copper price

This morning in metals news: UC Rusal will demerge its high-carbon assets; meanwhile, steel industry groups issued a renewed call to the Biden administration to ask him to keep the Section 232 steel tariff in place; and the copper price has picked back up this week.

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UC Rusal to demerge high-carbon assets

Rusal logo

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En+ Group, parent group of Russian aluminum giant UC Rusal, announced today that the latter will demerge its high-carbon assets.

In addition, UC Rusal also plans to change its name to AL+.

The company plans to focus on developing inert anode technology and working toward production of carbon-free aluminum.

“This announcement is another major step in our journey to lead the global aluminium industry into the low carbon economy,” said Lord Barker, executive chairman of En+ Group. “AL+ will be a market leader in green aluminium production as measured by carbon footprint and other environmental credentials. However, this demerger additionally secures the future of important assets in Russia that also have a future in a low carbon world but which require a fundamentally different approach to technology and a different investment path to our major international businesses.”

Meanwhile, the demerged higher-carbon assets will form a new company under a new name. That includes alumina refineries in Russia (Achinsk, Pikalevo, Bogoslovsk and Ural) and smelters in Bratsk, Irkutsk, Novokuznetsk, Volgograd and Kandalaksha, all of which it says will undertake a “long-term modernisation programme.”

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The Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) surged by 10.6% for this month’s reading, as the copper price has soared to a record high.

May 2021 Copper MMI chart

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Copper prices reach record highs

Last month, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns dissected various views on the copper market after prices had retraced from a February peak of around $9,600 per metric ton.

Would the price go up or would it languish? As he noted, banks held differing opinions, with Goldman Sachs being particularly bullish on the red metal.

“JP Morgan is forecasting copper prices to peak at $9,000 per ton this quarter and slide back to $7,865 per metric ton over the second half of the year,” Burns wrote last month. “It argues more plentiful mine supply will take the steam out of the copper market.

“Copper consumers no doubt hope JP Morgan have got it right.

“But as Reuters observes, smelter stocks are low and will take time to replenish. In the meantime, the lack of smelter output in Q2 will leave the market undersupplied in what remains a robust demand environment.”

The answer to the aforementioned question did not take long to materialize.

After previously touching 10-year highs, the copper price has continued to rise and hit record highs this month.

The LME three-month copper price closed Monday at $10,720 per metric ton, up a whopping 19.32% from the previous month.

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This morning in metals news: Century Aluminum released its Q1 financial results; meanwhile, copper prices continue to surge; and natural gas production plummeted during what was a frigid February in the US.

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Century Aluminum releases Q1 financial results

earnings sign

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Century Aluminum reported a Q1 net loss of $140 million, compared with a Q4 2020 net loss of $35.5 million.

“First quarter results were negatively impacted by $87.4 million of exceptional items, in particular $92.7 million of unrealized losses on forward derivative contracts (net of tax),” the firm said.

Meanwhile, the firm reported net sales increased by 14% to $444 million, citing higher aluminum prices and regional premiums.

President and CEO Michael Bless said the firm is committed to developing its “low-carbon aluminum products as well as the expansion of our smelters’ exposure to renewable power resources.”

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low carbon steel

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This morning in metals news: U.S. Steel announced it is ending plans for $1.5 billion in upgrades to the Mon Valley Works site; the Census Bureau reported construction spending figures for March; and the copper price has heated up once again.

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U.S. Steel ends Mon Valley Works plans

In an open letter posted to the company website Friday, U.S. Steel CEO David B. Burritt announced the steelmaker is ending plans to spend $1.5 billion in plant upgrades for the Mon Valley Works facility.

According to Burritt, the decarbonization efforts included in the upgrades do not go for enough.

“Today is a difficult day,” Burritt said. “U. S. Steel is setting aside this project as we step forward to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world. In this world – a world that still needs steel – we need to find aggressive decarbonization solutions. The project we had planned in 2019 would have decreased our carbon footprint, but we must now move farther and faster. Just as steel transformed the world, the world is now transforming steel.”

Burritt emphasized that much has changed in the two years since the company announced plans to upgrade the plant.

“At the onset of the pandemic, U. S. Steel agreed with the need for the County Health Department to temporarily delay its permitting process for the Mon Valley Works, but this delay allowed for a consequential window of time during which we expanded our understanding of steelmaking’s future in a rapidly decarbonizing world,” he added.The world is changing rapidly and we’re on the ten-yard line with 90 yards ahead of us.”

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This morning in metals news: a $2 million project seeks to develop ways to more cost-effectively produce lightweight automotive sheet metals; meanwhile, U.S. Steel joined the global nonprofit ResponsibleSteel™; and the copper price has picked back up over the last week.

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‘Clean Sheet Project’ aims to improve production of recyclable automotive sheet metals

automotive scrap

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A $2 million project at the University of Michigan dubbed the Clean Sheet Project is looking to improve processes behind the production of recyclable, lightweight automotive sheet metals.

According to a release from the Michigan Engineer News Center, the project is a “key effort as major car manufacturers look to lightweight light-duty trucks and shift away from internal combustion engines toward electric cars which require more lightweight components to increase vehicle range.”

The research will initially focus on steel and aluminum, the report states, but could eventually expand to other materials.

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Copper bulls who were betting on continued price rises — or, more importantly, copper consumers worried about escalating copper costs — may be looking at the copper price and wondering what is going on.

Prices hit over $9,600 per metric ton in late February but have since fallen back.

Although experiencing volatility, the copper price has traded in a roughly +/- 2% band just below $9,000 per metric ton since.

copper bars

Shawn Hempel/Adobe Stock

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Copper price views

Bulls like Goldman Sachs argue this is just a pause, ignoring the build in LME stocks. Instead, it points to the collapse in smelter treatment charges as proof the market remains tight.

Low mine output results in tight concentrate supply. When that happens, smelter treatment charges chase the market down in an effort to secure concentrate to process. Treatment charges rise during times of plentiful concentrate supply and fall during times of concentrate famine, Reuters notes.

The contract treatment price for Q1 is $59.50 per ton, the lowest since 2011.

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The Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell by 2.8% for this month’s reading.

April 2021 Copper MMI chart

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Copper stabilizes after late February, early March drop

The LME three-month copper price surged to a peak of $9,560 in late February.

However, like nickel, the red metal cooled at the end of February and early March. The three-month price fell to $8,757 per metric ton as of March 4.

“This is a classic overbought market in which traders sought to take some profits,” MetalMiner CEO Lisa Reisman explained last month. “With the exception of tin, all of the non-ferrous metals traded down. And though nickel looks weaker (as does lead), most of the non-ferrous metals remain in their uptrend, as does the ferrous metals complex.”

Since then, copper has stabilized. The price has mostly traded between $8,900-$9,000 per metric ton. The three-month price closed Tuesday at $8,893 per metric ton, or down 1.59% from the previous month.

Copper market shift

Elsewhere, Stuart Burns recently delved into the shift in the global copper market as a result of China’s relaxation of scrap import regulations.

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copper mine

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Despite significant drops in output earlier in 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, global copper mine production last year came in unchanged compared with the previous year.

According to the International Copper Study Group, the global copper market posted an apparent deficit of 560,000 tons in 2020.

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ICSG: copper mine production flat in 2020

Copper mine production around the world took a dive in the first half of 2020, as the pandemic disrupted operations and metals demand patterns. Mine output dropped by 3.5% year over year in April-May 2020.

However, the second-half recovery, paced by China, saw production break even for the year.

Peru, the second-largest producer, saw mine production fall 12.5% in 2020. Top producer Chile, meanwhile, saw its output drop just 1%.

Elsewhere, after the transition of two mines to different ore zones, Indonesian output rose by 39%.

“COVID-19 related constraints and other operational issues also resulted in declines in production in other major copper mine producing countries, most notably Australia, Mexico and the United States,” the ICSG added.

Refined production up 1.5%

However, refined copper production rose by 1.5% year over year in 2020.

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copper bars

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The Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up by 12.6% for this month’s reading, as the copper price surged to a 10-year high last month.

March 2021 Copper MMI chart

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Copper price rise

The copper price picked back up in February after China’s Lunar New Year celebration (a traditionally slower time of year for economic activity in the country).

The LME three-month price surged to $9,563 per metric ton, reaching an approximately 10-year high.

Since then, however, the price has pulled back. The three-month price closed Thursday at $9,048 per metric ton.

“This is a classic overbought market in which traders sought to take some profits,” MetalMiner CEO Lisa Reisman explains. “With the exception of tin, all of the non-ferrous metals traded down. And though nickel looks weaker (as does lead), most of the non-ferrous metals remain in their uptrend, as does the ferrous metals complex.”

Earlier today, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns touched on the trajectory of oil prices. As readers of our Annual Outlook — for which we released our March update earlier this week — know, oil prices are a key economic factor MetalMiner considers when analyzing commodities markets.

“Copper has taken much of its cue from oil prices, which remain at or around $65/barrel along with strong demand buoyed by the stimulus package just passed in the US House of Representatives,” Reisman adds. “Moreover, copper has very strong fundamentals — strong demand and not as much supply — which forms the basis of the copper narrative.” 

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Department of Commerce building

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

This morning in metals news: the Department of Commerce said imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from 18 countries are being dumped and benefiting from subsidies; Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard this week commented on the US’s economic outlook; and the copper price has retraced somewhat over the last week.

DOC makes common alloy aluminum sheet ruling

The Department of Commerce ruled that common alloy aluminum sheet imports from 18 countries benefited from either dumping or countervailable subsidization.

The affirmative final dumping determination related to imports from: Bahrain, Brazil, Croatia, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Oman, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the countervailing subsidy investigation referred to common alloy aluminum sheet imports from Bahrain, India and Turkey.

In 2019, Germany sent the most common alloy aluminum sheet, by value, to the US, at $286.6 million.

Don’t miss the MetalMiner analyst team on March 24 at 10:00 a.m. CDT for a 30-minute metals market forecast and strategies to deploy in falling markets:

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