China

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Miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc., the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer, announced its second-quarter earnings Wednesday.

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The miner reported Q2 net income attributable to common stock of $869 million and $1.6 billion for the first six months of the calendar year. The figures compare with $268 million in Q2 2017 and $496 million for the first six months of 2017.

The miner reported copper sales of 989 million pounds in Q2 (1.982 billion pounds through the first half of the year). The miner, also a producer of gold, reported gold sales of 746,000 ounces in Q2 (1.345 million ounces through the first six months). In addition, Freeport reported sales of 24 million pounds of molybdenum (48 million pounds through the first six months).

“Our second quarter results reflect strong performance from our global operations and a continued focus on productivity, cost management and capital discipline,” President and CEO Richard C. Adkerson said. “During the first half of 2018, we generated $2.7 billion in cash flow from operations and capital expenditures totaled $0.9 billion, enabling further strengthening of our balance sheet and advancement of initiatives to build value for FCX shareholders.

“We achieved important progress during the quarter to reach a new long-term partnership structure with the Indonesian government, and we remain focused on completing negotiation and documentation of definitive agreements to restore long-term stability for our Grasberg operations.”

The miner’s share price dipped Wednesday, Bloomberg reported, as a result of operational issues at its Grasberg mine in Indonesia. After hitting $16.43 in the early part of the day, the price dropped 6.4% to $15.06 around noon. It rallied the rest of the day, closing at $15.86 (down 1.37% for the day).

In addition, the miner reported paying off $454 million in debt in April.

Copper Price Slumps

As a major copper producer, Freeport-McMoRan is eyeing the copper market’s recent slide.

The LME copper price has been falling fast since early June. After hitting $7,271.50 on June 8, the copper price proceeded to drop 17.6% and even dipping below $6,000/mt on July 17.

The price then bounced back slightly, moving to $6,166.50 as of July 24.

Source: LME

Adkerson referred to the slide in the copper price in tandem with the trade measures currently being undertaken by the U.S., in particular vis-a-vis China (the world’s top copper consumer).

As we sit here today, there is an anomaly between market sentiment and fundamentals in the marketplace,” Adkerson said. “We’re continuing to see real demand being very positive for our global business, including our business in China.”

Adkerson added that copper demand in the future will benefit from renewable-energy projects and electric vehicles.

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“Absent having some sort of global recession or a major setback in China, market deficits in copper appear to be inevitable,” Adkerson added.

Stock markets in the West react to peaks and troughs on the Shanghai stock market as if the market were a true indicator of the health of the Chinese economy. Shanghai has been down since talk of sanctions has spooked markets in China, Europe and the U.S.

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But in some parts of the world, where dependence on China is more than a simple +/- 0.1% of GDP, whole economies are reacting to the fear of a slowdown in China.

A recent Financial Times report details how the Aussie dollar has slumped 4.5% in just two weeks. Trade tensions have risen over investors’ fear for the prospects of the country’s largest trading partner, an indicator of how dependent has Australia become on China’s health and prosperity.

Likewise, copper, which for decades has been dubbed “Dr. Copper” for its supposed sensitivity to the health prospects for global growth, should maybe be renamed “Sino Copper” for the way in which it increasingly has become tied to the fortunes of one country (China) rather than the global economy.

After touching a four-year high of $7,348 a ton on June 7, copper has plunged 14%, or more than $1,000 to $6,303 a ton, the Financial Times reported, as investors fear a slowing China will be detrimental for copper demand later this year and next.

China is the world’s largest importer of copper, and Australia — the fifth-largest copper producer — is intimately tied to the world’s second-largest economy. China is its biggest customer, not just for copper but also for iron ore, coal, aluminum, bauxite and a range of other materials.

A follow-up article will analyze a wider range of metrics to better understand the state of the Chinese economy and to what extent the country’s growth trend for 2018 is a direct result of tariffs (compared to factors in play before April).

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What that will show is that China had much to contend with prior to tariffs and a trade war broke out. While massive foreign exchange reserves and a well-funded banking system means the economy is essentially sound, the current trade issues have come at a bad time for policymakers in Beijing and may partly explain the relatively restrained response from the authorities.

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This morning in metals news, a Chinese company that makes aluminum foil is suing the U.S. over anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed on the product, Japan is concerned about a rise in Chinese steel exports and President Trump throws another supporting tweet behind his tariffs.

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Chinese Company Strikes Back at Anti-Dumping, Countervailing Duties

The subsidiary of Chinese company Shantou Wanshun Package Material Stock Co is suing the U.S. over anti-dumping and countervailing subsidy duties imposed on aluminum foil, Reuters reported.

The subsidiary, Jiangsu Zhongji Lamination Materials, was subjected to a countervailing duty of 17.14% and an anti-dumping duty of 37.99% earlier this year, according to the report.

Eyes on Chinese Steel Exports

Japan’s Iron and Steel Federation is keeping tabs on Chinese steel exports levels, particularly as U.S.-China trade relations deteriorate and, thus, could have a significant impact on the Chinese economy and steel demand within China.

“Our biggest worry is a scenario that the U.S.-China trade wars would dent China’s local demand, leading to a surge in China’s steel export,” said Koji Kakigi, the federation’s chairman, as quoted by Reuters.

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Trump Praises Tariff Tool

As the Office of the United States Trade Representative kicked off public hearings on proposed Section 301 tariffs worth $16 billion, President Trump again affirmed his stance on the trade tool, tweeting “Tariffs are the greatest!” on Tuesday morning.

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This morning in metals news, China initiated an anti-dumping probe of stainless steel imports worth a total of $1.3 billion, LME copper held above its one-year low Monday and President Trump will visit the Granite City steelworks in Southern Illinois this Thursday.

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China Investigates Stainless Imports

According to Reuters, China has initiated an investigation of stainless steel imports from Indonesia, Japan, Korea and the E.U.

The imports are worth a total of $1.3 billion, according to the report.

LME Copper Staves Off Further Losses, For Now

After hitting a one-year low, LME copper held above that level on Monday, Reuters reported.

London copper traded at $6,154/mt on Monday after falling to $5,988/mt on Thursday.

Trump to Visit Granite City

Announcements of the restarting of blast furnaces at U.S. Steel’s Granite City steelworks in Southern Illinois have represented a victory for the Trump administration, which has embarked on a program of tariffs and other trade remedies (including a 25% tariff on steel imports).

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Now, the president has announced he plans to visit the facility this Thursday.

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

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner®:

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This morning in metals news, President Donald Trump escalated trade tensions by threatening to slap tariffs on essentially all Chinese imports, Nucor reported its Q2 and first-half earnings, and copper hits a one-year low.

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On Another Level

The back-and-forth of tariffs and threats between the U.S. and China has continued to increase in intensity in recent weeks and months, but that back-and-forth made its biggest step yet today (at least, in words).

In a taped interview, President Donald Trump said he is willing to bring the volume of tariffs on Chinese goods to over $500 billion — that is, covering the approximately $505 billion in imports that came in from China last year.

Nucor Reports Q2 Earnings

In Q2, Nucor reported net earnings of $683.2 million, up from Q1’s $354.2 million.

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In the first half of 2018, Nucor reported consolidated net earnings of $1.04 billion, up from $679.9 million in the first half of last year.

Copper Hits One-Year Low

Copper has been sliding of late, this week hitting a one-year low, CNBC reported.

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This morning in metals news, Canada is considering new tariffs or quotas to protect itself from steel diverted from the U.S., the U.S. goes at it with several WTO members and a major energy project in the U.S. is denied a tariff exclusion request.

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Canada Considers Tariffs, Quotas

Canada could turn to tariffs or quotas as it looks to deal with the possibly of diverted steel from the U.S. (as a result of the U.S.’s Section 232 tariff).

As Bloomberg reported, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said Canada is considering expansion of a previously announced list of products that could be subject to the safeguard measures (rebar, steel plates and energy tubular).

U.S. Challenges Retaliatory Tariffs at WTO

Several countries have responded to the U.S.’s steel and aluminum tariffs with retaliatory tariffs. The U.S.’s back-and-forth exchange of tariffs with China is the most high-profile example, but several other countries have also hit the U.S. with retaliatory tariffs of varying levels.

The U.S., however, is challenging those tariffs at the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing they go against WTO rules, particularly referring to measures from China, the E.U., Canada, Mexico and Turkey, according to the South China Morning Post.

No Tariff Exclusion for Shale Pipeline Project

A $1.1 billion shale pipeline project was denied a steel tariff exclusion request, Reuters reported, marking the first such decision vis-a-vis a major energy project.

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The request from Plains All American Pipeline LP was denied because the Department of Commerce ruled the the company can find suitable products domestically.

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This morning in metals news, China hit a record vis-a-vis steel production, China responded to the U.S.’s threat of $200 billion in tariffs and copper continues its slide.

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A Record June

China steelmakers put out a record amount of steel, on a daily basis, in June, Reuters reported.

According to National Bureau of Statistics data, the country churned out 80.2 million tons of crude steel last month, according to the report.

China Goes to the WTO

Speaking of China, as trade tensions continue to rise with the U.S. (particularly in light of the U.S.’s most recent threat of $200 billion in tariffs), China has decided to take its case to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

China is seeking to combat the proposed tariff barrage by filing a complaint at the WTO, alleging the tariffs fall afoul of WTO rules.

Copper Price’s Slide Continues

The arrow has been pointing down on the copper price this year.

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That trend continued Monday, as the copper price fell 1%, Reuters reported. According to the report, the copper price is down 14% so far in 2018.

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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This morning in metals, China’s biggest steel city has ordered five-day output curbs to tackle pollution, the deputy USTR criticized Indian retaliatory tariff measures and it was another down week for copper.

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Tangshan Launches Cuts Ahead of Expected Smog

China’s top steelmaking city, Tangshan, has begun industry output cuts that will last five days, Reuters reported.

According to the report, the city has ordered steel mills to shut down sintering plants. In addition, coke and cement factories have been asked to cut their outputs.

USTR Criticizes Indian Trade Measures

Jeffrey Gerrish, the deputy United States Trade Representative, said this week that India’s retaliatory tariff measures are not “appropriate” and that India has not done enough to bring down the U.S.’s trade deficit with it, the Economic Times reported.

India is among the group of World Trade Organization (WTO) members to have requested consultations with the U.S., through the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, over its steel and aluminum duties.

Copper Down Again

It was another down week for Dr. Copper, as general trade anxiety continues to weigh on the market.

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According to Reuters, this week marked copper’s fifth consecutive week of price declines, as simmering trade tensions between the U.S. and China have impacted copper demand in China (the world’s top copper consumer).