aluminum price

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 September Aluminum Monthly Metals Index (MMI) traded sideways this month. The Aluminum MMI index stands at 95 points.

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LME aluminum prices increased in August. However, so far in September, prices have fallen. Aluminum prices are in a sideways trend within the $1970-$2170/mt band.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Buying organizations may want to remember that the $1,970/mt level has served as a strong support level (or floor) since August 2017.

During 2017 and 2018, aluminum prices fell two times  toward that support level and rebounded from it. Aluminum prices decreased in December and April.

Therefore, buying organizations may want to follow closely how aluminum prices react to that level.

Global Aluminum

Mexico launched an anti-dumping probe against Chinese aluminum foil makers after reaching a new NAFTA deal with the U.S.  Mexico and the U.S. reached a new NAFTA agreement on Aug. 27. The U.S. and Mexico agreed to increase regional automotive content to 75% from the current 62.5% in NAFTA. The deal will be reviewed after six years. As stated by the USTR, duty-free access for agricultural products remains in place.

Meanwhile, Japanese aluminum premium offers have fallen by around 13-15% from last quarter. Current pricing indicates Japanese aluminum premiums of between $112-$115/mt. Premiums represent the regional logistical costs of moving metal from the producer to the regional exchange. (it is a cost borne by the consumer). Japan is Asia’s biggest aluminum importer.

SHFE Aluminum

Chinese SHFE aluminum prices increased in August, following the LME aluminum trend.

So far in September, prices have retraced slightly. As with LME prices, the SHFE long-term trend has become a mostly sideways trend.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

U.S. Domestic Aluminum

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

However, the U.S. Midwest premium has fallen for the second consecutive month. The premium currently stands at $0.19/pound.

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 supply concerns will act as supports to aluminum prices, both for LME aluminum and the U.S. Midwest premium. 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 from our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook on how to mitigate price risk year-round.

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Actual Aluminum Prices and Trends

LME aluminum prices increased this past month, with a closing price in August of $2,118/mt.

Meanwhile, Korean Commercial 1050 sheet fell by 3.6%, following last month’s downtrend.

Chinese aluminum primary cash prices increased by 1.12%, while Chinese aluminum bar increased by 5.03%. Chinese aluminum billet prices also decreased 5.26% this month, falling to $2,313/mt.

The Indian primary cash price fell by 0.48% to $2.06/kilogram.

alexkich/Adobe Stock

Following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine in February 2014 — the Ukrainian crisis, as it became known as — a number of countries imposed sanctions on Russia led by the United States and Europe, but supported by many others like Canada, Australia and Japan.

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The impact on Russia’s economy was significant, but by early 2016 many countries, even within the previously united E.U., were calling for sanctions to be lifted (or at least revised).

By that stage, the Russian economy had recovered from the initial shock and, despite the restrictions, was doing rather well.

But this time last year, it all began to go downhill (again, this despite a very pro-Putin president being in the White House).

Initiated by President Barack Obama, Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which imposed new sanctions on Russia for interference in the 2016 elections and its involvement in Ukraine and Syria.

Then, in March of this year, President Donald Trump imposed financial sanctions under the Act on the 13 Russian government hackers and front organizations that had been indicted by Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

This was followed in April by further economic sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies under their control. Among these was Oleg Deripaska, a move that sent such severe shock waves through the aluminum market that the administration hastily backpedaled and gave a stay of imposition until October “to allow the market to adjust.”

Many expected a permanent exception to be made for Rusal or for some fudge of ownership to be manufactured such that Deripaska was no longer deemed to be the controlling entity in holding company En+ or Rusal.

But as the date looms ever closer, questions are being raised about whether this will be how it plays out in practice.

More, rather than fewer, sanctions keep getting added to the list. A recent Economist article reports that in August alone, the U.S. has: slapped penalties on Russian shipping firms accused of trading oil with North Korea; imposed restrictions on the arms trade in connection with the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury; and began congressional hearings on the two new pieces of legislation designed to punish Russia for its interference in elections.

The Economist report goes on to say the greatest threat to Russia’s economy comes from two proposed bills: the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act of 2018 (DETER) and the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA).

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of DASKA’s six bipartisan co-sponsors, is quoted as saying it is the “sanctions bill from Hell.” When details of its contents made their way into the Russian press in early August, the rouble slid to two-year lows and the share prices of Russian state banks began falling, according to the Economist reported.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Russia has been taking active steps to mitigate the effects, funneling rising oil revenues into its National Welfare Fund and building up reserves.

However, despite a weaker rouble helping exporters, the economy is suffering.

The uncertainty around sanctions, their impact and the possibility of further measures is having a dire impact on inward investment. Compared with a year earlier, foreign direct investment fell by more than 50% in the first half of 2018, The Economist reported.

Coming as they do on top of the 10% U.S. import tariff on foreign-sourced aluminum, we will see considerable volatility and disruption to the aluminum markets this autumn if sanctions are applied to Deripaska, not to mention other oligarchs on the sanctions list. Shipments out of Russia for any metals – steel, aluminum, and other base and specialty metals – are already being severely delayed as banks scrabble to run compliance checks on the shareholdings and involvement of already sanctioned parties in those producers.

Delays of a month in paying bills normally processed in an hour are now common, which is disrupting supply chains and work flow. For the first time, the market is asking what will be the impact of a total ban on Russian metal supplies (never mind just Rusal’s aluminum).

Your supplier may not be Rusal, but your supplier’s supplier may be (or even his or her supplier’s supplier). The elevated conversion premiums we have seen this summer among European extruders is a reflection of this anxiety and will only get worse if further sanctions disruption ensues.

This uncertainty should be prompting all U.S. metal importers to explore the supply chain of their suppliers in order to understand the potential risks they face and, if necessary, take appropriate steps to safeguard supplies.

For those consumers thinking they only buy domestically and are therefore not affected — think again. You may be buying foreign made metal via a distributor and are potentially still exposed. Even if you are not, domestic prices will rise if there is any significant disruption to foreign supplies.

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As we saw with the 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum, tariffs cause domestic producers to move swiftly to capitalize on competitors’ cost increases by raising their own prices.

Alexander Chudaev/Adobe Stock

Like a sudden and overwhelming springtime rainstorm, aluminum prices, as many are no doubt aware, received a shock in April.

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On the news of U.S. sanctions targeting Russian companies and their owners — including Russian aluminum giant Rusal, the second-biggest aluminum producer in the world — prices spiked on fears of Rusal’s supply being pulled from the market.

LME aluminum shot up to $2,597.50 per ton on April 19, marking its highest point since late July 2011.

However, the U.S. Treasury announced an extension, allowing businesses until Oct. 23 to unwind their business activities with Rusal (among others).

As a result, the price has come steadily down since then.

Source: LME

Since that April peak, the price has dropped 22.2% as of Aug. 23.

Exemptions and Escalations

As we noted last week, Turkey has sought consultations with the U.S., via the WTO’s dispute settlement system, in response to the U.S.’s doubling of both the steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey (bringing them to 50% and 20%, respectively).

Turkey has argued the escalation goes against provisions of the Agreement on Safeguards and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994.

Meanwhile, according to a Haaretz report, Israel has decided to drop its attempts to win an exemption from the U.S. aluminum tariff.

According to the report, countries that have so far won exemptions from the tariff were able to do so on the condition that they will limit their exports to the U.S., which goes against Israeli export policy.

Israeli aluminum exports are valued at $25 million annually, according to the report.

Companies on the Tariff Effect

Unsurprisingly, a number of U.S. companies have noted the effect of the tariff on their bottom lines.

According to USA Today, Coca-Cola cited the tariff as the basis for its decision to raise prices on its soft drinks.

“Clearly, it’s disruptive for us. It’s disruptive for our customers,” CEO James Quincey was quoted as saying during the company’s Q2 earnings call. “But I think the conversations have been about how is this going to work for each and every customer.”

Meanwhile, automakers have also cited the tariffs’ impact on their bottom line.

However, during its FY 2018 Q1 — the three-month period ending June 30 — earnings call in July, Nissan Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa said the Section 232 tariffs had a limited impact during Q1; going forward, the impact will depend on how much the tariffs will continue, citing the uncertainty of the situation.

He added the company will be operating under the mindset of localization.

“Globally, we have been promoting localization,” said Tagawa, adding they would like to “pursue localization [and] increase local content.”

Commerce Secretary Visits Century Aluminum

Bolstering the domestic steel and aluminum industries, particularly in light of rising imports, has been a stated goal of the Trump administration even since launching a Section 232 investigation on the matter back in April 2017.

In this vein, U.S. Steel’s twin announcements this year regarding the restarting of blast furnaces at its steelworks in Granite City, Illinois, was touted as a victory for the administration.

On the aluminum side, Century Aluminum’s recent announcement that it would invest $150 million to double its output was also seized upon by the administration as a victory, an affirmation of its tariff strategy.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross visited the company’s plant in Hawesville, Kentucky, last Wednesday.

“And while U.S. production has steadily declined since 2000, China’s output of aluminum has increased by 1,390 percent, from 2.4 million metric tons in 2000 to a whopping 36.2 million metric tons in 2017,” Ross said during an event celebrating the restarting of a smelter. “China’s output last year was 49 times higher than U.S. production, and almost all of it was sub-standard, and subsidized — produced by state-owned enterprises.

“For the first time in decades, we are changing the trajectory of the industry. Many have painted our efforts to create a level playing field and ensure the continued viability of the aluminum industry as the starting of a trade war. But you have been engaged in this fight for a long time.”

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The company aims to return to 100% capacity by early next year and add 300 jobs in the process.

stockquest/Adobe Stock

The Aluminum Association this week sent a letter to the Trump administration urging it to address Chinese overcapacity, as U.S. and Chinese officials are set to resume talks Wednesday and Thursday aimed at allaying trade tensions.

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The trade group sent the letter to Treasury Department Under Secretary David Malpass, who will lead the U.S. delegation in this week’s talks, which will be attended by Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen.

“With the market demand picture bright, and growth in the U.S. aluminum industry occurring, now is an excellent time to resolve trade issues between the United States and China,” wrote Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association, in the letter. “We note with interest your upcoming meeting with Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen and other representatives from China. This is an important moment in U.S.-China relations, and we respectfully request that the issue of China’s structural overcapacity across the aluminum value chain be included on the U.S. agenda.”

Throughout the year leading up to the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum, the Aluminum Association advocated for a trade remedy with a singular focus on China.

“At the same time, the association’s member companies have a shared belief that China’s trade distorting behavior drives massive structural overcapacity in both primary aluminum production and downstream products,” Brock continued. “This is a foundational problem confronting the industry not only in the United States but also around the world. For this reason, the Association has supported trade remedies that focus on China and leave market economies harmless.”

Despite winter cuts, China’s production has continued to rise. According to a Reuters report, July primary aluminum production was up 12% year over year. At 2.93 million tons, its July production was tied for the country’s monthly record.

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According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, Chinese primary aluminum production for the January-July period was up 3.0% compared with the same period in 2017.

Even if U.S. steelmakers have been slow to add capacity following President Trump’s tariff protection, it would seem foreign steel makers are willing to commit to domestic U.S. production.

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The Financial Times this week reported on the announcement by BlueScope Steel, Australia’s biggest steelmaker, to examine adding 600,000 to 900,000 metric tons per year of steelmaking capacity to its North Star business in Ohio. This would raise the Ohio plant’s existing production of 2.1 million metric tons per year to some 3 million tons at a cost of between U.S. $500 million and $700 million.

The project would involve the addition of a third electric arc furnace and a second slab caster, according to the Financial Times report. A decision is expected at the company’s February 2019 annual results pending the outcome of the feasibility study, by which time a clearer picture may emerge of what the tariff landscape is going to look like longer term.

Interestingly, Australian steelmakers are exempted from the tariffs; in theory, BlueScope could have invested at home. Australia, however, along with Argentina, are subject to quota limits, so ramping up domestic production to meet U.S. demand is not considered a viable option.

According to the Financial Times, domestic U.S. steel producers are, not surprisingly, doing rather well from the tariffs.

The resulting price rises have fueled a rally in U.S. domestic prices, helping firms like ArcelorMittal surpass forecasts previously set by analysts. Arcelor’s earnings came in at $5.59 billion before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for H1 2018. That represented an increase of 28.6% on the same period a year before, as half-year sales rose 17.6% year-on-year in value terms to $39.2 billion, primarily due to higher steel selling prices. Net income was up by almost one-third to $3.06 billion. It hasn’t yet resulted in Arcelor announcing any increased investment in domestic U.S. production capacity — the real aim of the tariffs — but, arguably, steelmakers are waiting to see how the whole tariff situation develops and whether they are truly here to stay (in which case, investment could result).

The U.S. Department of Commerce found foreign steel accounted for about one-third of the 107 million metric tons of steel the U.S. economy used in 2017, the Weekly Standard reported.

Although U.S. producers still have a commanding market share, the report concluded that inexpensive foreign imports were causing domestic steelmakers to lose money, lay off workers, and close plants last year.

U.S. steel plants in 2017 ran at just 72% of capacity, below the 80% level they are widely considered necessary to be profitable. The blame for poor capacity utilization fell firmly at the door of “excessive imports of steel.”

Well, that was last year; this year is something very different.

Following tariffs, steel prices are up sharply, profits are up at the domestic mills and so is capacity utilization. The domestic mills have the option to price balance towards full capacity, shielded as they are now behind a 25% import tariff. They may choose to take higher prices and forego full capacity or adjust pricing to achieve full capacity; we will see what policy has been adopted when Q3 and H2 figures are released.

It is unlikely significant new capacity will be added in the short term, though, despite talk of planned new capacity.

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According to Reuters, steel output in the United States rose 2.9% in the first half to 41.9 million metric tons and gained 0.8% in June to hit 6.9 million tons for the month. Data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) show capacity utilization at U.S. mills in the year to July was 76.4%, up from 74.4% in 2017, suggesting domestic mills generally are opting for better prices as a route to profitability rather than pricing out tariffed imports.

The spike in aluminum prices this quarter, caused by the initial announcement of sanctions on Oleg Deripaska and his investments, is an issue anyone in the aluminum sector will be only too well aware of.

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Prices spiked in days and were associated with a number of other supply constraint worries. Sharp rises in conversion premiums have not relaxed even though the primary aluminum price has since eased back to where it was just before the announcement.

The price increase and supply-chain panic was a result of the sanctions announced by the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Prices fell back as OFAC granted a stay of application until late October 2018, allowing consumers to adjust supply agreements accordingly.

Source: Bloomberg

While the market is aware first-hand of the impact, what is only just becoming clear is the impact on the main supplier from Deripaska’s group: Rusal.

According to the Financial Times, drawing on the most recent Q2 company filing, inventories had risen to $2.88 billion at end the of June, from $2.41 billion in December as the company produced 939,000 metric tons of primary aluminum and alloys in the three months to June, but only sold 783,000 tons. Both first-half 2018 production and sales are down from a year earlier, largely due to the Q2 sanctions, even though the company continues to operate profitably.

Although Rusal is looking to boost output of value-added goods (VAGs), as they call processed products, they sharply cut back production of foil, powders and other VAG products in April for fear of not being able to shift production if sanctions were sustained.

As it happens, most global consumers restarted deliveries after a few weeks, but many in the U.S. are still reluctant to touch Rusal product – primary or VAGs – as the October crunch date looms.

Source: Bloomberg

2019 annual contracts are usually negotiated in September, ahead of the October LME week, and in preparation for supplies starting in January of the following year. Unless there is certainty that the OFAC sanctions will be lifted or some form of exemption will be granted to Rusal despite what happens to Deripaska, Rusal will again face restricted sales options going forward.

The case against Deripaska is already severely impacting any trade with entities in which he or his holding company En+ Group have a stake, as banks carry out exhaustive checks on every payment, causing delays of weeks on some transactions.

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Those consumers with other supply options will conclude it is just not worth the effort and switch to alternative sources, further crimping capacity availability in the market and pushing up conversion premiums even, if the primary metal price has yet to respond.

The August Aluminum Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell two points last month. The current Aluminum MMI index now stands at 93 points.

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LME aluminum prices fell in July. However, the rate of the declines has slowed. Price changes do not appear to be 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 again toward the stiff support level that aluminum prices had during 2017 and 2018. LME aluminum prices fell towards that support level in December 2017, in April 2018 and back again in July 2018. However, aluminum prices rebounded each time (and again in July) from that level.

How aluminum prices react to this stiff support level will give some insight on upcoming aluminum price movements. Buying organizations will want to follow aluminum price movements closely to identify the perfect moment to buy forward and lock prices.

Chinese Aluminum

Chinese aluminum output increased by 1.6% in June, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The gradual ramp-up of new smelting capacity has increased production. The daily output figure increased to 94,000 tons in June versus the previous 90,000 in May, signaling an increase of 0.8% year on year.

Chinese increased exports received a boost from a favorable price arbitrage, with a weaker yuan. Exports reached 510,000 tons in June, the second-highest figure on record.

U.S. Domestic Aluminum

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

August’s premiums, however, have started to decrease, sitting at $0.19/pound. The current premium has slid to April 2018 levels, but still appear close to its four-year high at $0.20/pound.

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.

Adapting the right buying strategy is crucial to reduce 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 metals in the Aluminum MMI basket generally fell this month.

LME aluminum prices decreased this month by 3.88%, with a closing price in July of $2,076/mt. Meanwhile, Korean Commercial 1050 sheet traded flat in August, with a reading of $3.57/kilogram.

Chinese aluminum primary cash prices increased by 0.361%, while China aluminum bar fell 5.33%. Chinese aluminum billet prices also decreased 5.33% this month, to $2,197/mt.

The Indian primary cash price fell by 3.27% to $2.07/kilogram.

The Automotive Monthly Metals Index (MMI) retraced four points, hitting 99 for our August MMI reading.

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U.S. Auto Sales

July was a down month for Ford, which saw its U.S. sales drop 3.1%. Ford car sales were down 27.7% year over year, and 15.7% in the year to date.

However, truck sales continue to shine, with sales rising 10.2% in July.

“And when you look at the underlying economy, it remains very healthy, and that would be indicative of what we’re seeing in the truck market, with F-Series posting gains and vans posting very big gains for Ford Motor Company,” Ford Sales Analyst Erich Merkle said.

It was a different story for Fiat Chrysler, which reported a 6% sales increase compared with July 2017. According to a company release, its Jeep brand had its best July ever, with retail sales up 16%.

Honda reported an 8.2% year-over-year drop, but touted its growing truck sales.

“For the first time in our company’s history, the Honda brand is on pace this year to sell more light trucks than passenger cars,” said Henio Arcangeli Jr., senior vice president of the American Honda Automobile Division, in a release. “Honda’s unique flexibility within our U.S. manufacturing operations has played a critical role in our ability to adjust our production mix and capitalize on the market’s shift toward light trucks.”

Toyota reported its July sales were down 6.0% year over year, but noted July marked its best month ever for light-truck sales.

General Motors no longer reports sales on a monthly basis, instead opting earlier this year to report on a quarterly basis.

Pumping the Brakes?

Late last month, President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met at the White House, a meeting that yielded an agreement of sorts to pump the brakes on new tariffs.

However, cars were exempted from the agreement between the two leaders.

A U.S. Section 232 investigation into imports of automobiles and automotive imports is still ongoing. The Department of Commerce launched the investigation using the Section 232 statute — also used to impose steel and aluminum tariffs — in late May and a public hearing was held July 19.

GM Seeks Exemption for Buick Envision SUV

Although the Trump administration has yet to impose new tariffs on imported automobiles, General Motors has asked that its Buick Envision SUV, which is made in China, be exempted from any new tariffs, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Most of GM’s sales of the SUV model come from China, according to the report, and the company argues production in the U.S. would thus not be feasible.

Earlier this summer, GM expressed its opposition to the imposition of new automotive tariffs, saying they would lead to job losses and would impact the automaker’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

It was an overall down month for prices within the automotive basket of metals.

U.S. HDG steel fell 0.7% to $1,103/st. U.S. platinum bars fell 1.8% to $837/ounce, while palladium bars dropped 2.1% to $928/ounce.

Chinese primary lead dropped 14.7% to $2,722.87/mt. LME copper fell 6.1% to $6,236.50.

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U.S. shredded scrap steel held steady at $371/st. Korean aluminum also held steady, sticking at $3.75/kilogram.

The Construction Monthly Metals Index (MMI) lost three points this month, hitting 90 for our August MMI reading.

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U.S. Construction Spending, Employment

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, U.S. construction spending in June fell 1.1% from the previous month.

Spending in June hit $1,317.2 billion, down from $1,332.2 billion in May. However, the June spending time marks a 6.1% increase from the June 2017 spending total of $1,241.3 billion.

For the first six months of the year, spending hit $619.9 billion, marking a 5.1% increase from the same period in 2017.

Broken down further, private construction spending hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,019.8 billion, or 0.4% below the revised May estimate of $1,023.9 billion. With private construction, residential construction hit $568.3 billion in June, down 0.5% from the revised May estimate of $570.9 billion. In addition, nonresidential construction was down 0.3%, amounting to $451.5 billion in June.

As for public construction, spending in June hit $297.4 billion, 3.5% below the revised May estimate of $308.3 billion. Under the umbrella of public construction, educational construction was  down 11%, amounting to $67.9 billion. Highway construction was down 1.3%, hitting $93.9 billion for the month.

Meanwhile, according to preliminary Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, construction employment hit 7,222,000 in June, up from 7,209,000 in May.

Billings Growth Slows

Architecture billings growth continued in June, according to the Architecture Billings Index (ABI), but the pace of growth slowed last month. Nonetheless, June marked the ninth straight month of billings growth.

The June ABI hit 51.3, down from the previous month’s 52.8 (any reading above 50 indicates growth).

By region, however, the billings landscape was a mixed bag.

The South region posted a 57.4, while the Northeast posted modest growth with a reading of 50.2. The Midwest and West lagged behind, however, with readings of 49.8 and 46.9, respectively.

In this month’s survey of industry professionals, many indicated rising expenses was a concern.

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“More than nine in 10 firms (92 percent) indicated that they are concerned to some degree about managing the costs of running their firm at the present, with 52 percent reporting that it is a major concern, and 40 percent reporting that it is a minor concern,” the ABI report states. “Small firms tended to be less concerned about firm expenses than large firms, although firms of all sizes were generally concerned.”

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The U.S. shredded steel scrap price held flat at $371/short ton.

Chinese rebar fell slightly, dropping 0.2% to $623.84/metric ton. Chinese H-Beam steel fell 6.0% to $606.22/mt.

European commercial 1050 sheet aluminum fell 4.4% to $2,867/mt.

Chinese iron ore PB fines fell 2.8% to $77.06/dry metric ton.