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

This morning in metals news, the U.S. Department of Commerce has delayed ruling on whether or not to consider China a market economy, the Commerce Department also deferred a preliminary ruling on Chinese aluminum foil, and also issued a preliminary determination in an antidumping duty investigation of silicon from Australia, Brazil and Norway.

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

Commerce Waits to Rule on China’s Market Economy Status

China officially became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001, but its status as a market economy is still something of debate around the world.

In that vein, the U.S. Department of Commerce has elected to delay a ruling on whether to treat China as a market economy until after President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip to China, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

“In all cases, the Department conducts a full and fair assessment of the facts,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Thursday, as quoted by Bloomberg. “This extension will ensure that the highest standards are followed in this case as we seek to guarantee fair treatment for U.S. workers and businesses.”

Trump will travel to Asia from Nov. 3-14, making stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

For more information on China’s market economy status, make sure to visit our microsite on the issue.

Commerce Defers Aluminum Foil Ruling

In addition to the aforementioned, the Commerce Department announced it would defer a preliminary ruling in its antidumping investigation of aluminum foil imports from China.

“The deferral will allow the Commerce Department to fully analyze information pertaining to China’s status as a non-market economy (NME) country, which is being contemplated within the context of this AD investigation,” according to a Commerce Department release Thursday.

The Commerce Department announced it intends to issue a ruling on both China’s market economy status and Chinese aluminum foil imports no later than Nov. 30.

Commerce Issues Affirmative Determination in Silicon Investigation

The Commerce Department did, however, act in its investigation of silicon imports from a trio of countries.

On Thursday, Commerce issued an affirmative preliminary determination in its antidumping investigation of silicon imports from Australia, Brazil and Norway.

According to the Commerce Department announcement, exporters from Australia, Brazil, and Norway have sold the metal at rates ranging from 20.79%, 56.78% to 134.92%, and 3.74%, respectively, at less than fair value.

According to the Commerce Department, imports of silicon metal last year from Australia, Brazil, and Norway were valued at an estimated $33.9 million, $60.0 million, and $21.6 million, respectively.

The petitioner in the case is Globe Specialty Metals, Inc., which has production facilities in Alabama, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

A final determination in the case is scheduled to be announced Feb. 16.

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

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s ruling Aug. 8 on Chinese aluminum foil wasn’t the only determination it announced that day.

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

On top of the foil ruling — in which the department ruled that Chinese foil imports benefited unfairly from government subsidies, and as a result could be subject to duties of up to 81% — the DOC also issued a preliminary countervailing duty determination regarding silicon imports from Australia, Brazil and Kazakhstan.

According to a DOC release, silicon exporters from Australia, Brazil and Kazakhstan benefited from countervailing subsides of 16.23%, 3.69 to 52.07%, and 120%, respectively.

“We will continue to review all information related to this preliminary determination,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in the release. “The Trump Administration remains vigilant against foreign actors that take advantage of American workers and businesses.”

Imports of silicon metal from Australia, Brazil, and Kazakhstan were valued at an estimated $33.9 million, $60.0 million, and $17.5 million, respectively, according to the DOC release.

The petitioner is Globe Specialty Metals, Inc., which has production facilities in Alabama, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.

The DOC’s rulings on silicon and aluminum foil are representative of the Trump administration’s emphasis on antidumping and countervailing duty probes. According to the DOC release, the administration has launched 64 investigations between Jan. 20 and Aug. 8, marking a 40% increase from the same timeframe last year.

Last year, the U.S. collected $1.5 billion in duties on $14 billion of imported goods “found to be underpriced or subsidized by foreign governments,” according to the DOC announcement.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Felipe Peroni and Ana Paula Camargo of MetalBulletin spoke July 19 during a webinar about the Brazilian steel market — particularly, the slab market and hot-rolled coil (HRC).

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

Brazil is the largest steel exporter in South America, with increasing production this year. Brazil exports primarily to the U.S. and Mexico, with Mexico serving as the second-largest steel producer in South America. According to preliminary U.S. Census Bureau for June 2017, the U.S. imported 590,473 metric tons of steel from Brazil, up significantly from the 259,285 metric tons imported in June 2016.

Source: TradingEconomics

Macroeconomics in Brazil

Brazil’s political crisis resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff at the end of August 2016, which negatively impacted the economy and reduced investment activity in Brazil.

The lack of investments and spending have negatively impacted steel demand.

Although many expect demand to improve in the next few years, the Brazilian economy has not yet rebounded.  The recovery has taken longer than expected.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of MetalBulletin data

Brazilian GDP from construction has decreased since 2013. As construction activity has shown weaknesses, steel long products demand remains weak, as well.

Source: TradingEconomics

Even Brazilian auto sales remain in a downtrend since 2013 (when they last peaked).

Positive auto sector activity would positively impact flat steel market demand. Auto sales have increased by 22% this month. We’d expect to see more robust demand for hot-dip galvanized (HDG) and cold-rolled coil (CRC) steel.

Source: TradingEconomics

Brazilian Steel Drivers

In terms of domestic Brazilian steel prices, China is the main driver of the steel industry.

Both Chinese CRC and HRC prices have increased since April of this year. Considering a long-term perspective, the uptrend started in February 2016. Chinese steel prices, like they do in the U.S., also drive other domestic steel markets, including Brazil’s.

The latest increase in Chinese prices gave upward price momentum to Brazilian steel prices, together with the recovery of the steel industry. Brazilian mills increased margins to remain profitable.

Source: MetalMiner data

Iron ore prices also support the steel price uptrend. An increase in raw materials commonly goes along with an increase in steel prices, as production costs are higher. Oil and coking coal prices have also increased during July, adding price support.

Even though the Brazilian steel industry is recovering from its previous downtrend, it does not yet appear anywhere on the list of the top steel producers around the world. According to the Top Steelmakers 2017 edition published by MetalBulletin, the top Brazilian mill took 20th place.

What This Means For Industrial Buying Organizations

Even if Brazil is not currently a top producer of steel, the country currently exports steel to the U.S. If prices increase in Brazil, we expect U.S. buying organizations to source elsewhere.

In fact, buying organizations have reported to MetalMiner that prices for steel in Italy and Spain are some of the lowest in the world.

Free Download: The July 2017 MMI Report

Moreover, rising Brazilian steel prices point toward a general uptrend. Specific price dynamics will depend on the specific form of steel.

Further analysis and industrial buying strategies can be found in the Monthly Outlook Report.

Andrey Kuzmin/Adobe Stack

Anxiety is rising among Europe’s steelmakers that a potential U.S. plan to levy steel tariffs, on national security grounds, could have a disastrous impact on the region’s sales into the market.

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

Reuters reported that the European steel association Eurofer is worried that “….measures potentially stemming from the U.S. section 232 investigation may lead to a proliferation of disastrous global trade flow distortions.”

Eurofer is worried on two counts. First, it is worried that with China largely already cut out of the U.S. market by anti-dumping legislation, the axe will fall on imports from other regions, of which Europe is a major supplier. Many European countries are already experiencing steep declines in sales to the U.S. between 2015 and 2016 — in some cases of 50% — but the largest, Germany, remains the fifth-largest external supplier to the U.S. of flat-rolled products, according to International Trade Administration data.

The second worry is that should the investigation support bans or large duties, suppliers in the affected countries will look for alternative mature, high-value markets for their products, namely the EU. This would potentially flood an already overcrowded market with more low-priced material.

Having championed free trade in recent statements, Europe may have to eat its own words if it is forced to find ways to counter such a flood. Reuters reports that moves are already afoot, at the G20 summit in Germany last weekend, leaders from the world’s 20 leading economies set an August deadline for an OECD-led global forum to compile information about steel overcapacity. That also includes a report on potential solutions, due in November, which could result in the region acting of its own.

In reality, Europe may not be the primary target of the president’s 232 action. Supplies from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Russia dwarf those from Europe, but that will not necessarily stop the region from suffering considerable collateral damage.

The move would come at an unfortunate time for the European steel industry.

After prices rose nearly 50% last year, they have since fallen back some 10% this year, according to Reuters. Demand, however, is recovering with a 1.9% rise forecast for this year, according to Eurofer, suggesting prices could stabilize (although demand growth is expected to ease again next year, with only 1% growth forecast).

EU Strikes Back?

However, The Guardian reports Europe is also looking at retaliatory measures, should they suffer exclusion or tariffs because of the 232 action. The paper quotes the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is reported to have said that if the U.S. took measures against Germany and China’s steel industries, the EU would “react with counter-measures.”

The article says one industry in the Europeans’ crosshairs is Kentucky bourbon, worth $166 million to the state last year and directly employing some 17,500.

Kentucky was staunchly supportive of Trump during his campaign, with 62.5% of the electorate voting for him.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

“I am telling you this in the hope that all of this won’t be necessary,” Juncker said during the G20 summit. “But we are in an elevated battle mood.”

Bellicose talk, indeed.

Kagenmi/Adobe Stock

It was a busy week in the world. On Thursday alone there were elections in the U.K. (which resulted in a hung parliament) and former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Before we head into the weekend, let’s look back at the top storylines in metals news on MetalMiner this week:

Climate of Corruption Tempers Comeback Optimism in Brazil

Speaking of politics, our Stuart Burns wrote about Brazil and its efforts to push its way out of the doldrums of a recession, while also struggling with the specter of corruption.

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

One year after former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, her successor, Michel Temer, is facing questions about corruption. The BBC reported Thursday Brazilian judges have chosen to delay voting on a case that could in fact send Temer packing (an outcome which would continue a period of presidential instability in Brazil).

Read more

Amid political instability, Brazil is attempting to work its way out of its economic recession. readytogo/Adobe Stock

Brazil is struggling with corruption, particularly among the ranks of the elites, according to the Financial Times.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Just a year after Brazil’s Congress impeached former President Dilma Rousseff, her replacement, 76-year-old Michel Temer, is hanging on to power by a thread following revelations last month that he had engaged in secret talks about bribes with Joesley Batista, the former chairman of meat packing firm JBS. Temer is the least popular president ever, according to a separate FT article, but business leaders and economic analysts say the Brazilian economy desperately needs his reforms if it is to pull itself out of a two-year recession (the worst on record).

Source: Financial Times

A meager bounce in the first quarter offered scant comfort, coming as it did on the back of a record soy bean harvest, up 13.4% and pushing the agricultural sector into positive territory.

Economy Stuck In Recession

The broader economy, however, remains mired in recession.

Interest rates are still at 10.4% to protect against runaway inflation last year. Imports and exports are down 21% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter in 2015, the FT reports.

Although markets have recovered their shock following the exposure of Temer’s apparent acceptance of high-level bribery, Jimena Blanco, head of Latin America research at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy, is quoted by the FT as saying, “The government is hanging from a thin thread.”

Ripple effects of the Brazilian economy’s struggles

In a more isolationist America, some may ask: Should we care? Brazil’s problems are Brazil’s — it may be the largest economy in South America, but it is still a long way away, some might say.

Well, yes, we should care, despite all the U.S. talk about retrenchment. The U.S. economy is still highly reliant on global trade. Brazil is America’s 10th-largest export market, fitting between France and Taiwan in dollars earned.

Brazil is also an important geopolitical stabilizer for the South American region. While no one is talking of defaults, the prospect of the recession extending indefinitely raises debt servicing, currency and social stability issues.

Temer may not be the best prospect for open and honest government. At the moment, he may be the least bad option.

Free Download: The May 2017 MMI Report

Chinese mutual funds are turning to metals and other commodities to create wealth for investors and Brazil is the latest producer-nation to cut back steel production.

Free Download: The March 2016 MMI Report

Chinese Mutual Funds Bet on Commodities

China’s mutual fund industry is pushing to develop investment products linked to local commodity futures, betting that plans to fight chronic oversupply in the country’s mammoth resource sector will drive up prices for raw materials.

Brazil Will Cut Steel Production

Brazil will produce 32.9 million metric tons of raw steel in 2016, 1% less than last year, as the sector wrestles with a slump in demand amid the worst recession in a generation, the Brazil Steel Institute said on Monday.

Free Sample Report: Our March Metal Buying Outlook

Steel sales for the year are expected to fall 4.1%, to 17.4 mmt BSI President Marco Polo de Mello Lopes told reporters at the industry association’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.

We are accustomed to blaming the world’s ills on China’s slowdown and the collapse in commodity prices but in the case of Brazil, once the darling of the investment community with Asian levels of growth and seemingly limitless potential, it is the seeds laid down in those good times just a few years ago that are the cause of so much concern now.

Free Download: The February 2016 MMI Report

True, the country has been rocked by a corruption probe of epic proportions, with past and present presidents deeply implicated in the process and political stasis gripping the ruling classes as a result. Brazil’s woes, though, go far beyond the Petrobras scandal, as bad as it is.

Brazil’s Economy Shrinks

The economy shrank by 3.8% last year and is on track to shrink a further 3+% this year in its worst recession since official records began. According to the Financial Times, “GDP in the fourth quarter suffered a contraction of 5.9% compared with the same period a year earlier,” Brazil’s statistics agency, the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), said. “All of the components of internal demand showed falls.”

Christ, symbol of Rio de Janeiro, standing on top of Corcovado Hill, overlooking Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The statue of Christ  overlooking Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is gazing upon a far smaller economy these days as Brazil deals with a massive corruption probe. Source: Adobe Stock/ReadytoGo.

Just five years ago, in 2010, Brazil’s economy was growing at 7.6%. The slowdown is not so much the drop in export earnings from commodities, although that has had a severe impact, but more the policies of President Dilma Rousseff’s left-leaning government and that of her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who were both constantly interfering in industry, implementing price controls as part of their populist agenda and encouraging aggressive lending by state banks.

As the economy has slowed, confidence has collapsed and tax revenues have fallen as expenditures have continued to rise on the back of enormous federal salary and pension commitments. Although agriculture has held up moderately well, industry has collapsed, down 6.2% last year leading a peak to a trough fall in GDP of 7.2%, said to be the worst recession since the 1930’s.

Real Loses Real Value

Industry’s performance is all the more worrisome since the depreciation in the Real against the US dollar, down 30% in the last year, should have aided exports and shielded domestic producers from foreign competition. Meanwhile, government revenues are falling as tax income is falling, the budget deficit has ballooned to 10%, one of the world’s largest the FT says.

Not surprisingly, unemployment has increased dramatically, from about 4% in 2014 to 7.6% in January, while real wages have contracted, with the burden of job losses falling mostly on the young. Bruno Rovai, economist with Barclays in New York is quoted as predicting unemployment will reach double digits as the recession drags on. One example of the growing pain is bounced checks in Brazil have hit their highest level for the month of January since records began in 1991 at 2.41% of all cleared transactions, while inflation is back and is expected to breach the upper limit of the central bank’s target range of 6.5% this year.

Free Sample Report: Our March Metal Buying Outlook

Brazilians had better make the most of their upcoming 2016 Olympics party because the good times are not expected to roll again until a lot of hard decisions, and even harder actions, are taken to dismantle the damaging policies current and recent governments have inflicted.

The London Metal Exchange‘s Hong Kong owners have seen revenues soar for the venerable metals exchange and Vale SA and BHP Billiton may have reached a deal with the Brazilian government over the deadly Samarco mine disaster.

LME Revenue Soars

The London Metal Exchange posted a 36% jump in revenue for 2015 to $223.15 million, as higher trading fees and tariffs helped it offset a drop in volumes, its owner — Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing  Ltd.— said on Wednesday.

Free Download: The February 2016 MMI Report

The revenue gains at its London unit were a key contributor to HKEx record net profit last year, showing the payback has begun from its $2.2 billion buyout of the 139-year old metals exchange near the height of the commodities boom in 2012.

Samarco Owners Reach Deal With Brazil

Samarco Mineracao SA will pay at least $5 billion over 15 years as part of a deal reached with the Brazilian government to settle a lawsuit for damages caused by a deadly dam spill at a mine in November, a government source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Free Sample Report: Our February Metal Buying Outlook

Samarco, a joint venture between Vale SA and BHP Billiton, will pay 4.4 billion Brazilian reais in the three years following the agreement that is expected to be signed today.


Brazil’s gross domestic product fell by a record 4.5% year-on-year in the third quarter, confirming expectations that Latin America’s largest economy is in for its worse recession since the 1930s.

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

Brazil’s left-leaning president, Dilma Rousseff, presided over an economy where unemployment rose to 7.9% in September, up from just 4.7% in October of last year, inflation is running at more than 10% for the first time since 2002 and Brazil’s government budget deficit is now at 9.5% of GDP according to the Financial Times.

What Happened to Brazil’s Economy?

Brazil has a rising middle class and, for a resource-rich emerging economy, it also has a substantial domestic consumer market but household consumption fell 1.5% in the third quarter, while services dropped 1%. Weak harvests for coffee, sugarcane, oranges, cotton, wheat., forestry and cattle husbandry contributed to an agriculture sector contracting by 2.4% compared with the previous three months and both industry down 1.3% and investment down 4%.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

The trade balance made a positive contribution to growth, the FT said, but this was mostly due to a crash in imports down 20% quarter-on-quarter rather than a large increase in exports, which grew only 1.1%, helped by the weaker real.

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

Keepin’ It Real

Not surprisingly, the Brazilian real has fallen more than 30% in a year, partly due to the deteriorating economy and partly due to the fall in commodity prices that has undermined all resource exporters.

The fall, though, is worrisome because interest rates are at 15% — usually an incentive for foreigners to buy the currency but with inflation at 9% the net rate is more like 6, still a fall of 30% while interest rates are at 15% — that doesn’t say much for investor confidence in Brazil.

Problems at the Top

Dilma Rousseff’s government seems paralyzed, on the one hand unable to bring themselves to enact the austerity measures needed to help balance the books, and on the other swept up in the country’s biggest corruption scandal in which the state-owned energy company Petrobras admitted to 6 billion real ($1.6 billionn) in losses… so far.

Neither the economy nor the currency is expected to recover anytime soon. Q4 of this year and much of next year could be little better than Q3. Rousseff could be ousted, or resign, making way for a more fiscally sound government to take charge but she could equally cling on to the next election in 2018 although her rating is said to be at an all time low of just 8%.

The only silver lining according to Lee Alston, Ostrom professor at Indiana University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, writing in the FT, is that compared to previous crises, particularly corruption scandals, this time those in charge are holding the government to account, especially the judiciary, public attorneys, the TCU and the federal police.

Free Download: Last Chane for The November MMI Report

They have investigated, prosecuted and even imprisoned previously untouchable business leaders and politicians involved in corruption. While these changes are not likely to improve the economic situation in the short term they do hold out hope for the future and will instill confidence in foreign investors that the country is coming of age.