year.

Tariffs, sanctions and the latest tariff non-exemptions to Canada, Mexico and the E.U. may add support to rising prices, both for LME aluminum and the U.S. Midwest premium. Adapting the right buying strategy becomes crucial to reducing risks.

Buying organizations that want to start doing so now may want to take a free trial now to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

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Actual Aluminum Prices and Trends

The Aluminum MMI basket generally fell this month. LME aluminum prices decreased this month by 5.51%, with a closing price in June of $2,160/mt.

Meanwhile, Korean Commercial 1050 sheet fell by 1.38%. Chinese aluminum primary cash prices decreased by 7.21%, while Chinese aluminum bar just fell 5.22%. Chinese aluminum billet prices also decreased 5.30% this month, down to $2,323/mt.

The Indian primary cash price fell by 7.36% to $2.14/kilogram.

This is not the first time critics have lined up to suggest Glencore is on the ropes, but close to the wind as the trader often sails, the firm will likely find solutions to its current challenges, substantial as they are.

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And let’s not belittle the challenges the firm is facing. The U.S. Department of Justice, no less, is investigating the company’s business dealings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Venezuela and Nigeria as part of a corruption probe, Reuters reports.

If wrongdoing is proven, then Glencore and its executives could face huge fines or even criminal prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act the U.S. is pursuing.

Some have speculated that the DoJ’s action was triggered by Glencore’s announcement that it would settle a case for mining debts with Dan Gertler — a mining billionaire on a U.S. sanctions list — in Euros to avoid the sanctions, which forbid payments in dollars. It is suggested the authorities would have taken a dim view of circumventing the sanctions by switching currencies, even though Glencore claims it had taken advice from the appropriate authorities.

Source: Financial Times

Not surprisingly, the share price reacted negatively to the news, dropping 12% and suffering its worst day in over two years following this week’s announcement of the U.S. subpoena.

The share price is down about 18% this year and was hovering near one-year lows as the company’s share price continues to underperform its peers, despite producing healthy profits and slashing its debts. The company reacted by announcing a $1 billion share buyback. Some critics saw that as an act of hubris, but the announcement helped the share price recover (at least in the short term).

In the longer term, investors will want to see a lower risk profile, but in life you can rarely have your cake and eat it too. Much of Glencore’s success and phenomenal growth has been down to successfully managing a high-risk profile, operating in unstable parts of the world and dealing with less scrupulous regimes in the process. That doesn’t make Glencore unscrupulous themselves, but it does open them up to the attention of authorities keen to ensure such a major corporation is behaving responsibly.

Suggestions that this investigation is the beginning of the end of Glencore are far overdone, but the investigation will prove lengthy, absorbing of management time and has the potential to unearth connections and dealings that the firm may not even be aware of (guilty by association, if you like).

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Still, Glencore has been here before and will no doubt weather this storm as it has previous ones.