Copper

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This morning in metals news, Rio Tinto made a copper discovery at its Grasberg mine for the first time since 2014, automakers urge Trump not to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and copper hits a 3 1/2-week low.

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Rio Makes Copper Find at Grasberg

Rio Tinto made a copper discovery at its Grasberg mine, marking the first discovery of copper at the location since 2014, Bloomberg reported.

The discovery comes as Rio is considering leaving its Indonesian mine operation, according to the report. Rio’s total mined copper output declined by 9% last year, according to the report.

Don’t Pull Out of NAFTA: Automakers

As renegotiation talks focusing on NAFTA continue, automakers once again urged the president not to pull out of the trilateral trade deal.

According to Reuters, automakers urged the president not to terminate the deal and were hopeful a renegotiated deal can be reached among the member nations (the U.S., Canada and Mexico).

Trump has threatened to withdraw from the deal, inked in 1994, as manufacturing and labor group in the U.S. have argued NAFTA has seen jobs leave the country for Mexico. Meanwhile, other groups, like automakers, have indicated a desire to see the deal modernized for the 21st century, as opposed to spiking the deal entirely.

Regardless, pulling out of NAFTA would have a significant impact on a wide range of interconnected supply chains across North America.

The parties involved in the renegotiation hoped to reach a deal by the end of 2017, but that schedule proved to be overly ambitious. Now, negotiators will look to hammer something out during what is an election year in all three countries.

Copper, Nickel Slide

Copper fell to a 3 1/2-week low and nickel dropped by more than 5% on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

After zinc closed out 2017 on a hot streak, it has come back down to earth a bit after not unexpected profit-taking, according to the report.

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Copper, too, also fell as the U.S. dollar steadied (the two are inversely correlated), hitting an index value of 90.61 as of 12:15 p.m. EST Tuesday.

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This morning in metals news, U.S. steel imports rose significantly in 2017, Shanghai nickel hits a 2-month high and the Peruvian government is considering a $2.4 billion railway project in light of rising copper output.

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Steel Imports Up by 15.5%; 2017 Market Share Hits 27%

According to Steel Import Monitoring Analysis (SIMA) data reported by AISI, total and finished steel imports in the U.S. were 38,149,000 net tons (NT) and 29,534,000 NT, up 15.5% and 12.1%, respectively, from 2016.

The estimated import market share for December was 22%, according to the SIMA data, and 27% for 2017.

Shanghai Nickel Rises Amid Concerns About Output

According to a Reuters report, Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) nickel rose by as much as 1% amid concerns about output levels and production outages.

As of Jan. 5, deliverable ShFE nickel warehouse stocks are approximately 54% of what they were last year (48,920 tons, down from 90,000 last year).

Peru Eyes Estimated $2.4 Billion Railway Project

With copper output on the rise, Peru is considering an ambitious railway project to facilitate the transport of the metal.

According to Reuters, the Peruvian government is evaluating a $2.4 billion railway project for transporting minerals from an Andean region rich in copper to the Pacific coast.

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The proposed railway would start in the highland region of Apurimac and stretch 373 miles to the coast, carrying concentrates from Chinese-owned MMG Ltd’s Las Bambas mine and other copper and iron projects, according to Deputy Mines Minister Ricardo Labo said.

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This morning in metals news, China has issued stricter rules on building new steel capacity, Chinese steel production is expected to slow down in 2018 and LME copper rises as the dollar loses ground.

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New Rules to Put the Squeeze on New Capacity in China

China has new, stricter rules on building new steel capacity, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on Monday, Reuters reported.

According to the report, the rules dictate that China will allow one ton of new capacity to be built for a minimum of 1.25 tons of old capacity closed in environmentally sensitive regions.

Chinese Steel Production to Slow in 2018

 In the same vein, Chinese steel production is expected to slacken this year, the Financial Times reported.
According to a poll of analysts, steel output is expected to rise by just 0.6% this year, the Financial Times reported.

Copper Rises as Dollar Falls

London copper picked up some momentum Tuesday as the U.S. dollar fell, Reuters reported.

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That dynamic came on the heels of the metal hitting a two-week low overnight, in tandem with a previous upward run by the dollar.

Before we come to the end of the first business week of 2018, let’s look back at some of the stories on MetalMiner so far this year:

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  • Chinese supply-side reforms generally have a big impact on metal prices — such was the case for copper, as our Stuart Burns wrote early this week.
  • In case you missed it, the fourth episode of our podcast series, Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential, dropped this week. This time, we spoke with Heidi Brock, CEO of the Aluminum Association.
  • With 2018 just under way, many publications are making predictions for the year with respect to the markets and how they will perform (among other things). Burns rounded up some of the predictions being made for the year, ranging from the political to the economic.
  • After a solid 2017, Tata Steel has big plans for 2018, Sohrab Darabshaw writes.
  • Speaking of supply-side actions, Burns touched on oil output cuts led by OPEC.
  • We kicked off our monthly round of Monthly Metals Index (MMI) posts with the Automotive MMI.
  • Gold and Bitcoin, in terms of finance, sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, with the former representing tradition and the latter representing the rise of modern cryptocurrencies. However, their relative fortunes are more connected than you might think, Burns writes.
  • For our second MMI post, we surveyed the month in construction trends and prices.

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This morning in metals news, Chinese steel futures fell, iron ore has done well to start 2018 and a new copper deposit has been discovered in Ecuador.

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Chinese Steel Futures Break Three-Day Upward Streak

Chinese steel futures fell on Thursday, breaking a three-day streak of gains, according to Reuters.

The drop comes as demand is expected to slacken with upcoming winter snows, which will slow down construction projects in the country. According to the report, winter weather is expected to hit the country, in the form of rain and snow, in the coming week.

Iron Ore Rises in the New Year

Meanwhile, iron ore has had a nice start to 2018, according to this report by Business Insider Australia.

Quoting Metal Bulletin numbers, the price for benchmark 62% fines rose 0.3% to $74.97 a ton, an increase which came on the heels of a 2.9% increase on Tuesday.

Miner Makes Copper Discovery in Ecuador

Miner SolGold is “elated” by its recent discovery of a new copper deposit in Ecuador, The Telegraph reports.

According to the report, SolGold confirmed a mineral resource estimate (MRE) of more than 1 billion tons of copper equivalent at its Alpala site in northern Ecuador.

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“With a further 120km of drilling planned for 2018 this is likely to be a dynamic resource with many updates to follow,” said Michael Stoner, an analyst at Berenberg, to Business Insider. “It is positive to see the group lay down a sizable first marker for the resource and we are most interested in the high-grade core, which, if expanded, will greatly ease the route to first production.”

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Copper is on a tear.

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Copper rose to its highest point in nearly four years last week following further curbs on domestic production in China, closing at new year-to-date high for 2017. LME and Comex copper continued its longest bull run in more than a year, after closing at its highest level since January 2014 on Dec. 22.

Analysts suggest prices are being lifted by hopes that a stronger U.S. economy under a lighter tax regime will fuel demand for the metal. Maybe of more importance is the largest copper producer in China, Jiangxi Copper, was rumored to have been ordered on Monday to halt output for at least a week before a further assessment based on local pollution levels. The effect has been to boost support for Shanghai copper, which rose to a 2-month high. The firm disputes it has been ordered to halt production, but so bullish is sentiment the market has shrugged it off and continued to buy copper.

Following years of oversupply, robust demand for copper, particularly from buildout of charging networks required for electric cars and infrastructure for the integration of renewable energy investments, is driving expectations of further price rises, according to the Financial Times. As a result, prices hit U.S.$7,312/metric ton last week, the highest level since January 2014, as import data for China showed November refined metal imports jumped 19% to 329,168 metric tons.

While demand appears robust, the impression is developing that the supply market will be squeezed next year.

The Financial Times reports that analysts at Citibank estimate that nearly 30 labor contract negotiations are set to take place in copper-mining countries next year, potentially affecting 25% of global mine supply.

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Q1 could see prices take a breather and may present a time to buy forward if prices come off a little. Chinese New Year holidays often see a run-up in demand before the holidays, but overall the quarter suffers from the prolonged closedowns.

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Not to be outdone by steel and aluminum, we also decided to take a look back at the year that was for copper, the metal often referred to as “Dr. Copper” for its ability to serve as an indicator of economic health.

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So, before we turn over to 2018, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest, most interesting copper stories here on MetalMiner this year:

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This morning in metals news, the top copper producer in China was forced to stop production on account of a pollution order, Chinese steel futures are down, and Chinese officials falsified data in order to avoid steel and aluminum capacity cuts.

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Jiangxi Gets the Government Red Light

Jiangxi Copper Co., China’s top copper producer, had to halt its production after a local government order related to pollution from its facility’s activities, Bloomberg reported.

According to a company official Tuesday, the local Chinese government made the order in an effort to cut pollution in the area. The halting of production is set to last for at least a week, according to the report.

Chinese Steel Futures Drop

Chinese steel futures fell as a result of dropping output during the winter season, Reuters reported.

A drop in demand during the cooler season also contributed to the futures decline. According to Reuters, the most active rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) dropped 3% to close at 3,787 yuan ($578.54) a ton.

Chinese Officials Fake Data to Avoid Capacity Cuts

According to the state-run China Youth Daily, officials in China’s northern Shandong province used fake data to help aluminum and steel producers avoid mandatory production curbs.

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According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, officials in Binzhou used fake certificates and false data to obtain approval for the construction of 2.4 million tons of new aluminum production capacity in 2014.

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This morning in metals news, senior executives at Kobe Steel were aware of the company’s data tampering, copper drops from its two-month and a subsidiary of ArcelorMittal is paying $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit regarding pollution from its western Pennsylvania coke plant.

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Kobe Admits Executives Knew Abut Data Cheating

Kobe Steel admitted for the first time that senior level executives were aware of the data falsification going on at the company, Reuters reported.

As a result, three executives were “reassigned,” according to the report — in other words, demoted.

According to the steelmaker, about 500 customers received products with falsified specifications.

Copper Falls Off Two-Month High

After approaching a two-month high in the previous session, copper dropped Thursday, Reuters reported.

LME copper closed at $6,924 per ton on Wednesday.

ArcelorMittal Subsidiary Pays $1.5M in Pollution Suit

A subsidiary of ArcelorMittal is paying $1.5 million to settle a suit that its western Pennsylvania coke plant “showered the area with soot and other pollutants almost daily,” the Associated Press reported.

PennEnvironment, the environmental advocacy group behind the suit, said it believes the penalty is the largest secured by a citizen lawsuit in Pennsylvania history under the federal Clean Air Act, according to the Associated Press report.

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The electric vehicles (EVs) market could increase by 3,400% by 2030 compared to 2015 EVs sales, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

More powerful, reliable and cost-competitive batteries have driven EV growth. Lithium-ion batteries have effectively replaced lead batteries.

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MetalMiner analyzed the usage of base metals in EVs and their price performance this year. The EV boom has driven investor sentiment for these base metals.

Base Metals’ Role in EVs

The infographic below breaks down car parts by type of base metal. Aluminum, nickel, copper and tin serve as the four main base metal “winners” in which the market could expect demand to grow.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Business Insider data

Aluminum, Copper and Nickel

Of the exchange-traded metals, all three of these base metals commonly have high trading volumes. Copper, in particular, tends to have high trading volume as the market considers it an economic indicator (often referred to by the nickname “Dr. Copper”).

Both aluminum and copper appear in an uptrend, especially since the summer when prices started to rally.

Nickel prices have also seen high volatility due to electric battery demand. This makes sense — if investors consider a metal  “hot,” then volume and transactions may increase. Prices may change based on  this, as they did for nickel.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

And What About Tin?

Contrary to the other three base metals, tin prices do not look bullish.

Tin plays an important role in EVs, as it is used for electronic solder and batteries. However, tin prices appear both stagnant and weak.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Tin’s price momentum has diverged from EV supply/demand fundamentals and the LME price.

EV batteries have evolved toward technologies that include more tin alloys. According to the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI), tin used for batteries increased by 95% in 2016 compared to 2010 data (14,400 tons). Tin mine output has increased in 2017 compared to last year’s data (18% in China, 26% in Indonesia and 7% in Myanmar).

However, the ITRI forecasts a 7,300-ton deficit in 2017. Tin stocks remain low, with only a slight increase in SHFE stocks.

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Current macro indicators support the bullish rally. However, tin prices still seem reluctant to react.

Have investors forgotten about tin?

Judging by the reception for aluminum, copper and nickel, perhaps 2018 will bring tin into the bull party.