Nonferrous Market Developments

Reported progress on the US-China trade talks has been recently cited as a supportive factor for nonferrous metals and for copper prices in particular. But as Macquarie Research notes, “A raft of cancellations in the two stocked US LME warehouse locations led to on-warrant copper inventory falling to the lowest level (39.8kt) since November 2005 … The market perceives that the CME/LME arb has opened up again on US investor bullishness (which tends to be expressed more on the American exchange) and believes that the cancelled tons on LME are heading for Comex warehouses, just crossing the street in New Orleans and likely heading for CME Detroit from LME Chicago.”  

Daily LME
Refined copper market fundamentals have been somewhat more supportive that what many analysts were expecting, with the International Copper Study Group reporting global copper demand exceeded supply by 396,000 metric tons during Jan-Nov 2018. According to ICSG, “World apparent refined usage is estimated to have increased by about 2.2% in the first eleven months of 2018: Chinese apparent usage grew by around 5.5% driven by a 20% increase in net refined copper imports. It is possible this development was influenced by a tightness in the availability of scrap in China.”

For nonferrous scrap market participants, what materials China will continue to accept remains a critical question this year, along with what markets will help to fill in the gap in Chinese demand. Here’s the trend in U.S. copper and copper alloy scrap exports to mainland China in 2018:

By taking China out of the export data, it becomes easier to see how other economies are filling the demand void. Malaysia, South Korea, India, and Japan have the most significant growth in nonferrous scrap demand and the development in their industrial infrastructure to indicate these increases aren’t necessarily temporary.


As for aluminum market developments, Fastmarkets MB’s Aluminum Spotlight reported that monthly aluminum production in China advanced to 3.025 million tons in November. Fastmarkets reports that, as of late January “… the latest Commitment Of Traders’ Report {shows} LME aluminium had the largest net short fund position in the base metals complex. Stale-long liquidation pushed its gross long position down to just 61,305 lots at the end of 2018, a contrast to its May high of 122,629 lots. Confident sellers increased their bearish exposure to an annual high of 79,870 lots in 2018, an indication that overall sentiment towards the light metal is firmly bearish.”

Shifting global market dynamics are also having significant impacts on stainless steel scrap processors. As BIR Stainless & Special Alloys Committee Chair Joost Van Kleef of Oryx Stainless reports in the latest BIR World Mirror on Stainless, “The global stainless steel industry in general and Europe’s in particular are facing one of the most challenging times in years. Apart from the current trend towards applying tariffs and duties on all kinds of product throughout the world, it is mainly the significant investments in stainless production capacity in Indonesia that are threatening the industry. These investments are based on the use of very cheap raw material units which appear to give significant cost advantages … Consequently, the relative price level for stainless scrap throughout the world is also under heavy pressure. Needless to say, this is impacting on the flow of material throughout the complete value chain.” As a reminer, you won’t want to miss our upcoming ISRI Nickel/Stainless Spotlight to be held on April 9, 2019, in Los Angeles, where former ISRI Chair Doug Kramer will be joined by an outstanding panel of speaking including Markus Moll of SMR GmbH, Mitch Greenberg of Allied Alloys, and Barry Jackson from Anglo American.

According to figures from the Census Bureau, U.S. stainless steel scrap exports during Jan-Nov 2018 increased 67 percent year-on-year to more than 734,000 metric tons thanks in part to improved demand from Canada, India, and Vietnam. Here’s the reported trend in U.S. exports of copper, stainless, nickel, aluminum, lead, zinc, and other base metal scrap through November 2018:


Have Questions?