Producers of copper, iron ore, steel and aluminum are trading higher following pledges from China's top steelmaking province to further cut production capacity.
Shanghai steel futures jumped 7% overnight to their highest in nearly three weeks, with iron ore and coking coal climbing ~8%, on reports that Hebei province, which accounts for 25% of China's total steel output, plans to more than double this year's cut to 31.86M metric tons of steel and ironmaking capacity this year.
Also, London copper rose 3% to $5,755/metric tons, extending YTD gains to nearly 5%, on news that China’s producer prices had surged in December.
Mining companies that have been hit hard by weakening Chinese demand surged the most in five months today, as a rally in metal prices signaled production cuts are starting to pay off, Bloomberg reports.
Newmont Mining (NEM +11.3%), Freeport McMoRan (FCX +11.2%) and First Quantum Minerals (OTCPK:FQVLF +16.6%) all gained at least 11% today in leading the Bloomberg Americas Mining Index to a 7% surge and its biggest increase since August.
Gold futures broke above their 200-day MA for the first time since October, and zinc, copper, aluminum, nickel, lead and tin all gained, helped by the outlook for tighter supplies and a plunge in the dollar.
Copper prices hit a six-year low for the fifth time in a week in London, -1.9%, amid worries about China’s economy, and are now down nearly 9% YTD; aluminum, lead, nickel and zinc all fell more than 1%.
Long-dated “copper prices adjusted for producer country FX are mostly unchanged, which underscores the macro nature of the recent declines,” according to Goldman Sachs.
"No lasting price recovery appears possible at present, neither on the metal markets nor on the commodities markets in general," Commerzbank says.
Alcoa (NYSE:AA) fell 3.2% in today's trade to post its lowest close of the year, weighed by rising aluminum production in China which has sent prices of the metal not far off six-year lows, WSJ reports.
China's aluminum output has increased 18% Y/Y, according to the International Aluminum Institute, and Citibank estimates Chinese producers could add another 1M tons of new annual smelting capacity before year-end.
"The capacity additions are very bearish for prices. It has driven the Chinese market into increasing oversupply and forced them to export more,” says Citi's Ivan Szpakowski, who expects only a moderate recovery for aluminum next year.
The move is good news for Glencore's stock price too, with shares up more than 11% in London and more than doubling since reaching a record low last week.
Glencore's reduced operations in Australia, Kazakhstan and South America will reduce global zinc supply by 500K metric tons/year, not a trivial amount in a 14.5M tons/year global market.
Zinc has, along with nearly all commodities, been under pressure from oversupply, sliding to a five-year low of $1,601.50/ton on Sept. 28.
Further destocking of zinc and a more visible recovery in China’s industrial activities will be needed to propel a more sustained price rally, says Xiao Fu, head of commodity markets strategy at BOCI Global Commodities.
Industrial metals continue their recent climb, with aluminum, zinc and lead trying to play catch-up with copper, which has gained 5% this week as more miners mothball operations at loss-making mines.
Glencore's (OTCPK:GLNCY, OTCPK:GLCNF) Monday announcement that it will cut 400K metric tons of copper production over the next 18 months at two mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia comes in the wake of closures or cutbacks at mines controlled by Freeport McMoRan (FCX +4.3%) and others; shortly after Glencore’s decision, the Chinese operator of the Baluba mine in Zambia said it was suspending operations and cutting jobs.
The closures follow a high level of production outages across the copper industry this year because of bad weather and labor disputes, with the combined effect helping to tighten the difference between supply and demand.
Alcoa (NYSE:AA) challenges the CFTC's authority to intervene in a contentious overhaul of the London Metal Exchange's warehouse policy that has caused a big drop in aluminum prices.
In March, the CFTC deferred a decision about the LME's 2012 application to be registered as a "foreign board of trade," telling the exchange it should do more to address concerns about long waiting times; Alcoa has questioned whether the agency has the legal authority to intervene, and today it filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to find out what had caused the CFTC to delay its decision on the LME.
Copper prices are on track for their biggest gains since September on speculation that China would use stimulus measures to jump-start its economy and boost demand for the metal.
Rising oil prices and Chinese stimulus speculation “have changed the focus to the upside and the short-covering has done the rest,” says Saxo Bank's Ole Hansen, adding that “energy is such a big and important part of the commodity sector, and the somewhat improved sentiment there also helps other” raw materials; aluminum and nickel also are rising to multi-week highs.
"We’re in this perverse world where bad news is good news,” says BNP Paribas analyst Stephen Briggs, and "a lot of people are thinking China’s going to join the rest of the world and lower interest rates or [offer] some kind of monetary response."
Raw materials companies are off to a strong start today: FCX +5.8%, BHP +3.9%, RIO +2.4%, VALE +3.9%, SCCO +3.4%.
"The primary reason for the changes to our forecasts is cost deflation," says the team, noting "actual and anticipated U.S. dollar strength, cheaper energy and other input costs and our expectation of an improvement in mining productivity."
The bank cut its expectations for metals and mined raw materials over the next three years by between 10 and 20 percent.
Bearish on copper (NYSEARCA:JJC) even after a 20% decline over the last year, Goldman cuts its forecast for this year to $5,542 per metric ton from $6,400.
Facing a sustained period of oversupply, iron ore is now seen averaging $66 per ton vs. $80 previously. Gold's forecast is trimmed to $1,089 per ounce from $1,200.
Aluminum prices reach their highest levels in 16 months as falling inventories, smelter closures and a strong demand outlook continue to attract buyers.
Companies such as Alcoa (NYSE:AA), Rusal and Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) have been shutting smelters over the past two years in an effort to tackle aluminum oversupply, while demand has remained strong; Citi sees demand growth of 6%/year through the end of the decade, driven by the increased use of aluminum in car production.
Sentiment also has been helped by declining inventories, as LME stocks have dropped below 5M metric tons for the first time since Sept. 2012, but analysts say it will take years to whittle away at the further 5M tons of inventories thought to be held in non-LME warehouses.
Alcoa (AA) is warning that if newly proposed warehousing rules are approved, premiums it charges for physical metal delivery will likely shift.
The company has also replied to SEC inquiries regarding the matter, saying if the reforms are passed, more aluminum can hit the physical market, hitting the premiums paid by customers who need physical delivery of the metal.
Aluminum producers and Alcoa earn a premium above the London Metal Exchange benchmark price from buyers needing an actual delivery, with some premiums hitting record highs this year.
CME Group announces the May 5 launch (pending regulatory approvals) of a North American physically settled aluminum futures contract. The contracts will trade in 25 metric ton sizes and come to market as Midwest premium prices have jumped more than 50% this year.
The WSJ shines a light onto "shadow warehouses," a hidden system of facilities that store tens of millions of tons of aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc across the globe for banks, hedge funds and commodity merchants.
The warehouses operate outside the London Metal Exchange's system, are unregulated, and don't provide details of their holdings. As a result, it's unclear how much metal is held in the shadow system. This lack of visibility could cause major price swings.
The WSJ article follows allegations that warehousing companies have artificially boosted the price of metals, particularly aluminum.
Companies that operate metals warehouses include Goldman Sachs (GS), Glencore Xstrata (GLCNF) and JPMorgan (JPM), although the latter is looking to sell its commodities unit.