Commodities Roundup: Steel production down 13%; aluminum price fluctuates; U.S. auto sales improve in May

Commodities Roundup: Steel production down 13%; aluminum price fluctuates; U.S. auto sales improve in May

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For the buyers and category managers out there, especially those of you deep in the weeds of buying and managing commodities, here’s a quick rundown of news and thoughts from particular commodity markets.

MetalMiner, a sister site of ours, scours the landscape for what matters. This week:

Global steel production down 13% in April

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the steel sector has seen a decline in output.

According to the World Steel Association, global crude steel production fell 13% in April on a year-over-year basis.

Top steel producer China saw its output tick up 0.2% after falling 1.7% in March.

U.S. production plunged 32.5% in April, with recent capacity utilization rates hovering around the low 50s.

China’s economic growth

As China begins to emerge from the COVID-19 outbreak and its economy slowly inches toward a semblance of normalcy, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns wondered if the country can ever reach 6% growth levels again.

“After contracting some 6.8% in the first quarter of this year, estimates vary with respect to what China’s GDP growth will be for 2020 in total,” Burns wrote. “CRU expects between 2-3%, according to a Financial Times article, but analysts polled by the South China Morning Post are quoting between 1.5-2.5%, with some major banks, like UBS, expecting growth at the bottom of that range.

“What’s prompted the low numbers, apart from an appreciation of the dire consequences of the pandemic on the economy in the first quarter, is Premier Li Keqiang’s announcement last week to the National People’s Congress of a ($853 billion) stimulus package to stabilize the economy following the coronavirus disruptions.

“That is equivalent to 6.1% of nominal gross domestic product, well below the level following the 2008 financial crisis.”

U.S. steel capacity utilization up slightly

The U.S. steel sector’s capacity utilization rate has plummeted in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic and declining demand.

After exceeding 80% last year, the most recent weekly capacity utilization rate checked in at 53.8%, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute (for the week ending May 30). That rate is up from the 53.2% tallied the previous week.

Meanwhile, through the first five months of the year, U.S. steel output was down 16.1% and came in at a capacity utilization rate of 69.3% (down from 81.4% during the same period in 2019).

Aluminum price fluctuations

The aluminum price has seen its fair share of ups and downs of late, driven largely by aluminum supply and trader interest.

“The spot price is being driven up by physical demand for metal from traders exploiting a price arbitrage between the LME and China’s SHFE price,” Burns wrote. “In addition, the price is also receiving support from physical demand from the stock and finance trade looking to buy spot, sell long dated forward and taking the profit between the two prices (meanwhile locking metal away in warehouses for the interim).

“All this would be highly positive for aluminum prices moving higher if it were not for the fact the reason both the arbitrage and the stock and finance trade have taken off is because the world is awash with aluminum. Smelters have continued to churn out metal during lockdowns, and industries that consume the light metal are only gradually come out of hibernation — think automotive, aerospace, building trades, etc.”

COVID-19 impacts India’s solar sector

MetalMiner contributor Sohrab Darabshaw took a look at the state of India’s solar power sector.

“According to a new report from ETEnergyWorld, India was able to add only about 989 megawatt (MW) of solar power capacity in the first quarter of 2020, compared with the expected 1,864 MW that was scheduled to be commissioned in that quarter,” he wrote.

“The total installed capacity of solar energy was at 37,916 MW as of March 31, 2020, according to the report, ‘India Solar Compass Q1 2020,’ by clean energy consultancy Bridge to India.

“The report broke down the actual completion at 689 MW, comprising 19 projects split among central government tenders of 257 MW, state government tenders of 415 MW and other projects of 18 MW capacity, all far below previous estimates in part due to COVID-19 related disruption.”

Auto sales improve in May

U.S. auto sales continued to lag in May compared to 2019 levels but showed some signs of a recovery compared to April levels.

Honda, for example, saw U.S. sales decline 16.9% in May on a year-over-year basis after a 54.1% decline the previous month.

Hyundai sales fell 13% in May after posting a 39% decline in April.

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