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Base Metals Forecaster

MBR’s Base Metals Forecaster provides independent forecasting and coverage of all the key parameters affecting market movements for copper, aluminium, nickel, tin, lead and zinc. The report brings you accurate and reliable pricing information for all the key physical and financial transactions taking place within the base metals arena.

Latest Issue

  • Metal prices retreat as risk-off spreads

    22 March 2017

    The base metals are down an average 0.5% this morning as risk-off sentiment seems to be spreading. We would let this show of weakness run its course, but at present we still expect dips to be well supported and for the underlying bull markets to continue down the road.

  • Cross currents lead to choppy metals' prices

    23 March 2017

    Base metal prices have become choppier in recent weeks and the upsides still seem capped, but for the most part dips are also tending to be short-lived. We are interested to see if buying steps up a gear as we enter the second quarter.

  • Metals consolidate, PMI data may provide direction

    24 March 2017

    The base metals are for the most part still consolidating. While consumers are prepared to buy dips they do not seem to feel the need to chase prices higher, yet.

  • Market Summary: Sigh of relief

    21 March 2017

    Base metal markets likely breathed a sigh of relief last week after the Fed got its rate rise out of the way and maintained its accommodative policy stance. But there are still plenty of political and economic risks in the short to medium term and this is still likely to cap the upside for prices.

  • Aluminium: Momentum still to the upside

    21 March 2017

    Aluminium prices maintain their surprisingly bullish tone, though we are still looking for a strong pick-up in Chinese production between now and the planned winter capacity cuts. We are also looking for higher exports from China this year too, albeit mostly in the form of semis. Neither trends are fundamentally bullish, and we maintain that off-market stocks of primary metal are high, so we remain wary of the aluminium price rally against this backdrop.

  • Technical analysis: Consolidation still dominating short-term picture

    21 March 2017

    A common theme in our technical analysis across the base metals is that although underlying longer-term uptrends remain intact, the short-term trends have flattened out as consolidation continues.

  • Copper: Key conference takeaways

    21 March 2017

    In this week’s analysis, we give our view on the key takeaways from MB’s copper conference in Leipzig. Although much of the market’s day-to-day focus so far this year has been on mine supply disruptions, cathode is in a state of oversupply. But current deficit in the concentrate market will shift into the refined market as the year progresses. We still expect prices to trade sideways-to-lower in Q2 as many headwinds are battled though, but the uptrend should resume thereafter.

  • Lead: Staying range-bound

    21 March 2017

    We have been looking for a trading range of $2,200-2,400/tonne for some time now and this continues to be what we are getting. An outlook for weaker auto sales in China and Europe this year does not bode well for lead demand, and rising SHFE stocks suggests that perhaps Chinese battery manufacturers at least are already destocking, fearing the slowing auto market. If copper or zinc break higher again, lead is likely to follow, but we doubt it will go by itself until exchange stocks are falling.

  • Nickel: Under pressure

    21 March 2017

    There were a few bullish surprises in the latest INSG supply-demand data, but looking below the surface the main takeaways were rather bearish in our opinion. If many the supply-side trends continue, the run of annual deficits that this oversupplied market so badly needs may not materialise at all. On this evidence, nickel bulls have good reason to be wary and to reconsider their position.

  • Tin: Stocks claim further attention

    21 March 2017

    In last week’s report we asked what was needed to push tin prices back above the $20,000/tonne mark. A few days later the answer came: a major cancellation in LME stocks. The drop in metal availability acted as fuel to the short squeeze which was already underway. But will the latest tightening of nearby dates lead to another round of deliveries back onto the LME, akin to that seen in the December-January period?

  • Zinc: Supply squeeze intensifying, but won’t last

    21 March 2017

    Chinese smelter capacity cuts billed as ‘maintenance’ closures have been in the news and have no doubt helped prices rebound over the past week. But these cuts were expected – they form the basis of the large refined market deficit we have been forecasting for a long time, and also the rebound in spot TCs. So a supply squeeze is coming in Q2, but our analysis of 2017 production guidance by the major miners shows that we may be in for a 12.6% rebound in concentrate supply this year, even before Glencore’s restarts.

  • Base metals investment analysis: The end of copper financing and aggressive warehouse incentives

    21 March 2017

    Times have changed and the end of China’s copper financing deals has left a glut of metal that is depressing premiums and filling exchange shed in Asia.

  • Demand Indicators March 21 2017

    21 March 2017

    Demand indicators for the base metals market

  • Downloadable Base Metals Weekly Data March 21 2017

    21 March 2017

    Downloadable data for week March 21 2017

  • Positive economic signals from Europe, but markets question reflation trade

    27 March 2017

    The economic backdrop for the base metals this week is clouded by the failed attempt by US President Donald Trump to pass healthcare reform aimed at replacing Obamacare. The danger now is that markets become increasingly sceptical about the Trump administration's ability to put in place broader pro-growth infrastructure and tax policies.

Breaking Views

  • Positive economic signals from Europe, but markets question reflation trade

    27 March 2017

    The economic backdrop for the base metals this week is clouded by the failed attempt by US President Donald Trump to pass healthcare reform aimed at replacing Obamacare. The danger now is that markets become increasingly sceptical about the Trump administration's ability to put in place broader pro-growth infrastructure and tax policies.

  • Metals consolidate, PMI data may provide direction

    24 March 2017

    The base metals are for the most part still consolidating. While consumers are prepared to buy dips they do not seem to feel the need to chase prices higher, yet.

  • Cross currents lead to choppy metals' prices

    23 March 2017

    Base metal prices have become choppier in recent weeks and the upsides still seem capped, but for the most part dips are also tending to be short-lived. We are interested to see if buying steps up a gear as we enter the second quarter.

  • Metal prices retreat as risk-off spreads

    22 March 2017

    The base metals are down an average 0.5% this morning as risk-off sentiment seems to be spreading. We would let this show of weakness run its course, but at present we still expect dips to be well supported and for the underlying bull markets to continue down the road.

  • Metal prices open on a back footing again today

    21 March 2017

    Generally, the base metals seem to lack the buying power to absorb the overhead selling, which suggests more range-bound trading. With Q2 approaching, which is a seasonally stronger time for economic activity, we would expect prices to remain at least well supported. The heavy drop in iron ore and steel prices needs to be monitored to see whether it is forewarning of a change in sentiment towards the broader metals complex.

  • More breaking views...


More analysis...

A weekly 24-page report:

  • Technical analysis and short-term trading strategies
  • Fundamental analysis and medium term forecasts on production, stocks, trade and consumption of the LME metals
  • Price-modelling and forecasting utilising high-low case scenario planning, quarterly with three year outlook
  • Analysis of speculative money flows and fund activity in the base metal commodities
  • Consensus price forecasts, quarterly to the end of 2017
  • Premiums forecasts, quarterly, forward one year, including European, US and Asian spot benchmarks for all six metals
  • Raw material price forecasts, forward one year, including alumina, copper TC/RCs and zinc TCs
  • Insights into leading industry companies
  • Independent analysis and forecasts covering all six base metals in one report

Additional data, downloadable into Excel:

  • Global supply-demand balances for all LME metals, with ten year history and two year forecast. Regional data breakdown - China, North America, Europe and ROW
  • Daily spot and forward LME prices, stocks, spreads, LME open interest and cancelled warrants by metal
  • Reported stocks by metal on a quarterly basis and demand indicators
  • Raw material prices data
  • Premiums data


All subscribers are eligible for regular individual consultations with the editor of the report.
 

 

Andrew Cole

Andrew Cole joined the Metal Bulletin group in 2000, initially as an associate editor with Industrial Minerals. He moved to Metal Bulletin Research in 2001 and has been analysing the base metals markets for the past 12 years. He is responsible for the Base Metals Weekly Market Tracker, and all aspects of MBR’s research and forecasting on the base metal markets. His price forecasts frequently rank in the leader boards of MB’s Apex analyst forecast surveys.

Andrew has also been project leader on a wide range of upstream and downstream consultancy assignments covering all the base metals and has managed the publication of a number of MBR’s non-ferrous book reports.

Andrew is an exploration geologist by training, with a PhD and practical experience in Central Asia and Africa, including the Zambian Copperbelt.                                                                                                          


Market Brief


Base metals are the major industrial non-ferrous metals other than precious metals and minor. Specifically, they are aluminium, copper, lead, nickel, tin and zinc. All six are traded on the London Metal Exchange (LME), which is the principal global marketplace for base metals accounting for abot 80% of global trade. The main exchange in China is the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE), where aluminium, copper, lead and zinc are traded, while copper is also traded on the New York Commodity Exchange (Comex).

Prices are governed by the interaction between supply and demand fundamentals and the flow of investment and speculative capital into and out of the market.

The base metals’ major applications are found in industries such as automotive and transport, building and construction, intrastructure, electrical and electronics, packaging, consumer goods and batteries.

Traditional markets in Europe, the USA and Japan are still important, but have been overtaken by China during the last 10 years, which now accounts for around 40% of global production and consumption of each base metal.

Types of Base Metal

1. Aluminium

A light and durable metal that is easily rolled, extruded and recycled, aluminium is produced from bauxite via an intermediate product, alumina. Four tonnes of bauxite yields approximately two tonnes of alumina, which in turn results in about one tonne of primary aluminium out of the smelter gate. Several other ingredients are needed, but energy is the main input and most of this is consumed as electricity at the smelting stage to convert alumina to metal. It is because of the significant energy needs that primary aluminium production has increasingly gravitated towards regions of low energy cost rather than to where the metal is most needed – for example Japan, a major aluminium consumer, today has negligible smelting capacity, whereas the Middle East has established itself as a major primary aluminium production centre over the past decade. With aluminium prices tending to trade around the marginal cost of production in recent years, higher cost smelters remain under pressure.

The global aluminium market has been in a supply surplus since 2007, but excess material has been stored in financing and rent deals in warehouses, effectively keeping availability tight and elevating premiums to record high levels. However, increased regulatory scrutiny of the warehouse industry in 2013 has put premiums on a downward trajectory 

2. Copper

The most conductive – both electrically and thermally – of all the commonly available metals, copper is produced from sulphide or oxide ores typically from large open cast mines. Sulphide ores are concentrated, smelted and refined into cathode, while oxide ores can be heap-leached to produce cathode via the solvent-extraction, electowinning (SX-EW) process.

Major copper mining regions are found in the south western USA and Latin America, where Chile alone accounts for about one third of global output. The largest copper mining company in the world is Chilean state-owned producer Codelco, while the largest mine in the world is Escondida, also in Chile, but operated by global resources giant BHP Billiton. In contrast to the main centre of global copper mine production, the key region for refined copper production is Asia, led by China. The region is a major importer of concentrate and scrap.

The copper market has faced a decade of structural supply shortages created by a combination of underinvestment in new mines and a propensity for unplanned disruptions, which coincided with China’s demand boom. This underpinned high prices and a wave on fresh investments in new and expanded mining capacity. However, 2012 marked a transition to what should a new era of relatively ample supply as new projects come on line at the same time as economic growth in China and the developing world stabilises.  

3. Lead

Mined principally from ores often associated with zinc and silver, lead is a dense, ductile, low strength metal that has seen its range of industrial applications decline in recent decades in the face of environmental and health concerns, and this will continue. Currently, as much as 80% of lead produced in the world finds its way into the lead-acid storage battery market, the majority of which are used in the vehicles, but also in emergency back-up power systems and other industrial applications such as remote access power systems.

The growth of China’s automotive market over the past decade into the largest in the world has been a major driver of lead demand growth, and the explosion in popularity of electric bicycles (e-bikes) has boosted usage rates further. Lead is also still used to a small degree in the glass and plastics industries, for radiation shielding and cable sheathing.

Lead has the highest recycling rate of all the base metals, with more than 60% of production in the Western World coming from recycling, primarily of spent lead-acid batteries. The ratio is closer to 40% in China, which suggests that there is great potential for growth in secondary production in this country as environmental and recycling standards catch up to those of the West.

4. Nickel

Rarely visible in its pure form in modern life, nickel’s principal applications are through its performance as a nickel-rich alloy or through the properties it bestows on other metals as an alloying addition. Nickel-bearing alloys, with their high temperature performance, are crucial to the design of modern aircraft engines and the metal is also vitally important in stainless steel production – a sector that accounts for about two-thirds of all nickel usage.

Nickel ores fall into three types: nickel-copper sulphides, laterites and silicates, with processing methods different for each type. The sulphide ores, of which Canadian, Russian and Australian deposits are best known, are concentrates and refined into high-purity metal, usually producing copper and platinum group metals en-route. Other ores, largely mined in Indonesia, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Cuba, Brazil and Colombia, have a high iron content and are a natural feed for producing ferro-nickel or nickel pig iron (NPI) for the steel industry.

New sulphide deposits are far and far between, leaving the future of the nickel industry increasingly dependent upon laterites. In recent years, the new generation of nickel laterite-based mega projects – employing pressure acid leaching or ferro-nickel smelting – have proved to be capital intensive and technologically challenging, leading to lengthy commissioning and ramp-up delays and even project suspensions. The void has been filled by a boom in NPI production in China, but the nickel market is now characterised by major oversupply. 

5. Tin

The only tin ore with economic value is cassiterite. It is found in hard-rock deposits in quartz veins or in the eroded remnants of these orebodies that have been re-concentrated in alluvial or eluvial deposits in riverbeds or offshore. Hardrock mining has gradually lost ground to more cost-effective gravel pumps and dredging operations, with Indonesia and China the main centres of modern ore production.

The tin market is arguably the fundamentally tightest of all the base metals, and this is mainly a function of the supply side, due to a lack of investment in exploration and project development in recent decades, tightening environmental regulations in China and Indonesia, unrest in the DRC and declining ore grades in Peru. Tin prices will need to remain high in order to incentivise new investments in the coming years.

On the demand side, about half of all tin produced goes into the manufacture of solder for the electronics industry. Tinplate and plastics are the next most important sectors for tin usages, but the metal also finds applications in glassmaking and fire retardants.

6. Zinc

Zinc’s greatest property lies in acting as a protector for other substrates, especially steel. Zinc-coated steels – using mainly the continuous hot-dip galvanising method on sheet or wire – now absorb just over half of all zinc produced. When alloyed with copper, a series of brasses provides for the second-largest offtake of zinc, and this has overtaken the diecast sector in volume terms.

Geologically, zinc ore mainly takes the form of sphalerite and commonly occurs with lead, silver and copper ores in polymetallic deposits. Ore is concentrated and refined and China has grown to be the largest producer in the world of mined and refined zinc. It is also the largest consumer.

The zinc market has been in structural oversupply since 2007, but the closure of a number of major mines due to reserve exhaustion during the 2012-2016 period (such as Brunswick and Perseverance in Canada, Lisheen in Ireland and Century in Australia) should see supply tighten up, though not to the extent that supply deficits become commonplace. Therefore, zinc is expected to remain lower priced than its sister metal lead, which is a fundamentally tighter market.



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