After fielding hundreds of calls from metal-buying organizations this past year, we here at MetalMiner can definitely say that metal-buying organizations have felt “tariff pain.”
But at the same time — and there is a big but — many companies mitigated much, if not all, of that price risk by deploying effective sourcing strategies.
The recent press attention given to the alleged “harmful effects” of Section 232 tariffs on aluminum and steel on consumers and businesses appears to be ill-informed.
Before we dive into the details, let’s set the record straight on where steel and aluminum prices appear today, where they were when tariffs went into effect and where they were before tariffs.
Let’s start with hot-rolled coil (HRC):
Source: MetalMiner IndX(SM)
Wait a Second, Rewind…
Two points if you said “wow, it looks like steel prices reached similar highs in 2011.”
To be fair, tariffs did lift steel prices in 2018 to 10-year highs, but prices have declined steadily since last July (four months after tariffs went into effect).
Today’s price levels now appear within the same range in which they traded back in 2011-2015. It’s hard to see how the consumer faces a hefty bill for HRC prices due to tariffs now or for any prior extended length of time.
A similar price dynamic applies to cold-rolled coil (CRC), with a little twist:
The tariffs had remained in place since June 1, 2018, when temporary exemptions for Canada, Mexico and the E.U. were allowed to expire.
Trade officials from the three countries had expressed optimism earlier this week that a deal was near to remove the 25% steel tariff and 10% aluminum tariff.
The move marks a major step toward approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), meant as the successor to NAFTA.
“I’m pleased to announce that we’ve just reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico and we’ll be selling our products into those countries without the imposition of tariffs, or major tariffs,” Trump told the National Association of Realtors, as reported by USA Today. “Big difference.”
President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the USMCA during the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires late last year. However the three countries’ legislatures must ratify the deal before it can go into effect.
As such, both Mexico and Canada in recent months have indicated that they would be unlikely to approve a deal without removal of the tariffs. Likewise, members of the U.S. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, also indicated a deal would not be approved unless the tariffs are removed vis-a-vis imports of steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, lauded the move.
“Canada and Mexico are strong allies and have taken significant steps to assure that trade-distorting and subsidized steel and aluminum from third countries will not surge into the U.S. market,” Brady said.
“With this crucial issue resolved, now is the time for Congress to advance USMCA – delay means the United States continues to lose out on more jobs, more customers for Made-in-America goods, and a stronger economy. Congress should take up this updated and modernized agreement, which will produce strong wins for America.”
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., hailed the agreement to remove the tariffs.
“This is a victory for both our countries and our highly integrated steel and aluminum industries,” he said in a tweet Friday.
According to a joint statement issued by Canada and the United States, in addition to removal of the tariffs the countries will implement measures to “prevent the importation of aluminum and steel that is unfairly subsidized and/or sold at dumped prices” and “prevent the transshipment of aluminum and steel made outside of Canada or the United States to the other country.”
The joint statement also addresses situations in which imports levels surge.: “In the event that imports of aluminum or steel products surge meaningfully beyond historic volumes of trade over a period of time, with consideration of market share, the importing country may request consultations with the exporting country. After such consultations, the importing party may impose duties of 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum in respect to the individual product(s) where the surge took place (on the basis of the individual product categories set forth in the attached chart). If the importing party takes such action, the exporting country agrees to retaliate only in the affected sector (i.e., aluminum and aluminum-containing products or steel).”
Canada will also rescind retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products imposed last summer. In addition to a variety of steel and aluminum products, the list of items targeted for retaliatory duties included coffee, yogurt and orange juice.
From the Analysts: Price Impacts of Removal of Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Tariffs for Canada and Mexico
With the removal of tariffs on imports of aluminum from Canada and Mexico, announced today by the U.S. government, MetalMiner anticipates the aluminum U.S. Midwest Premium may finally drop from the current level of around $0.19 per pound due to the easing of restrictions on the flow of prime material cross-border.
Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)
As of now, the LME aluminum price does not appear to show any impact from the news, with the price still sitting close to yesterday’s closing value.
Given the lack of major producers of semi-finished materials in both Mexico and Canada, MetalMiner does not anticipate a flood of materials to hit the U.S. market; therefore, buying organizations can continue to expect tightness for semi-finished aluminum commercial grade sheet and coil. Buying organizations will likely not see large price drops for semi-finished sheet and coil products.
On the other hand, given that the 25% tariff on steel effectively deterred imports of that metal to the U.S., MetalMiner does expect to see an impact on steel prices as imports of steel increase.
Canada serves as the largest exporter of flat rolled steel products, as well as long products, with Mexico taking the No. 3 position. For tubular products, Canada and Mexico take the No. 2 and 3 positions. For stainless steel, Mexico serves as the fourth-largest exporter to the U.S. and Canada does not export stainless to the U.S. in a major way.
The iron ore price has received several supply-side boosts this year, stemming from operational failures at miner Vale’s operations in Brazil and tropical cyclones in Australia.
An update from Vale regarding its Gongo Soco mine has offered even more support to the iron ore price, which climbed over the $100 per ton mark for the first time in five years, the Financial Times reported.
Earlier this year, a dam breach occurred at Vale’s Corrego do Feijao mine in Brumadinho, killing hundreds. Now, Vale is issuing a warning about a potential breach at its Gongo Soco mine’s Sul Superior dam.
“As soon as a movement was detected on the northern slope of a pit at the Gongo Soco mine in Barão de Cocais, Minas Gerais, paralyzed since 2016, Vale immediately informed the competent authorities and has taken a series of necessary measures to update the region’s population about the situation in the pit and at the Sul Superior dam, which is approximately 1.5 km from the mine area,” Vale said in a prepared statement.
“It should be noted that there are no technical elements so far that point towards an eventual slide of the northern slope of the Gongo Soco Mine, which could act as a trigger for a breach of the Sul Superior Dam. Even so, Vale is reinforcing the alert and readiness level for a worst-case breach scenario.”
U.S. Cuts Turkish Steel Tariff
Amid a year of diplomatic tension between the U.S. and Turkey, the U.S. last year doubled its Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum against the latter, raising them to 50% and 20%, respectively.
This week, however, the White House announced it would cut the steel tariff in half, back to the original 25% rate.
In a statement, the White House said steel imports fell 12% in 2018 compared with the previous year, including a 48% decline in imports of steel from Turkey.
“Given these improvements, I have determined that it is necessary and appropriate to remove the higher tariff on steel imports from Turkey imposed by Proclamation 9772, and to instead impose a 25 percent ad valorem tariff on steel imports from Turkey, commensurate with the tariff imposed on such articles imported from most countries,” the White House said. “Maintaining the existing 25 percent ad valorem tariff on most countries is necessary and appropriate at this time to address the threatened impairment of the national security that the Secretary found in the January 2018 report.”
Copper Down Again
The price of copper is on its way to its fifth consecutive weekly loss, Reuters reported.
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.
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 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.
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.
This morning in metals news, Brazilian miner Vale SA has plans to invest approximately $2.5 billion over the next five years in dry iron ore processing, Rusal reported a drop in its first-quarter profits and copper prices bounced back.
Miner Vale SA announced it plans to invest approximately $2.5 billion in dry iron ore processing at its operations.
The investment will be made over the next five years. Currently, approximately 60% Vale’s production comes from dry processing; the miner aims to make dry iron ore processing account for 70% of its production.
Dry iron ore processing does not require water, which means there is no need for dams and tailing are not generated. In January, a dam collapse at Vale’s Corrego do Feijao mine in Brumadinho led to hundreds of deaths.
Rusal Profits Slide in Q1
Still feeling the bite of U.S. sanctions that were then in effect, Rusal reported its Q1 profits fell to $300 million from $531 million last year, Reuters reported.
The U.S. sanctions were removed in January; after being applied in April 2018, aluminum prices skyrocketed on fears of Rusal aluminum being taken off the market.
Copper Prices Bounce Back
After dropping to a 15-week low, the copper price picked back up Tuesday (despite the conclusion of U.S.-China trade talks last week without a deal).
This morning in metals news, President Donald Trump added sanctions on Iran targeting its metals industry, Rio Tinto is shipping more aluminum to Europe and ArcelorMittal reported its Q1 2019 financial results.
On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Iran’s metals industry, including exports of iron, steel, aluminum and copper.
Rio Tinto Supplying More Aluminum to Europe
According to Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques, the miner has begun to ship greater volumes of aluminum to the European market amid flagging U.S. demand, Reuters reported.
The CEO cited the ongoing U.S.-China trade conflict as a factor contributing to the decline in U.S. demand.
Although negotiations between the U.S. and China continued this week, tensions escalated as President Donald Trump has threatened to increase the rate on a previously announced $200 billion in tariffs from 10% to 25%, setting a Friday deadline for the increase. The tariffs were originally imposed in September, with the tariff rate increase scheduled for Jan. 1 before the two countries reached an agreement on a negotiating timetable.
ArcelorMittal Reports Q1 Results
Steelmaker ArcelorMittal reported EBITDA of $1.7 billion in Q1 2019, down from $2.0 billion in Q4 2018.
Steel shipments were up 7.9% from Q4 2018 “primarily due to higher steel shipments in Europe (+14.4%) due in part to the acquisition of ArcelorMittal Italia (following its consolidation from November 1, 2018) and NAFTA (+2.8%), offset in part by lower steel shipments in Brazil (-5.7%).”
“Our first quarter results reflect the challenging operating environment the industry has faced in recent months,” ArcelorMittal Chairman and CEO Lakshmi Mittal said. “Profitability has been impacted by lower steel pricing due to weaker economic activity and continued global overcapacity, as well as rising raw material costs as a result of supply-side developments in Brazil.”
Mittal also addressed high import levels, even after Europe’s approval of steel safeguard measures earlier this year.
“We continue to face a challenge from high levels of imports, particularly in Europe, where safeguard measures introduced by the European Commission have not been fully effective,” Mittal said. “Although we are somewhat encouraged by the firmer price environment in China, this is not being reflected in Europe where in order to adapt to the current market environment we have recently announced annualized production cuts of three million tonnes in our flat steel operations. It is important there is a level playing field to address unfair competition, and this includes a green border adjustment to ensure that imports into Europe face the same carbon costs as producers in Europe.”
SHFE aluminum prices continued to increase, with a higher per ton price of around $2,100/mt.
Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets
Based on the most recent production figures from the International Aluminum Institute, although March production levels in China increased by 10% over February 2019, Chinese production levels when compared with March 2018 only increased by 1%. During Q1 in total, Chinese production registered at 8.9 million mt, versus 8.8 million mt the year prior — a 1.6% increase over 2018.
Supply Concerns Fade, but Deficit Anticipated in 2019
With global demand for aluminum outpacing supply, the LME price decline could be a temporary weakness.
Aluminum has been caught up in the general negative pricing momentum industrial metals saw during the past few weeks, as the dollar showed strength. As the dollar strengthens, metal prices tend to weaken. However, if demand conditions deteriorate, the price declines could stick, or the price could continue to move sideways on weakened demand.
According to Alcoa’s most recent quarterly report, a global aluminum deficit of aluminum in the range of 1.5 million mt to 1.9 million mt is estimated for 2019. However, the company estimate was revised down from the range of 1.7 million mt to 2.1 million mt given in the company’s prior quarterly report. This indicates the company anticipates some moderation of global growth, with its estimates revised down to the 2-3% range from 3-4%, stating lower demand growth in China, particularly lower transportation and electrical sector demand.
Midwest Aluminum Premium
The U.S. Midwest Premium continued to hold at the historic high of $0.19/pound during April.
What This Means for Industrial Buyers
LME aluminum prices weakened along with other base metals prices last month, showing downward momentum; prices remain within range of a sideways trend. Prices could hold, then continue to rise further once more or move lower from here depending on overall supply and demand factors at large. It’s also possible the sideways pricing band will continue to hold on weakened demand. Even in a sideways market, it’s important to watch the market carefully for buying opportunities in order to buy on dips.
For more specific pricing guidance related to aluminum and aluminum products, buying organizations may want to request a free trial now to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.
On Space Launch Complex 576-E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Orbital Sciences workers monitor NASA’s Glory upper stack as a crane lifts it from a stationary rail for attachment to the Taurus XL rocket’s Stage 0. Source: NASA
Following investigations regarding the cause of two launch failures in 2009 and 2011, NASA pointed the finger this week on faulty materials from aluminum manufacturer Sapa Profiles, Inc. (SPI).
“NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) investigators have determined the technical root cause for the Taurus XL launch failures of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) and Glory missions in 2009 and 2011, respectively: faulty materials provided by aluminum manufacturer, Sapa Profiles, Inc. (SPI),” NASA said in a release.
“LSP’s technical investigation led to the involvement of NASA’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ’s efforts, recently made public, resulted in the resolution of criminal charges and alleged civil claims against SPI, and its agreement to pay $46 million to the U.S. government and other commercial customers. This relates to a 19-year scheme that included falsifying thousands of certifications for aluminum extrusions to hundreds of customers.”
According to NASA, the failed Taurus XL missions resulted in a loss of more than $700 million and “years of people’s scientific work.”
Upon investigation, NASA concluded the crafts’ launch vehicle fairing, a “clamshell structure that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere,” had failed to separate on command.
“From NASA’s investigation, it is now known that SPI altered test results and provided false certifications to Orbital Sciences Corporation, the manufacturer of the Taurus XL, regarding the aluminum extrusions used in the payload fairing rail frangible joint,” NASA said. “A frangible joint is a structural separation system that is initiated using ordnance.”
SPI, now known as Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc., recently pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and reached a settlement with the Department of Justice’s Civil Division to pay $46.9 million.
SPI is owned in a 50-50 share purchase agreement between Norwegian conglomerate Orkla ASA and Norsk Hydro, after Hydro acquired a 50% interest in SPI in 2017 for NOK 27 billion.
“As part of the share purchase agreement between Hydro and Orkla ASA, Orkla ASA will indemnify Hydro for 50 percent of the liability in relation to the DOJ’s investigations,” Norsk Hydro said in a release April 23. “As communicated in Hydro’s 2018 Annual Report on March 15, 2019, a charge of NOK 157 million has been included in Hydro’s Q4 2018 figures related to the agreement with DOJ.”
This morning in metals news, the Republic of Congo made its first export of iron ore, Korean steelmaker POSCO says elevated iron ore prices will put a damper on steel margins this year and global aluminum production in March hit 5.4 million metric tons.
The shipment of 22,000 metric tons of iron ore is headed for a Chinese steel mill, according to the report.
Rising Iron Ore Prices to Impact Steel Margins
The price of the steelmaking material iron ore has received several supply-side boosts of late, particularly related to events in Brazil at Vale’s operations and from recent tropical cyclones in Australia.
As such, Korean steelmaker POSCO expects elevated iron ore and coking coal prices to hamper steel margins this year, the Australian Financial Review reported. According to the report, POSCO expects iron ore to trade between $82-$87 per ton for the remainder of the financial year.
The Aluminum Association Trade Enforcement Working Group filed a petition requesting relief from imports of Chinese aluminum foil in May 2017. Almost one year later, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders on aluminum foil from China ranging from 55-176%.
Since then, according to an Aluminum Association white paper released Tuesday titled “Targeted Trade Enforcement in Action: Aluminum Foil AD/CVD One Year Later,” imports of Chinese aluminum foil have fallen significantly.
Imports of aluminum foil from China by volume fell 64% from 2017 to 2018, down from 272.4 million tons to 97.7 million tons. The white paper also notes imports of “unfairly traded aluminum foil” from China accounted for 60% of U.S. import market share in 2017, but just 20% in 2018.
Monthly U.S. imports of Chinese aluminum foil, 2010-2018. Source: Aluminum Association
The white paper also touts an increase in investment in the domestic aluminum industry.
“Companies like JW Aluminum and Granges worked for the past several years to reinvest in the U.S. foil industry,” the Aluminum Association white paper states. “These firms have announced substantial capital investments – with a combined value of approximately $169 million – to expand and strengthen facilities at which they manufacture aluminum foil.”
Aluminum Association President and CEO Heidi Brock lauded the trade action’s impact on the domestic aluminum industry.
“One year after taking strong action to enforce our nation’s trade laws, we are seeing clear and significant progress in the U.S. aluminum foil market,” Brock said. “We’d once again like to recognize the hard work of the administration, including the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission, in helping aluminum foil producers in the U.S. to compete on a level-playing field.”
Brock also highlighted the action taken vis-a-vis aluminum foil compared with the Trump administration’s blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum imports via a Section 232 probe. In that case, the Aluminum Association has called for the tariffs on trading partners like Canada and Mexico to be removed and for the Trump administration’s trade enforcement focus to be squared on Chinese overcapacity.
“Not all tariffs are created equal,” Brock said. “Targeted trade enforcement as we’ve seen successfully deployed in the aluminum foil and, more recently, common alloy sheet, markets are the best way to make an impact. This approach allows us to effectively address issues in the marketplace while avoiding needless and disruptive tariffs on vital trading partners who play by the rules.”
The Section 232 tariffs on imported steel and aluminum — of 25% and 10%, respectively — remain in effect with respect to imports from Canada and Mexico. That fact remains a sticking point in the ongoing process to approve the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the intended successor to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The USMCA was signed by President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto during the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires late last year. However, the agreement must be ratified by each country’s legislature before it can go into effect.