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Base Metals Market Tracker

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

Latest Issue

  • Second rebound attempt in three days for metals

    20 July 2018

    After Thursday’s slump, the base metals prices are having another go at rebounding, as they did on Wednesday. With two attempted rebounds in three days, it suggests bargain hunting is emerging – whether this turns into another “dead-cat bounce” remains to be seen.

  • Market Summary: Global market sentiment remains flustered

    17 July 2018

    Judging by recent price moves in the base metals complex, global market sentiment remains flustered by president Trump’s protectionist rhetoric. Following from the $34 billion worth of tariffs imposed on China, the United States says another $200 billion is under consideration. China has yet to retaliate to the new set of tariffs, leaving investors with fear and uncertainty. Such a scenario does little to boost global trade or confidence, thus leaving the demand outlook on industrial metals pretty much in doldrum.

  • Aluminium: Limited downside risks

    17 July 2018

    Prices are approaching previous support, which may limit downside risks in the short term. The supportive fundamental backdrop is limiting price weakness for the moment, however the build in LME stocks and threat of rising production in China and the US is likely to act as a drag on price sentiment across the longer term, while the negative fallout of rising trade tensions remains the largest obstacle in the short term.

  • Technical analysis: Outlooks mixed

    17 July 2018

    Selling momentum dominated nickel but technical indicators showed upside room for copper

  • Copper: Prices suffered series damage

    17 July 2018

    Copper price have suffered series damage as the market has been caught off guard by how aggressive President Trump is being over trade protectionism. Given the scale of price pressure since early June we have cut our Q3 price forecast, and broad-based uncertainties relating to trade are likely to overhang in the short term. But various metrics suggest the global refined market is starting to tighten, something that could accelerate with supply disruption potentially back on the agenda once again at Escondida.

  • Lead: Sell-off runs attracts dip buying

    17 July 2018

    Lead prices fell further last week, setting a low at $2,139.50 per tonne on Thursday, July 12. Continued concerns about US trade wars have weighed on the metals markets. In addition, a rebound in the dollar is proving to be a further headwind. Prices now look over stretched on the downside.

  • Nickel: Forward buying has strengthened

    17 July 2018

    LME open interest is rising, which suggests confidence is returning among the nickel bulls. Downstream demand indictors remain supportive; the fact longer-dated LME spreads widened indicates forward buying has strengthened.

  • Tin: Further weakness has been seen

    17 July 2018

    Tin prices on the LME have not escaped the sell-off, falling to a low of $19,240 per tonne on Wednesday, but they have been the least affected amongst the base metals with prices falling 12.5% from the 2018 high, compared with an average fall of 22.4% in the other metals. Despite a strong close on Friday, further weakness has been seen at the start of this week.

  • Zinc: Relief rally likely to be limited

    17 July 2018

    Zinc is the largest casualty of the current correction, with prices down by over 20% from early June. While downside risks remain, with price testing the 50% Fibonacci retracement level of the bull run from $1,444.50 per tonne in January 2016 the bears may become more reluctant to pressure the market much lower. Even so relief rally are likely to be limited for now and we have cut our price outlooks for 2018-19 as a result.

  • Base metals investment analysis: Lead, tin see fresh buying

    17 July 2018

    Selling continues to run rampant in London Metal Exchange copper, aluminium, nickel and zinc markets, but lead and tin managed to buck the trend, according to the LME Commitment of Traders (CoT) report. The persistent deleveraging is consistent with the month-long selling, ever since the June 6-7 high in base metals prices, which started to find short-term support on July 6. But so far, the rebound in base metals prices remains weak and the complex is still vulnerable to further weakness.

  • Demand Indicators: July 17 2018

    17 July 2018

    Demand indicators for the base metals market

  • Downloadable Base Metals Weekly Data July 17 2018

    17 July 2018

    Downloadable data for week July 17 2018

Breaking Views

  • Second rebound attempt in three days for metals

    20 July 2018

    After Thursday’s slump, the base metals prices are having another go at rebounding, as they did on Wednesday. With two attempted rebounds in three days, it suggests bargain hunting is emerging – whether this turns into another “dead-cat bounce” remains to be seen.

  • Prices rebound after risk-on sentiment emerges

    09 July 2018

    Some strength has emerged in the base metals this morning. There are various chart formations that support the view that the recent bout of price weakness may have run its course. Given rises in equities and a weaker dollar, the risk-on developments also look broad based. Key now will be to see how much follow-through buying/bargain hunting there is.

  • No pause in downdraft hitting metals prices

    06 July 2018

    There seems no let-up in the weakness across most the base metals and in this ‘falling knife’ environment we would wait for a buying opportunity. Markets are likely to remain nervous waiting to see how countries retaliate against the US tariffs. Given the extent of the price corrections, there may well be considerable pent-up demand to follow.

  • Some base metals prices attempting a rebound, but continue to look fragile

    03 July 2018

    The base metals are looking quite diverse this morning with aluminium and tin still looking weak, while the rest are attempting a rebound. Whether the rebounds have legs remains to be seen.

  • Mild dip-buying returns to the base metals complex

    28 June 2018

    Base metal prices were marginally higher this morning after their recent falls. But volume has been light, which suggests the complex remains vulnerable to the downside if risk-off sentiment returns to the market.

  • 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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