The plunge in U.S. exports of non-metallic scrap commodities to China is now firmly showing up in the nonferrous trade data.
According to the latest figures from the Commerce Department, the United States exported just 6,102 metric tons of copper and copper alloy scrap to mainland China in September 2018, down from the 57,312 metric tons exported to China in September 2017. After April, a significant shift occurred with Chinese imports of U.S. copper scrap falling to half of their previous 2018 levels. September 2018 marks the first month in over a decade that China was not the top export destination for U.S. copper scrap. The trade data also show that the economies that have stepped up their imports of copper scrap have a long way to go to take up the slack from China’s diminished demand:
By grade, U.S. exports of Bare Bright copper have seen the largest percentage increase so far this year, doubling to more than 34,000 metric tons during the first 9 months of 2018. By volume, exports of No. 2 copper have increased the most so far this year, rising by more than 22,000 tons to just over 105,000 metric tons through September. By overseas market, the largest year-to-date net gains in U.S. copper scrap exports have been to Malaysia (+67kt), South Korea (+22kt), Japan (+17kt), Taiwan (+17kt), Thailand (+13kt), and India (+12kt).
U.S. aluminum scrap exports (including Used Beverage Containers and Remelt Scrap Ingot) to China appear to be on a similar trajectory as copper, falling to less than 26,000 metric tons in September 2018: the lowest monthly level since July 2004.
However, unlike with copper scrap, Commerce Department trade data show that improved demand from Malaysia, India, South Korea, Indonesia, and Mexico, among others, has more than offset the slowdown in China, resulting in a 12% increase in total YTD U.S. aluminum scrap exports:
As for other nonferrous scrap metals, virtually all of the minor nonferrous metals (except magnesium and thallium) have enjoyed significant export growth so far this year. In particular, cobalt scrap exports have made substantial gains (+92%) along with cadmium, tantalum, and beryllium scrap.