copper price

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This month’s Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) reading for copper dropped to 73 from last month’s reading of 78, the new low for the year.

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LME copper prices continued to trend downward, but technically still remain in a long-term bull market.

In the shorter term, daily chart prices recently came close to dropping back to start-of-the-year lows.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

On the other hand, the longer-term outlook indicates hints at some upward momentum still, given that pricing bottoms have continued to move progressively higher since 2016.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

In the second part of 2018, price momentum shifted downward, but support levels held at higher levels than during the 2017 period when copper prices traded around $5,600/mt. Prices remain at a critical point.

Chinese Copper Scrap vs. LME Copper

The price gap between Chinese copper scrap and LME copper narrowed recently due to the steeper LME price drop.

According to press reports, copper smelter treatment charges dropped to a 6 1/2-year low in China. China continues to add capacity, with projected growth of 1 million tons expected for 2019. The increase in supply suppresses treatment charges (TCs) for copper.

Global Copper Supply Deficit Forecast for 2019

The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) recently forecast a copper metal deficit of 190,000/mt in 2019. However, according to a recent Reuters report, the projected forecast refined metal deficit totals 270,000 mt due to ongoing supply issues in Peru and Zambia, with concentrates looking tight. Supply disruptions could total around 1,200,000 mt, or around 5% of typical supply levels.

Industrial metals respond to global economic conditions, given that players tend to be large international entities that trade extensively cross-border.

Therefore, we can generally expect copper prices to respond to macroeconomic factors like the dollar and global GDP growth rates; even a small percentage change in global growth rates can impact the price of copper.

According to a recent presentation by global miner Rio Tinto, macro headwinds have impacted demand this year.

For the longer term, expectations remain positive, with the company projecting global annual growth to average 3.5% over the next 10 years. Ninety percent of Rio Tinto’s total mining output across metals moves cross-border.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

With macroeconomic uncertainty at hand, industrial buying organizations should watch the copper market carefully for shifting momentum.

It’s important for buying organizations to understand how to react to copper price movements. The MetalMiner Monthly Outlook report helps buyers understand the copper marketplace.

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Actual Copper Prices and Trends

Copper prices showed weakness globally this month.

The Japanese primary cash price dropped by 10% to $6,035/mt. The LME primary 3-month dropped by 9.6%, with the price falling to $5,820/mt. India’s copper cash price dropped 8.3% to $5.89/kilogram.

Chinese prices also dropped steeply, with all the Chinese prices in the index down by 7.6%. China’s primary cash price dropped to $6,717/mt.

Chinese scrap copper #2 decreased by 2.4% to $5,560/mt. Korean copper strip declined by 0.4% to $8.32/kilogram.

U.S. prices dropped in the 6-7% range. U.S. copper grade 110 dropped to $3.43/pound, down from $3.87/pound last month, marking the third straight month of price declines.

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This morning in metals news, the LME copper price continued its tumble this week, U.S. imports from countries like Vietnam have increased and the June 10 Mexico tariff deadline draws near.

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Copper Down for Eighth Straight Week

The copper price is set to fall for the eighth consecutive week this week, Reuters reported.

LME copper fell 1% Friday and was down 1.4% for the week, according to Reuters.

Rising Imports

Amid ongoing trade tensions with China, the U.S. has seen import levels from other countries rise.

Citing Census Bureau data, CNN reported the U.S.’s imports from Vietnam increased 38% over the first four months of this year. Imports during that period from Taiwan (22%), South Korea (17%) and Bangladesh (13%) were also up.

Tariffs on the Horizon

Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. is still planning to slap tariffs on imports from Mexico next week, Bloomberg reported.

President Donald Trump has threatened to impose an escalating tariff, beginning at 5%, on all imports from Mexico if the two countries can’t reach a deal to stem the flow of migrants into the U.S.

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According to Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, talks to reach a deal and avoid tariffs continued Friday.

While industrial metals started 2019 in an upward trend, the complex showed weakness as 2019 progressed.

In fact, all of the industrial metals hit down around current support levels — and lower at times — during the past few weeks.

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With industrial metals down across the board, are we moving into bear market territory? Or have we witnessed a temporary blip resulting from less certain macroeconomic conditions?

To examine the situation in more detail, let’s have a look at some of the key industrial metals and recent prices.

The DBB Trended Back Down to Mid-January 2019 Values

After a bullish start to the year, the DBB peaked on a short-term basis in early April, then trended back down once more.

Compared with July 2018’s larger drop, this one appears milder, but the short-term downward trend remains.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of NASDAQ.com data

The DBB tracks three key industrial metals: aluminum, copper and zinc. Let’s take a look at each metal to assess price performance using the LME 3-month futures price.

LME Aluminum

Looking at weekly trading volume, it looks like the downtrend in price is played out (based on recent positive trading volume). Also, both positive and negative weekly volumes looked weak recently, with a lack of momentum in prices.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com

This indicates continued sideways movement on the LME aluminum price.

Given that the aluminum market moved largely sideways during the course of 2019, the Moving Average Convergence/Divergence (MACD) can also indicate where the market is at this time.

The MACD tracks the difference between two exponential smoothed moving averages (using the 12- and 26-day averages); it’s the black line in the graph below, which sits along the bottom edge below the price line. The red line, or signal line, uses the nine-day exponentially smoothed average of the MACD.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com

When the values hold above zero, this indicates the market is overbought. When they are below zero, this indicates the market is oversold. If the lines continue to trend downward, then the downtrend is still in process.

By this indicator, the aluminum market looks oversold and a buy signal emerged recently when the longer-term line turned up after a couple of days of upward market momentum and edged past the signal line. The signal line followed a day later, indicating the downtrend lost steam.

Based on this analysis, aluminum prices may have already hit bottom and turned around; therefore, the aluminum market itself does not look bearish at present.

LME Copper

LME copper prices lately have showed clear weakness. However, they found support again recently in daily trading, stopping a further slide in price.

With negative trading volume still registering on a weekly basis, the price dynamic for copper still looks weak.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com

Looking at volume on a weekly basis, we can see that it trended up again last week. Through the first few days of this week, volume registered as negative on the partial week’s data.

Copper prices still look weak.

LME Zinc

Like the other industrial metals, LME zinc prices trended downward in April.

Looking at weekly volumes for zinc, the price action looks mixed. (Note that the last bar shows only partial data for the week in progress.)

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com

Given the clearer trend when looking at LME zinc prices, we can use the 4-9-18 day moving average analysis to assess the state of the current downtrend. The result of the analysis shows the downtrend remains in process as the moving averages queue in the expected order, with the 18-day average on top (blue line), followed by the nine-day (purple line), then the four-day average (red line).

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com

Therefore, in the case of LME zinc (using this method) the downward trend continues. The red line, however, the shortest average and therefore most sensitive, has recently shown signs of turning back up.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets.com

Looking at a MACD analysis, based on the 12-, 26-, and nine-day periods, the downtrend continues with the signal line in red sitting above the MACD line in black, while both continue in a downward trend below the zero point of the MACD indicator bar.

Readings below zero on the indicator show bullishness in the sense that prices may turn around. However, in this case the lines continue moving in a downward trend, so we may not have seen the bottom of zinc prices just yet.

What this Means for Industrial Buyers

During recent weeks, the main industrial metals tracked by MetalMiner showed weakness. Will this be temporary or are we looking at a more cyclical movement into bear market territory?

While aluminum prices look relatively stable, copper and zinc prices appear weaker, with no clear signal given that the downturn has passed.

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Therefore, while it’s too soon to call a bear market, it’s also too soon to say we’ve avoided one.

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The Copper Monthly Metal Index (MMI) came in again at 79. Nearly all of the prices in the copper basket fell this month, with price declines in the range of 0.3%–1.9%.

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LME copper prices moved sideways during the month and oscillated around $6,424/mt, struggling to hold on to the $6,500 level (despite hitting that price at multiple points throughout the month).

On the other hand, the price generally stayed above the longer-term resistance point of $6,380/mt. The price briefly dropped back later in the month before surging again, then sliding once again into early April.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

LME copper prices trended upward rapidly at the start of 2019 on concerns over supply.

While the correlation between actual warehouse stocks and pricing generally falls outside of the factors driving actual LME copper prices, as pointed out in the most recent Monthly Metal Buying Outlook Report, recently traders traded on this information as warehouse stocks dwindled to historical lows.

Another key factor driving the perception of a potential shortage of the metal could be that supply and demand factors do not presently balance, with a multiyear production deficit of refined copper, as reported by the International Copper Study Group (ICSG).

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

While the bullish copper run ran out of steam by March when the price traded sideways, some of the increase in price from earlier in the year held, with prices now oscillating around a higher short-term level.

However, the market remains in a sideways trend.

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Actual Copper Prices and Trends

In March, most of the prices in the basket dropped, with the exception of Korean copper strip, which increased by 3.6%.

The Chinese prices in the basket showed the largest declines, albeit modest, in the range of 0.3%-1.9%.

Japanese primary cash and Indian copper cash prices declined as well, by 0.8% and 0.9%, respectively. U.S. prices for copper producer grades 110, 102 and 122 were down by 0.5%.

It’s important for buying organizations to understand how to react to copper price movements. The MetalMiner Monthly Outlook report helps buyers understand the copper marketplace.

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This morning in metals news, the copper price fell again, stocks picked up Thursday as U.S.-China trade talks continued and shares of Reliance Steel are up 31% this year.

Has Copper Hit a Wall?

The London copper price had been enjoying an upward trajectory from the start of the year through most of February, but that trend seems to have run out of steam.

LME copper price. Source: LME

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Since late February, the metal has been trading mostly sideways, but on Thursday’s session fell again on weak German manufacturing data, Reuters reported.

In addition, the situation at the Las Bambas copper mine in Peru escalated, as a judge ordered jail time for lawyers who represented indigenous villagers who blockaded the mine in protest, according to the Reuters report.

Stocks Up on U.S.-China Talks

The ongoing trade talks between the U.S. and China continued this week in Washington following last week’s sessions in Beijing; once again, markets are showing great sensitivity to any semblance of good (or bad) news out of the negotiations.

Stocks were mostly slightly up Thursday, MarketWatch reported.

Reliance Steel Shares on the Rise

Metals service center operator Reliance Steel has seen its shares surge 31% in the year to date, according to Zacks Equity Research.

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According to the Zacks analysis, the company has benefited from its focus on high-margin products, and has seen strong demand in the aerospace and automotive markets.

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This morning in metals news, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted Friday that this week’s round of trade talks with China were “constructive,” LME copper is on its way for its first quarterly gain since the end of 2017 and China’s imports of copper are forecast to dip this year.

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U.S.-China Talks Continue

Markets reacted positively late this week on optimism from the latest round of U.S.-China trade talks, this time held in Beijing over Thursday and Friday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted that the talks were constructive.

As Mnuchin noted, trade talks are scheduled to continue next week in Washington, D.C.

Copper Makes Gains

According to Reuters, LME copper is set to notch its first quarterly gain since the end of 2017.

Copper stockpiles in LME-registered warehouses are moving toward 11-year lows, according to the report.

China Copper Imports

Speaking of copper, China is expected to import far less of the metal in 2019, according to a Reuters report citing research house Antaike.

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According to the report, China’s copper imports are forecast to fall 14.7% on account of increased domestic production.

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This morning in metals news, the Canadian government announced it is rolling out $100 million in funding for its domestic steel and aluminum industries, copper moves toward a seven-month high, and Vietnam’s steel exports to the U.S. increased in 2018.

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Canadian Steel, Aluminum Get a Boost

The Canadian government has announced it will offer $100 million in funding to small- and medium-sized aluminum and steel firms in the country, the CBC reported.

The U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum remain in place for NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico. Those tariffs are the primary point of contention as the successor to NAFTA — the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — still needs to be ratified by the three countries’ legislatures.

Copper Continues Hot Streak

The copper price moved toward a seven-month high on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

LME copper jumped 1% to $6,472.50 per ton, according to the report.

Vietnam Steel Sector Grows

Despite the U.S.’s aforementioned Section 232 tariffs, one southeast Asian country saw its steel exports to the U.S. rise last year.

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According to an S&P Global Platts report, Vietnam’s finished steel exports to the U.S. surged 48% in 2018 compared to 2017.

On the heels of the doldrums of December, metals prices have made gains through the first two months in 2019.

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February was an especially strong month for a number of metals.

However, markets are especially sensitive to any snippets of news coming out of the ongoing U.S.-China trade talks. President Donald Trump recently delayed the March 1 deadline for a planned tariff rate increase as talks continued.

Whether the two countries reach a meaningful deal anytime soon remains to be seen; as of now, however, metals prices are enjoying a bit of upward momentum.

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In January, the Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) dropped 3.9%, falling back 3 points to the November 2018 level of 74. Lower LME copper prices drove the index lower.

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Similar to other base metals, LME copper prices fell in December. LME copper prices fell below the $6,000/mt level, which served as a stiff resistance level for most of 2017. Prices over this level indicate a bullish copper market, while prices below that level signal a more bearish trend. This level has represented a psychological signal for “Doctor Copper” since 2017.  

LME Copper prices. Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets

So far in January, LME copper prices have increased. However, current levels remain below that $6,000/mt psychological ceiling. Trading volume also appears weaker, which does not support a sharp uptrend.

Global Copper Outlook

According to data released in January, Chilean copper production reached 540,720 tons in November, the highest level in 13 years. The increase was driven by higher ore grades and more efficient processes. As reported by Chile’s national statistics agency INE, copper production increased 7% in November versus October. Production reached its highest levels  since December 2005.

Anglo American announced that overall production will increase more than expected between 2018-2021. Forecasts suggest 2018 production increased by 2%, driven by increases in copper output. 2019 production could increase by another 3%, and 2020-2021 production by an additional 5%.

Despite this forecast by Anglo American, the International Copper Study Group (ICSG) announced a wider deficit in September. The global refined copper deficit increased to 168,000 tons in September from the previous 43,000 tons in August. For the first nine months of 2018, the market saw a 595,000-ton deficit versus the previous year’s deficit of 226,000 tons.

Chinese Scrap Copper

LME copper prices and Chinese copper scrap prices tend to follow the same trend. However, this month they traded differently. LME copper prices fell while Chinese copper scrap prices increased. The divergence between LME copper prices and Chinese copper scrap has become more notable recently, driven by lower scrap availability in China.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The spread has become smaller this month. The wider the spread, the higher the copper scrap consumption, and therefore, the price.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

LME copper prices fell this month, moving below the $6,000/mt level. Buying organizations will want to understand how to react to the latest copper price movements. Adapting the “right” buying strategy becomes crucial to reduce risks. Only MetalMiner’s Monthly Outlook reports provide a continuously updated snapshot of the market from which buying organizations can determine when and how much of the underlying metal to buy.

Click here for more info on how to mitigate price risk all year round — and get a free 2-month trial to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

Actual Copper Prices and Trends

In December, most of the prices that comprise the Copper MMI basket fell. LME copper decreased by 4.87% this month. Indian copper prices also fell by 5.91%, while Chinese cash primary copper prices decreased by 3.83%. Prices of U.S. copper producer grades 110 and 122 fell by 3.36%. Meanwhile, the price of U.S. copper producer grade 102 decreased by 3.2%, to $3.64/pound.

In July, the Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell by three points, falling to its lowest value since October 2017. The Copper MMI currently stands at 81 points. The decrease came as a result of falling LME copper prices as well as other elements that make up the Copper MMI.

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Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

So far, LME copper prices have followed last month’s downtrend.

LME copper prices have remained in a short-term downtrend since prices peaked in June at $7,316/mt. Since then, LME copper prices have fallen by more than 12%.

The downtrend appears sharp, as copper prices have fallen to October 2017 levels. However, trading volumes do not appear in the same sharp downtrend, instead looking flat. Therefore, copper prices may just be seeing a bigger buying dip, caused by weaker summer demand and trade tensions.

Trade Tensions Also Affecting Copper

Copper prices have also struggled this month due to trade tensions between China and the U.S.

China accounts for almost half of global copper consumption, estimated at around 24 million tons. Fewer Chinese exports also affect copper prices.

Copper investors seek to reduce risk until the trade tension abates. This, together with weaker demand in China, have supported the downtrend.

Chinese Scrap Copper

Since the announcement of the ban on copper scrap in China last summer, MetalMiner has followed Chinese copper scrap prices closely.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

LME copper prices and Chinese copper scrap prices tend to follow the same trend. Both appear to be in a long-term uptrend. However, both LME copper and scrap copper prices fell again this month. Despite both following the same short-term downtrend, the spread has widened. The wider the spread, the higher the copper scrap consumption, and therefore, the price.

However, Chinese the copper scrap ban has boosted copper production in other forms.

In May, Chinese copper imports reached their highest levels in 17 months, with imports totaling 475,000 tons of unwrought copper and copper products. Strong manufacturing and construction sectors have led Chinese demand.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Despite the recent dip, LME copper prices remain in a long-term uptrend.

Buying organizations reading the Metal Monthly Outlook had the opportunity to identify a buying signal at the beginning of April and reduce price risk by purchasing some volume. For those who want to understand how to reduce risks, take a free trial now to the MetalMiner Monthly Outlook.

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Actual Copper Prices and Trends

In July, most of the prices comprising the Copper MMI basket decreased.

LME copper fell by 2.77% this month. Indian copper prices decreased by 2.81%, while Chinese primary copper prices fell further by 3.40%.

Prices of U.S. copper producer grades 110 and 122 decreased by 2.62%. Meanwhile, the price of U.S. copper producer grade 102 fell by 2.49%, to $3.91/pound.