Market Analysis

Nickel has been in the throes of a long bear market, but there are reasons to be optimistic about a price bounceback for this industrial metal.

According to a recent report from the Financial Times, demand from China and the electric car battery market heating up could spur a nickel price boost in the coming months.

However, investors should still exercise caution.

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“True, there are plenty of negatives out there,” writes Alan Livsey for the Financial Times. “Supply growth from smelters in China and Indonesia has yet to abate. Forced destocking from end users and traders has made matters worse. Goldman Sachs expects net supply growth will nearly triple in 2018 from the estimated 37,000 tonnes this year.”

Livsey added if supply can be curtailed and demand grows as projected, nickel’s once low reputation with investors could see a significant change in direction.

Are Commodities as a Whole ‘Losing their Roar’?

Our own Irene Martinez Canorea recently wrote how June has not been particularly kind to metal producers, beginning with the U.S. Federal Reserve spiking interest rates up by 0.25%.

She writes: “The most recent Fed rate hike breathed a little life into the dollar, which has fallen for most of this year. We believe this could have a direct impact on the metals industry — namely, causing prices to fall.”

How will nickel and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth nickel 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:

In the week when the world pensively awaits the U.S.’s Section 232 judgement — a move promised by President Donald Trump during his election campaign and aimed largely at China — a recent Reuters report on Chinese steel exports makes interesting reading.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Source: Reuters

China’s steel exports have been sliding for months.

According to Reuters, China’s January-May export total was 34.2 million tons, down 26% from last year’s equivalent period and the lowest level since 2014. The year drop in export tonnage amounted to 12.1 million tons — roughly equivalent to Canada’s production over a full 12-month period, Reuters reported.

Yet bizarrely enough, China produced 72.78 million tons of steel in April, an all-time record Reuters says. The following month, China tallied the second-highest monthly total at 72.26 million tons.

Meanwhile, profits on products like steel rebar have surged to $162 dollars per ton this month, as inventory levels have fallen and demand has remained robust (particularly from the construction sector). Investment in real estate is running at an annual growth rate over 6%, Reuters reports. Although there are fears of overheating in some regions, real estate has been stronger for longer than analysts outside the market expected.

As we noted in a piece yesterday reviewing the 232 probe, China’s share of the U.S. import market for steel products has been falling for the last couple of years, mainly due to successful anti-dumping cases. China no longer appears even in the top 10.

So, what exactly is going on in China with respect to steel production and demand? Can we take it that Beijing’s actions to tackle excess steel production have finally resolved China’s deflationary impact on global steel markets?

First, Reuters notes that China has been quite successful in permanently closing previously shuttered steel plants, as well as in in tackling older and more environmentally damaging mills. Those actions combined has resulted in the removal of some 100 million tons of capacity.

In addition, Beijing’s focus on environmental issues has hastened the closure of induction furnaces, which use scrap rather than iron ore as their input and are often labelled as producers of sub-standard products (and, hence, unapproved). Unapproved equates to illegal by Beijing — as such, their production and their closures does not figure in the normal statistics. A significant proportion of China’s rebar production came from these mills, which explains the record profits being earned by surviving state-owned manufacturers of the same products as they capitalize on the removal of these scrappy competitors.

Unfortunately, nobody expects China’s construction market to continue at the current pace and a slowdown is in the forecast for the second half of the year.  Replenishment of low inventory levels will maintain steel mill production runs for a while, but as Reuters notes, China’s mills have a notoriously poor record in adjusting output to demand. So, we should expect that as demand eases, inventorying levels will rise, prices will fall, and access production may well begin to leak through exports onto the international market.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

While America’s anti-dumping legislation will largely protect that market from Chinese material, the rest of the world may find itself under pressure next year from greater availability of Chinese steel at falling prices, further fueling an already rising tide of protectionist sentiment in both developed and emerging markets.

AdobeStock/vvoe

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) released preliminary data for this year, which showed the global market for refined zinc metal was in deficit during the first four months of the year. Total reported zinc inventories also declined during that time.

The ILZSG report stated that world zinc mine production grew 7.3% for the first four months of 2017 compared to the same time last year, mostly due to increased output in China, India, Peru, Turkey and Eritrea.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

Furthermore, growth in refined zinc metal production in France, Kazakhstan and India were offset by reductions in Peru, Canada and the Republic of Korea, leading to an overall worldwide increase of 1.6%.

Worldwide refined zinc metal demand grew 3.7% during this time frame, mostly due to a 42.9% recovery in apparent usage in the U.S.

China’s Effect on Zinc Prices

The ILZSG report stated: “China imported a total of 385kt of zinc contained in zinc concentrates, an increase of 58kt compared to the same period of 2016. Chinese net imports of refined zinc metal amounted to 99kt, a decrease of 114kt.”

How will zinc and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth zinc 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:

A magnifying glass is on steel, particularly Chinese steel.

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

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 steel and stainless steel investigation appears to be under the watchful eye of European leaders.

In that vein, newly released Chinese data has not gone unnoticed.

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Physical delivery premiums are a pretty accurate measure of primary aluminum metal supply. They reflect the balance between suppliers’ aspirations for the highest price and buyers’ determination for the opposite.

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

The setting of physical delivery premiums is, therefore, a function of supply and demand — or, more accurately, the availability of physical metal in the marketplace.

So when Metal Bulletin announced that third-quarter main Japanese port (MJP) premiums have fallen 7.4% quarter on quarter and settled for the July-September period at $118-119/ton, from $128/ton in the second quarter, it supported anecdotal evidence that, despite supply disruption from Australia and New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific market remains well supplied.

Source: Reuters

Credit for this — if “credit” is the correct term — goes in part to China’s failure to sufficiently implement supply-side reform of its aluminum sector.

The aluminum price rose strongly in the first quarter with the expectation that Beijing’s announcements regarding curtailment of excess aluminum capacity would be vigorously implemented this year.

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China is far from alone in worrying about an investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce into the impact of imported steel on the U.S. steel industry (due to be announced this week).

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

The Section 232 investigation is the result of a campaign pledge by President Donald Trump to protect domestic steelmakers against foreign steel imports. Section 232 uses as its test whether imports have been detrimentally harmed the U.S. ability to produce steel for its defense industry, and while it is not country-specific there was little secret at whom it was primarily aimed.

The worry in Europe, generally, and in the U.K. in particular, is that supplies from the region will be caught up in a blanket Section 232 ruling, applying onerous duties that could hit some local steelmakers disproportionately hard.

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So far, June is busting out all over, but not in the way metals producers would like.

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

Market observers may actually observe a possible change in trend (note: the current bull market, which began in May 2016, appears to have run out of steam).

First, the Fed hiked interest rates by 0.25% last Thursday. Though expected, it will most likely not impact markets in an abrupt way.

Let’s take a look at some of the key indicators:

Dollar Up

Source: TradingEconomics.com

The most recent Fed rate hike breathed a little life into the dollar, which has fallen for most of this year.

We believe this could have a direct impact on the metals industry — namely, causing prices to fall.

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It is not unusual for the wrong thing to be done for the right reasons.

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

Whether it is the rule of unexpected consequences or blind adherence to doctrine, there are countless historical examples of individuals, companies and governments that made decisions, claiming the moral high ground, which have resulted in damage or impoverishment to those the decision was intended to assist.

The mining sector and even some unions have reacted angrily to South Africa Minister of Mining Mosebenzi Zwane’s announcement last week at a presentation in Pretoria of a new mining charter intended to further extend South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) rules.

The charter sets out a number of significant changes to the rules governing ownership of South Africa’s vast mining industry.

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Macro photo of a piece of lead ore

The International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) released its findings for June, showing global refined lead metal demand exceeded supply during the first four months of the year.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

In addition, the ILZSG report revealed total reported stock levels increased during that same time frame. An increase in worldwide lead mine production, to the tune of 13% year-over-year (compared to the first four months of 2016), is primarily the result of increased production in China.

Furthermore, a global refined lead metal output increase of 8.4% can be attributed to India, China and the United States.

The ILZSG report states: “A sharp rise in net imports was the main influence on an increase in US apparent demand of 22.8%. There was also a strong rise in Chinese apparent usage of 16.4%. European demand increased by a more modest 1.5% with overall global demand up by 11.15%.”

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:

Similar to other base metals, tin prices have started a gradual decline, starting from the beginning of June.

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

A market analysis of tin prices and trading volumes suggests a more bearish scenario for tin.

The chart below shows both a sharp drop in tin prices accompanied by heavier selling volume, also known as a “selling climax,” and may be perceived as a signal of a bearish market to follow.  

Source: Fast Markets

According to the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI), the fluctuation of tin stocks has varied based upon tin prices in the market. Indonesian exports remain robust, with an increase of 10% in May compared to April. However, Myanmar tin exports decreased slightly again in May. This reduction of Myanmar output is expected to continue until the end of this year, as analyzed in detail in our monthly forecast reports.  

Chinese VAT removal could lead to price convergence

Tin prices may also be influenced by the approval of a new Chinese policy that will directly impact  the largest tin-producing company in China, Yunnan Tin Company.

This policy consists of the removal of the valued-added tax (VAT) structure, which taxes imports of tin concentrates and was supposed to provide a tax rebate of 17% on exports.

The catch? Exporters were never able to collect the rebate, so they ended up buying tin exclusively from domestic sources.

According to ITRI, by removing the VAT rebate scheme, the new policy will likely cause exports to increase and prices to rebalance between the London Metal Exchange (LME) and China.  In other words, the two prices will likely converge — China’s may come up and the LME price may fall.

We believe tin prices will move close to support levels — and may eventually fall below this limit.

Free Download: The June 2017 MMI Report

Considering the current situation and the sideways trend of commodities, tin should be analyzed closely this month.