Iron Ore

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This morning in metals news, two new vehicles made mostly with steel represent a victory for the steel industry, iron ore prices are down and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) voted to continue its investigation into common alloy aluminum sheet from China.

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New Ram Pickup, Chevy Silverado Made with Steel

As the steel industry battles to remain the dominant material in automotive construction, the news of two new models constitutes a win for the industry.

Fiat Chrysler‘s new Ram pickup and General Motors‘ new Chevrolet Silverado truck are made mostly with steel, Reuters reported. The announcements represent a big win for steel, which is seeing increasing competition from aluminum within the automotive industry.

As Reuters reported, in late 2014 Ford launched the all-aluminum body F-150. While the versatile metal offered improved fuel economy, it comes at a premium to steel. The interplay between steel and aluminum vis-a-vis automobile construction is something that will need to continue to be monitored going forward.

Iron Ore Prices Drop

As Chinese rebar steel futures fell, so too did prices of iron ore in the face of flagging demand, Reuters reported.

Iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange dropped 2.3% to 535 yuan per ton, according to the report.

ITC Continues Aluminum Sheet Investigation

The U.S. ITC announced Friday that it voted to continue its investigation of common alloy aluminum sheet from China.

“The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) today determined that there is a reasonable indication that a U.S. industry is materially injured by reason of imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from China that are allegedly subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value,” the ITC release covering the announcement states.

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Now, a preliminary countervailing duty determination is due Feb. 1 from the Department of Commerce.

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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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This morning in metals news, U.S. raw steel production for the final week of 2017 hit 1.63 million net tons, some Indian steel companies are upset about a hike in iron ore prices and zinc hits a 10-year high.

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Raw Steel Production to Close ’17 Falls From Previous Week

According to weekly data from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), U.S. raw steel production for the week ending Dec. 30, 2017, hit 1,637,000 net tons (NT), which was up 1.9% from the same week in 2016 but down 4.7% from the previous week.

Adjusted year-to-date production through Dec. 30, 2017, was 90,106,000 NT, which was up 4.3% from the 86,379,000 NT during the same period in 2016.

Iron Ore Prices Up, Steel Companies Frown

According to a report from the Economic Times, a hike in iron ore prices has some Indian steel companies unhappy.

According to the report, Indian steel companies are worried that the rise in iron ore prices, among other materials, could force them to raise their prices.

Zinc Soars on Deficit Concerns

Zinc reached a 10-year high on expectations of a supply deficit, according to a Reuters report.

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Benchmark zinc rose 0.9% to $3,349/ton, its highest price since August 2007, according to the report.

Steel prices in China have been rising, but iron ore prices have been falling — what’s going on there?

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China is shutting domestic iron ore mines at an accelerating rate, forcing steel companies to import iron ore from overseas, which would normally be supportive for the iron ore price.

The answer it would seem, as is so often the case, has more to do with speculators’ view of future fundamentals than actual current fundamentals.

Strong Chinese Demand for Steel

Steel prices in China are strong because steel demand remains robust, despite exports being crimped by protectionist measures in North America, Europe, India and elsewhere. Domestic demand is holding up well.

Meanwhile, supply-side action by Beijing is cutting swathes of steelmaking capacity. Initially, much of the cuts came to “illegal” production, such as EDF scrap based long products mills — which has happened largely under the radar — but also older, less efficient and more polluting steel plants. All of this follows Beijing’s pledge to cut 50 million tons this year as part of an environmental drive to reduce air pollution by November (the start of the winter heating season).

Source Financial Times

After strong price rises this year, investors have done well and are now taking their profits ahead of a perceived fall in demand, as steel curtailments really begin to bite later in the year. It would be a brave speculator who bet against the wave of negative sentiment toward the iron ore price, including even the Australian government, which has been warning of price falls.

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This morning in metals news, the recent agreement between Tata Steel and Thyssenkrupp to merge their European operations will likely mean job cuts at the U.K.’s biggest steel plant, copper moves up and Rio Tinto will deploy driverless iron ore trains in western Australia.

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Fallout of the Tata-Thyssenkrupp Deal

After more than a year of anticipation and talk, Tata Steel and Thyssenkrupp recently announced they had reached a deal to merge their European operations.

This was exciting news to some, but not to workers in the U.K., who expressed fear at the possibility of job cuts.

According to a Reuters analysis, the U.K.’s biggest steel plant, in Port Talbot, will likely be the first to face the scythe of job cuts. The plant directly employs 4,000 workers.

Copper Moves Up

Copper futures gained Monday in a slow trading day, according to a Reuters report.

The metal’s rise was in part attributed to growth in Chinese manufacturing.

Three-month LME copper was up 0.4% to $6,509 per ton earlier today.

Driverless Trains

Driverless cars are the wave of the future — but what about driverless trains?

Rio Tinto will use driverless trains for the transportation of iron ore in western Australia, according to Reuters.

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The iron ore miner recently completed its first long-haul journey (60 miles), with a completely autonomous locomotive, according to the report.

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This morning in metals news, the International Trade Commission rules that imports of solar cells are hurting U.S. manufacturers, iron ore enters a bear market and the UN proposes that businesses take responsibility for environmental pollution.

A Bear Market for Iron Ore

The price of iron ore has undergone the biggest weekly fall in 16 months, Bloomberg reports. Having slipped into a bear market, the metal was trading at $63.56/ton on Friday, more than 20% lower than its August 21 high of $79.93/ton.

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We may see this price slump to continue for the near future. Some expect the price of iron ore to drop to the $50s in the fourth quarter. If China’s steel production cuts do go into effect as planned this winter, the country’s steel output may decrease as much as 30 million tons, thus cutting iron consumption by 50 million tons.

End of the U.S. Solar Boom?

The U.S. International Trade Commission voted in a 4-0 decision on Friday that the U.S. solar energy industry is being hurt by foreign overcapacity and cheap solar cell imports, the Washington Post reports. However, the proposed 40-cent-per-watt tariff on solar cells would double the price of solar panels, putting pressure on the rest of the U.S. solar industry.
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This morning in metals news, Chinese steel production once again hit a record last month, copper took a dip, and the gap between high-grade and low-grade iron ore grew larger as China attempts to combat its smog problem.

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Steel Output Hits New Record in China

Steel mills in China cranked up production levels en route to hitting a new monthly production record, according to Bloomberg.

According to the report, Chinese crude steel output hit 74.59 million metric tons in August, surpassing the previous peak of 74.02 million in July.

Copper Falls Back

Copper has been having a good year, but it fell to a four-week low Thursday as a result of what Reuters calls lackluster Chinese economic data.

What appears to be slowing demand from China, the world’s top metals consumer, contributed to the metal’s drop, according to the report.

Premiums Soar for High-Grade Iron Ore

Sticking with the China theme, Reuters reported the gap between high-grade and low-grade iron ore in China grew as a result of the country’s efforts to fight pollution.

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The trading gap between the two forms of ore was at its highest since August 2011, according to the report.

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Before you get into your planned Labor Day festivities, let’s take a look back at some of the stories here on MetalMiner from the past week:

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  • After a somewhat stagnant run, aluminum had a strong August — why? Our Stuart Burns covered aluminum’s upward momentum last week.
  • Ah, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the deal that’s stayed in the news for much of the year. President Donald Trump recently renewed rhetoric threatening the 23-year-old trade agreement on the heels of the completion of the first round of negotiating talks held in Washington, D.C. We recapped the recent developments in the ongoing talks held by trade representatives of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
  • Speaking of trade agreements, talks are also underway between the U.S. and South Korea on KORUS, the free trade deal the two countries began in 2012.
  • China was reportedly amenable to making further significant cuts to tackle excess capacity, which has been a major talking point, not just for the U.S., but the global market. However, President Trump rejected China’s proposal. Burns offered his analysis on the situation.
  • It’s been a mostly good year for base metals — but not every metal has joined in on the fun, as our Irene Martinez Canorea wrote last week.
  • Hurricane Harvey inflicted a severe toll on the people of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Now, there’s a long road ahead to recovery, both in terms of the humanitarian and economic impacts of the storm.
  • Burns looked to the the so-called “lucky country” of Australia, which is rich in iron ore. But what happens when iron ore reserves are exhausted? Answering the question briefly: look to the sun.

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Australia is sometimes called “the lucky country.”

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Although the phrase is usually meant positively to reflect its bountiful natural resources (and sometimes to its isolation from conflict and strife elsewhere in the world), the original meaning was not so complimentary.

At the start of the last chapter of Donald Horne’s book “The Lucky Country,” a passage reads  “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

Personally, my experience of Australians has been very favorable: there is no one we like better beating at sports, they have a good sense of humor and are one of the few societies that have maintained a reasonable work-life balance.

But maybe part of that comes from those bountiful natural resources, much like Norway and a few other mature but resource-rich economies. The country is partially supported by exports of commodities they have in abundance. The Reserve Bank of Australia estimated in 2014 that household incomes across the country were 13% higher than they would have been without the mining boom and real wages were 6% higher.

Just like a Norway without oil and gas, without iron ore, coal, natural gas and other natural resources Australia’s economy would have to work a whole lot harder to just tread water.

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was.

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  • In case you missed it, our August MMI Report is out. Metals like copper and aluminum hit record highs, and nine of our 10 sub-indexes posted upward movement as a result of a strong July. Will that momentum continue? Check back next month for the September MMI report.
  • Many have predicted a decline for iron ore prices, but as our Stuart Burns wrote on Monday, reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. A weak U.S. dollar, combined with strong equities and global GDP, have helped keep iron ore performing well, not to mention Chinese steel and the wider metals market. Read through for Burns’ assessment of the iron ore market.
  • In India, a boom of bauxite production is expected, wrote our Sohrab Darabshaw. In fact, it is expected to more than double by 2021. How is that possible? One reason, Darabshaw writes, is “increased domestic demand for aluminium, which will largely be sourced from the quintupling of land under mining lease in the Odisha province (which has the bulk of India’s bauxite reserves).”
  • One commodity almost everyone is interested in is oil. On Tuesday, Burns wrote about the future of oil prices. But, since this is MetalMiner, after all, those prices also have an effect on metal markets.
  • Everyone loves a good M&A story, and Burns had one earlier this week on the ongoing talks between Indian steel giant Tata Steel and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp. Plus, he touches on ArcelorMittal’s takeover of Italy’s Ilva. Burns writes: “For the first time in years, steelmakers at least seem to have a plan and are actively pursuing it. Whether that plan is to the eventual benefit or detriment of consumers remains to be seen — but a healthier domestic steel industry must certainly be advantageous to all.”
  • How about zinc? Burns wrote about the metal’s rise to $3,000, and the reasons behind zinc’s price hitting its highest point since 2007.
  •  Last week was a busy one for the U.S. Department of Commerce, which handed down preliminary determinations in countervailing duty investigations for both Chinese aluminum and silicon coming from a trio of countries.
  • Back in India, steel exports are on the rise as the Indian government’s protectionist measures seem to be paying off for its domestic industry.
  • Lastly, representatives of the U.S., Canada and Mexico began talks on Wednesday regarding renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the trade deal instituted in 1994. The U.S. is focused on, among other things, bringing down ballooning trade deficits with the two countries (particularly Mexico). The talks are scheduled to continue until Sunday, so check back for updates on the proceedings.

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