LME copper

Copper prices are dipping below the psychological basement support level of $5,000 per metric ton.

3M LME Copper since 2010

Three-month London Metal Exchange copper since 2010. Graph: MetalMiner.

The metal has done nothing but fall since 2011, but the declines have become steeper over the past few months. Investors particularly dislike copper, as worries about China’s economy are simultaneously rising. China’s stock market crash and the recent devaluation of its currency are just aggravating expectations of a further copper fall.

Meanwhile, China’s latest Purchasing Managers’ Index numbers fell to a two-year low, while construction numbers are still disturbing to investors. The slowdowns in the Chinese manufacturing and construction sectors are significantly hitting copper demand, or at least any hopes of demand coming back.

The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 67 in August, a decrease of 8.2% from 73 in July and an all-time low.

Copper_Chart_August-2015_FNL

Copper prices hit another fresh low last month. Three-month LME prices are near $5,000 per metric ton, a level last seen in 2009. For many months now, producing costs relative to prices have been under close scrutiny in metals like aluminum and nickel. Now it’s copper’s turn.

Prices Below Production Costs

Many analysts are arguing that copper prices have fallen to the point where cost of production is exceeding the spot price, and many miners are going to look at cutting production and future spending. Does that mean that higher-cost producers will start closing capacity, triggering a supply response and therefore end this copper bear market?

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First, cost-curves are not constant targets. They fluctuate depending on a bunch of factors such us input costs, exchange rates, etc. Copper prices are not the only thing falling. The entire commodity market is sinking, with falling energy prices continuously lowering input costs. Moreover, a stronger US dollar is lowering the costs in local currencies like the Chilean peso.

Second, even when produces are underwater, they tend to hang out as long as they can. Closing mines is usually a later response to financial and social pain.

What This Means for Copper Buyers

In conclusion, it’s good to understand where production costs are relative to prices but they are not useful when it comes to guessing a price bottom. Prices can remain below production costs for long periods of time, as we’ve seen in aluminum and nickel before.

The market probably won’t change that much until we see a resurgence in demand. Although we could see some short-term rebound in prices, the long-term picture doesn’t look good yet. On January 2014 we were bearish on copper, today we still are.

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A 8.9% drop on the LME left the copper 3-month price at $5,220 per metric ton. On the LME, the cash price of primary copper closed the month at $5,218 per metric ton after dropping 8.8%. Following a 8.8% decline, the Chinese copper cash price reached $6,406 per metric ton. At $6,261 per metric ton, Chinese copper wire was down 8.6% for the month. The price of US copper producer grade 110 fell 7.2% to $3.11 per pound. A 6.8% decline for the cash price of primary Japanese copper left it at JPY 685,000 ($5,522) per metric ton. The price of US copper producer grade 102 declined 6.8% over the month to $3.30 per pound. After falling 4.3%, Korean copper strip finished the month at $7.58 per kilogram.

Last month was consistent for Chinese bright copper scrap, which did not move from $5,372 per metric ton.

Compare Prices With Last Month’s MMI Report

The Copper MMI® collects and weights 12 global copper metal price points to provide a unique view into copper price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Copper MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

There was no joy in automotive metals this month as prices retreated again amid ample supply and not enough worldwide demand.

Automotive_Chart_August-2015_FNL

The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 76 in August, a decrease of 7.3% from 82 in July, another all-time low for the index. Before the last two months, its previous low was 85.

Steel Prices Falling

Base metals remain in a bearish market, one that’s starting to edge on historic proportions. Also, a glut of imported steel in the US market continues to drive down prices domestically while the lack of demand overseas only exacerbates the problem here.

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US steelmakers have been forced to rely on anti-dumping actions again in hopes of creating some semblance of market equilibrium.

Steel is not the only ingredient in the Automotive MMI and its fall has been helped along liberally by steep falls for aluminum, palladium, platinum and copper.

Read more

Through half of 2015, US auto sales are on track to hit record levels not seen in 15 years. After climbing more than 4% through July, annual sales could approach the previous annual record of 17.4 million if they stay on this pace.

Yet, none of that demand seems to be helping automotive metal prices.

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As robust as the US automotive market is, it can’t entirely make up for sluggish sales elsewhere that are depressing demand for metals such as steel, aluminum and copper and pushing our index further down. Even the exhaust system metals, platinum and palladium, saw a deep dive this month.

Chinese New Car Sales Barely Growing

New car sales grew just 1.2% in China this May. Further complicating matters is the fact that the nation of 1.37 billion is starting to develop a used car market and it’s looking very much like Chinese consumers like paying less for a used car, rather than paying more for a new one. What a shock?

This is, of course, bad news for raw materials suppliers as the massive Chinese auto market only recently transitioned to automobiles being the main form of transportation. Less-metals-intensive bicycles and motorbikes had filled that role until recently.

Chinese steel and aluminum manufacturers had been counting on more robust growth from the domestic new car market and a strong used market could stunt the advances many were planning to reap from new car sales.

Bearish Market Hits Home

The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 82 in July, a decrease of 3.5% from 85 in June.

Automotive_Chart_July-2015_FNL

As we have documented liberally, the strong US dollar has created a bearish environment for all metals and automotive inputs are no exception. The steep fall observed this month in palladium, a metal that had previously held our automotive index up, was an example of just how much the bearish market is affecting even metals with strong demand. Palladium hit a two-year low this month and the bottom, subsequently, fell out of an already listing price index.

Copper, zinc and lead also fell significantly.

What This Means for Automotive Metal Buyers

Read more

The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 73 in July, a decrease of 2.7% from 75 in June.

Copper_Chart_July-2015_FNL

Copper suspiciously rallied in the first quarter, gaining almost 20% from trough to peak.

Free Download: Latest Metal Price Trends in the June MMI Report

However, copper prices fell again in May and June and those previous gains have almost vanished. The copper rally was always suspect at best.

Chinese Construction Feeding the Bear

The bearish commodity market is definitely not encouraging investors to pour money into copper. Another big factor that doesn’t help to lure investors into copper is weak Chinese demand for the metal. The latest Chinese numbers show poor demand from key sectors:

  • In the first five months of the current year, real estate development firms purchased 76.50 million square meters of land, a year-over-year (YoY) decline of 31%. The floor space of completed buildings declined 13.3% YoY as of May. Finally, Chinese real estate firms have started construction on only 503 million square meters as of May, falling 16% YoY.
  • A lower growth rate in China’s automobile sector also hits copper’s demand. China’s  passenger car sales only grew by a mere 1.2% YoY in May, sliding 3.6% from the previous month.

Meanwhile in May, China produced 0.65 million tons of refined copper, a 6% YoY increase. Read more

The red metal met the Red Cross earlier this week in the kickoff post of our series on health-acquired infections (HAI) and copper’s role in the war against them – but what hospital procurement officers and facilities management departments may want to know is, what’s up with the copper price?

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First step in the multi-step program of “What’s Up With the Copper Price?” is a look back at where prices have been: MetalMiner’s monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 75 in June, a decrease of 2.6% from 77 in May.

Copper_Chart_June-2015_FNL

The index decline was driven mainly by spot and 3-month London Metal Exchange prices, US copper producer grades 102 and 110, and Chinese copper wire.

What’s Up With That?

Second step in the multi-step program of “What’s Up With the Copper Price?” is knowing some of the underlying fundamentals that may have to do with its shift. For that, we turn to MetalMiner Editor-at-large Stuart Burns, who writes that:

“Analysts expect China’s copper demand to grow by 4% this year, yet that figure is based on considerable use in power grid investment and assumes government spending plans will be met. Power grid investment actually fell by 8.65% in April, according to the FT, and in the first four months of this year China completed Rmb86.6bn of grid investment, only 20% of the planned amount for the year.

Investors agree with the pessimistic outlook cutting their net long positions in copper, joining Chinese speculators who have been betting against copper all year.

A CNBC report says recent weakness is due to weak premiums, high scrap discounts and a failure of the seasonally strongest quarter for copper to translate into solid demand. China’s factories are now approaching a summer slow-down and with it lower metal consumption.”

Outside China, there’s always Mongolia – and the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, from which Rio Tinto‘s recent bullishness is born. According to the FT, “Rio Tinto recently forecast that copper prices will recover faster than expected with demand outstripping supply within two years. This bullish forecast comes as the Anglo-Australian miner steps up talks in May with the Mongolian government aimed at finalizing a deal on a $6 billion expansion at Oyu Tolgoi, which had been stalled for months. The lack of new copper projects in the pipeline could result in a market deficit earlier than expected,” the paper indicates, “but even if Rio Tinto was right, 2 years is still a long period of time where we could see further price declines.”

What’s Up With the Market?

For the third step in the multi-step program of “What’s Up With the Copper Price?”, we cast our focus onto the future by turning to our metals procurement specialist, Raul de Frutos:

“Copper prices have been rallying since February and, in the short term, they could continue doing so. For the short term, consider placing orders now for known demand. Don’t buy long-term forward, as copper is in a bearish market and we expect prices to lose steam soon and come back to lower levels.”

For more comprehensive commentary and specific copper price forecast thresholds, download our FREE forecast report!

Actual Monthly Copper Prices, Trends

At $6,088 per metric ton, the primary copper cash price was down 2.5% on the LME. Last month, the price of US copper producer grade 110 dropped 2.2% to $3.52 per pound. The price of US copper producer grade 102 decreased by 2.1% this month, ending at $3.71 per pound. The copper 3-month price saw a small decline on the LME this month, falling from $6,218 to $6,090 per metric ton. Chinese copper wire fell a slight 0.9% over the past month to $7,076 per metric ton. The cash price of Chinese copper finished the month at $7,233 per metric ton after dropping 0.9%. Korean copper strip closed the month at $8.00 per kilogram after dropping 0.3%.

The Japanese copper cash price climbed 4.4%, settling at $6,264 per metric ton.

Chinese bright copper scrap traded sideways last month, staying around $5,370 per metric ton.

FREE Download: Compare With The May MMI® Report.

The Copper MMI® collects and weights 12 global copper metal price points to provide a unique view into copper price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Copper MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

MetalMiner’s basket of industrial metals used by the auto industry, the monthly Automotive MMI®, registered a value of 85 in June, a decrease of 2.3% from 87 in May.

Automotive_Chart_June-2015_FNLAs the chart shows, this move basically undoes May’s gains and puts the automotive metals index back where it was in April. The loss nearly erased the 2.4% gain last month as palladium and platinum prices either fell or traded sideways and the other metals tracked in the index weren’t really responsible for the recent movement, anyway.

Robust Car/Truck/SUV Sales

While automotive sales remain strong in the US and abroad, those sales are not creating the necessary demand for automotive materials to move the needle this year – even as companies such as Alcoa, Novelis, ArcelorMittal and others invest heavily in automotive aluminum and steel facilities worldwide.

FREE Download: Compare Prices With the May MMI® Report.

US car buyers bought new cars and trucks at the fastest pace in nearly a decade in May, US auto sales data released by the automakers showed. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Honda reported increases. Toyota, Nissan and Ford saw declines.

Read more

Is this a serious rebound in copper prices? Hmm… we still doubt it.

Copper_Chart_May-2015_FNL

The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 77 in May, an increase of 2.7% from 75 in April.

Not a Demand-Based Surge

Copper prices have surged so far this year but prices are still well below what they were just a year ago.

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Demand coming from China is still weak. We believe that traders likely won’t get evidence of a meaningful uptick in demand as Chinese demand remains weak and not likely to make a significant comeback in the medium term. Therefore, demand alone has little chances of supporting prices through the balance of the year. Read more

Seems that somebody forgot to tell the automotive metals that the bear market was still going on this month. Strong aluminum and high-strength steel demand, and end-user purchases, have again made auto the standout in a field of mostly down markets.

Automotive_Chart_May-2015_FNL

After flattening in April, the monthly automotive MMI® registered a value of 87 in May, an increase of 2.4% from 85 in April. A big factor was the performance of aluminum coil on the index, as its index broke resistance and soared as well.

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China removed export taxes on aluminum, opening more markets up to the automotive-grade sheet and coil prices that automakers in the West have been experimenting with for a decade now. Prices of palladium, lead and even copper also notched strong LME growth filling strong demand from domestic and foreign automakers.

Consumer Sales Rising

In the US market, April new car sales rose by 5% from a year ago, to more than 1.463 million units as predicted in a J.D. Power and LMC Automotive‘s mid-month auto sales forecast update. April’s totals are anticipated to be the highest since April 2005.

Read more

The monthly Copper MMI® registered a value of 75 in April, an increase of 2.7% from 73 in March.

Copper_Chart_April-2015_FNL

The suspicious copper rally is still in place. Copper has rallied as much as 17% since it hit its trough in February. The move might seem impressive for the non-trained eye, but copper is just zigzagging.

Copper zigzagging down since 2011

Copper zigzagging down since 2011. Source: MetalMiner.

Copper’s Selling, But We’re Not Buying

After the huge drop during the second half of last year, we believe that there is no point in freaking out over this two-month rally. Picking bottoms is very hard and definitely not a good strategy for metal buyers. Was February the bottom of copper’s bearish market? Nobody knows. Since 2011, we do know that trying to guess the bottom is a terrible strategy to take with copper. Prices keep falling from trough to trough… to trough. Read more

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