Industrial Insight

July 2017 Chemical Activity Barometer

July 25, 2017
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steel

July 24, 2017
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Raw Steel MMI: Chinese Prices Up as World Awaits Section 232 Verdict

by Irene Martinez Canorea on JULY 11, 2017
Style: Market Analysis Category: Metal Prices, Premium, Public Policy


gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

The Raw Steel MMI inched three points higher in June, increasing by 4.4%. The index hit 70-plus for just the second time this year (the first coming with March’s 70).

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The Chinese steel industry generally drives steel prices. Steel prices in China have increased during June, caused by the 23.3% jump in coking coal prices. However, this month’s uptrend counters the short-term downtrend that coal has experienced since February, which has largely driven steel prices down.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of TradingEconomics data

This downtrend in raw materials applies to both coal and iron ore. Although iron ore prices increased a bit this month, iron ore remains in a downtrend. Therefore, steel prices are at risk of following that downtrend.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of TradingEconomics data

The spread

The spread between Chinese hot-rolled coil (HRC) and domestic HRC prices has also narrowed this month.

The spread has continued to drop despite rising domestic HRC prices because Chinese HRC prices have also increased. A rising Chinese HRC price would lower U.S. steel imports, although imports have reached their highest levels since 2014.

If Chinese HRC prices increase, U.S. steel imports will decrease and lend support to domestic HRC prices.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of MetalMiner IndX data

Political uncertainty, the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigation recommendations and the recent G20 summit have only fueled price uncertainty. The outcome of these events will possibly have an effect on steel prices.

MetalMiner believes the delay in the release of the 232 recommendations — which were previously expected to be announced by the end of June — could cause U.S. steel prices to reverse this last month’s upward trend.


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Stainless

July 24, 2017
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Stainless Steel MMI: Index Moves Up For First Time Since March

by Irene Martinez Canorea on JULY 7, 2017
Style: Market Analysis Category: Ferrous Metals, Metal Prices, Premium

The Stainless Steel MMI inched one point higher to 55 for our July reading, finding itself at the level as the July 2016 reading.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

This is the first increase for this sub-index since March 2017, when the Stainless Steel MMI reached 63 points after a four-point increase.

Surcharges in the U.S. mill surcharges have decreased sharply this month. Reductions have been recorded on a month-to-month basis, resulting in a 17.8% reduction for ATI’s 316 surcharge and 19.9% for their 304. MetalBulletin also reports a reduction in the alloy surcharges in Europe. Deliveries of grade-304 cold rolled stainless steel sheet have fallen by €52-62 ($58-69) per ton month-on-month.

Global prices of ferrochrome, one of the raw materials used to make stainless steel, has dropped to lowest levels this year. This reduction is caused by weaker demand from stainless steel mills in China, currently the top producer of stainless steel, as reported by Reuters. Two of the largest stainless producers in China (Taiyuan Stainless and Tsingshan Group) blame weaker demand on increased stocks of ferrochrome in Chinese ports.

The U.S. manufacturing PMI fell to 52.1 in June from 52.7 in May. This indicator has fallen below market expectations of 53, revealing a slowdown in business growth. Manufacturing PMI is at its lowest value since September 2016.

Chinese economic indicators, meanwhile, point to a moderation in Chinese growth.

China’s GDP is also expected to fall 0.1% this quarter. The Caixin Manufacturing PMI in China has increased this month to 51.70 points, 2.1 points above its previous value. This growth has beaten the market expectations of 49.5, caused by the faster rate of exports and output in the Chinese manufacturing industry.

The Section 232 investigations for both aluminum and steel (including stainless steel) have created additional price uncertainty. Europe is now beginning to express its concerns about the possible outcome of the investigations. A report on the investigations is due by January 2018, though there is speculation that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will release his recommendations in July.

Nickel prices have also shown weakness this month, reaching an 11-month low of $8,680/metric ton. Recently, nickel saw a stabilization in its supply. The export ban has eased in Indonesia, allowing the country to maintain its position as the world’s largest nickel producer.


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Copper

July 24, 2017
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Copper MMI: Copper Charges Ahead on Bullish Run — For Now

by Irene Martinez Canorea on JULY 10, 2017
Style: Market Analysis Category: Metal Pricing, Non-Ferrous Metals, Premium

The Copper MMI inched two points higher in July, driven by the recovery of the LME Copper 3-month price, which has been bounced off its previous lows and has increased by 4.98%. The copper MMI is back to April’s levels.

Analysis of supply and demand might suggest quite a bullish outlook for copper. Supply and demand has indeed driven copper prices in June.

During this past month, strikes have eased and production ramped up again. Even the strike at Freeport mine in Indonesia, the world’s second-largest copper mine, is set to continue and production will likely remain the same.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

On July 4, mining company Antofagasta announced it, too, might face a strike. This strike could impact two copper mines: Zaldivar and Centinela. The decision will be made at the end of this week. Chilean mining company Antofagasta Minerals is one of the largest global copper producers, with a combined annual production at both mines of 160,000 tons.

The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) has announced a possible supply deficit for this year. This is based on June’s released data on copper world mine production, which is estimated to have decreased by 3.5%, and world refined production, which is estimated to remain unchanged.

However, LME copper prices have started July with a five consecutive days of drops. Although June suggested a slight uptrend for copper, MetalMiner does not believe the uptrend is sustainable, as I reported in last Monday’s copper article.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

The LME copper price has not been able to break its psychological ceiling of $6,0000/metric ton. Moreover, recent weakness at the beginning of July, combined with poor trading volumes, suggests further weakness. Unless trading volumes shift, they are not supportive of copper prices.

The U.S. dollar and Chinese PMI indicators have historically shown correlation with copper prices. Even the U.S. dollar has shown a little uptrend during June, but its downtrend may continue, which would negatively impact copper prices. The short uptrend that has boosted copper prices during May and June has been caused by supply concerns.

U.S. Dollar. Source: MetalMiner analysis of StockCharts

The Chinese Manufacturing PMI rose unexpectedly to 50.4 in June. But this small increase may just be a blip. Current sentiment suggests Chinese demand may once again fall, as authorities are still working to curb financial risks.

In addition, the construction sector has fallen during the first quarter of 2017 by 83% (measured by value).


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Aluminum

July 24, 2017
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The Commerce Department held a public hearing June 22, during which industry executives offered their opinions on the challenges facing U.S. aluminum and whether protectionist actions should be taken. While primary manufacturers welcomed tariffs or quotas, downstream manufacturers weren’t as keen on the idea.

More recently, the International Trade Commission (ITC) released its own report on the competitive conditions affecting the U.S. aluminum industry. The report’s executive summary zeroed in on five factors: the global aluminum industry is widely affected by government intervention through policies and programs that principally impact primary aluminum production costs; the chief determinants of competitiveness vary among industry segments; as of 2015, China was the world’s largest aluminum producer and consumer; competitiveness of the U.S. industry varied across segments; and the global aluminum market experienced price declines of roughly 30% during 2011–15 due to oversupply.

U.S. imports rose by 41% during the period from 2011–2016, to nearly 1.7 million metric tons, according to the ITC report. In terms of wrought aluminum imports, in 2016 the U.S. took in the most product from China (531,000 metric tons), with Canada coming in second (452,000 mt).

Aluminum_Chart_July_2017_FNL-228x138.jpg


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Copper prices improving

July 24, 2017
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Oil prices remain lower

July 24, 2017
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Steel production steady

July 24, 2017
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Copper prices up

July 17, 2017
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Oil price lower

July 17, 2017
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About author

I'm the executive vice president for a steel casting trade association, the Steel Founders' Society of America. I've got a crazy wife, five crazy children, three crazy people that married into the family, and two crazy fun little grandsons.

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