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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 edging higher again today

    26 April 2017

    The base metals are edging higher after recent weakness. We are waiting to see if this upward move attracts more followers.

  • Metal prices ease in low volume trading

    27 April 2017

    Most of the base metals appear to have found bases and are trying to rebound, with varying levels of success. We remain mildly bullish for the base metals’ fundamentals but volume on the LME remains low. It may take a pick-up in volume before prices become more directional again.

  • Metals find support but little upside energy

    28 April 2017

    Our stance of remaining quietly bullish for the base metals into the recent weakness, while we wait for the fundamentals to tighten up again, seems to be paying off as support levels have been found and prices are edging higher. There is not much bullishness around yet though.

  • Market Summary: Risk appetite expected to recover

    25 April 2017

    The base metals have generally had a weak start to the second quarter and the lack of upward price momentum has led to stale long liquidation. But supply-side issues are still supportive in many markets and industrial demand is solid. We think it is just a matter of time before we see a pick-up in risk appetite, and prices.

  • Aluminium: Holding up well

    25 April 2017

    Aluminium prices continue to be well supported by supply concerns in light of recent disruptions, planned cutbacks in China this winter and IAI data showing another monthly decline in global production. We think Chinese output is being understated, but we have this week lowered our supply forecasts for Jharsuguda-I following last week’s outage.

  • Technical analysis: Consolidation continues, uptrends will return

    25 April 2017

    In general, choppy consolidation is continuing across the base metals, but we still believe that this process will conclude with resumptions of uptrends.

  • Copper: Bulls versus bears

    25 April 2017

    Copper prices remain under pressure, but that is in line with our base case forecast at the moment. Short-term bearish arguments centre on lingering demand worries and working through the scrap glut that the Q4 2016 price rally created. We stand by our view that the softer tone is temporary, and that prices have yet to reach their cyclical peak – disruption risks and a lack of investment in mine supply are compelling medium and longer-term bullish arguments.

  • Lead: Break down

    25 April 2017

    Prices fell through the bottom of our $2,200-2,400/tonne range. But the market is generally balanced and showing some signs of tightness. Given this, and that lead can be quite a volatile metal, we think the price dip is likely to be followed by a quick rebound. But it may be too early to say whether the sell-off has run its course yet.

  • Nickel: Calm before the storm

    25 April 2017

    Nickel prices remain weak, testing support we have flagged up before around the $9,200/tonne level. We still consider this to be consolidation and a precursor to prices recovering, and we reiterate that the recovery could start with a jolt given that the still-overextended speculative short position provides the potential for some major short-covering rallies. Premiums have been rising and there are plenty of bullish sound bites emerging from this week’s MB conference.

  • Tin: Slimmer 2017 deficit

    25 April 2017

    Adjustments to our Chinese production forecasts now leave our supply-demand balance showing a 4,000-tonne deficit in 2017 compared to our previous forecast of a 7,000-tonne deficit. Nevertheless, this has not altered our pricing outlook for the remainder of the year, as we believe that risks to Chinese smelter output are more pronounced on the downside.

  • Zinc: Rally certain to resume

    25 April 2017

    The zinc market remains a volatile place at present with prices attempting to rebound after finding good support around $2,500/tonne. Previous corrections within this bull market have been viewed as dip-buying opportunities, and we think this one will be treated the same, especially now real tightness is starting to be seen. We have lowered our nearby price outlook this week to reflect the weak start to Q2 after this deep correction, but we are still convinced of an upward trajectory from here.

  • Base metals investment analysis: Reflation underpinning base metals

    25 April 2017

    Even in base metals for which net length has been significantly reduced from recent highs, it remains elevated relative to historical levels. This means that beneath the shorter-term fluctuations in positioning – usually related to supply disruptions – there is a broader underlying trend in which investors are re-engaging with commodities.

  • Demand Indicators April 25 2017

    25 April 2017

    Demand indicators for the base metals market

  • Downloadable Base Metals Weekly Data April 25 2017

    25 April 2017

    Downloadable data for week April 25 2017

Breaking Views

  • Metals find support but little upside energy

    28 April 2017

    Our stance of remaining quietly bullish for the base metals into the recent weakness, while we wait for the fundamentals to tighten up again, seems to be paying off as support levels have been found and prices are edging higher. There is not much bullishness around yet though.

  • Metal prices ease in low volume trading

    27 April 2017

    Most of the base metals appear to have found bases and are trying to rebound, with varying levels of success. We remain mildly bullish for the base metals’ fundamentals but volume on the LME remains low. It may take a pick-up in volume before prices become more directional again.

  • Metal prices edging higher again today

    26 April 2017

    The base metals are edging higher after recent weakness. We are waiting to see if this upward move attracts more followers.

  • Metals consolidate, nickel looking vulnerable

    25 April 2017

    The base metals are, at best, consolidating after recent weakness, although nickel continues to fall with prices setting fresh lows for the year as we write. On balance, we still remain friendly towards the base metals’ outlooks but the would-be buyers seem in no hurry to restock.

  • Metals off to a quiet start, expect more direction later

    24 April 2017

    The base metals started to find some strength towards the end of last week, but the buyers did not appear to be in any particular hurry. That may have been due to uncertainty ahead of the French election. The markets are looking more risk-on this morning.

  • 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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