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Non-ferrous: confident times as demand is sustained

Prices for non-ferrous metals have remained at high levels during the reporting period, boosted by similar factors including supply chain problems and China’s trading policies. Overall, market participants have been confident although, at the time of writing, it was too early know the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the US, all recyclable materials traded domestically were up for the 12 months ending in January, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, with aluminium base scrap up 39.0% while copper increased by 23.4%. Indeed, most of the changes year-on-year (January 2021 to January 2022) for recyclable materials are above the all-commodities index.

In terms of US exports, 2021 was the best year for recycled aluminium since 2011 in both quantity and dollar terms. Exports of recycled commodities from the US soared more than 50% in 2021 compared to 2020, achieving the highest earnings for a decade. 

Exports shine

According to the latest data from the Census Bureau and the US International Trade Commission, reported by ISRI, the value of recycled materials exported in 2021 was US$ 31.3 billion (EUR 27.6 million) up 51.3% year-on-year. In terms of quantity, recycled commodity exports increased less significantly but were up 9% year-on-year in 2021 to 38.5 million tonnes.

Exports of recycled base metals, including copper, aluminium, nickel, lead, zinc and tin in 2021 increased 15% by quantity to 3.1 million tonnes and were up 66% in dollar terms to US$ 8.7 billion last year. 

China regained the top spot as the largest destination for copper and copper alloy exports from the US last year as shipments more than doubled to 240 000 tonnes. Other major markets for US exports were Malaysia (142 000 tonnes), Canada (115 000 tonnes), South Korea (64 000 tonnes) and India (52 000 tonnes). Total recycled copper and copper alloy exports from the US increased 18%. 

Chinese imports resume 

Writing in the latest BIR Mirror, China recycling expert Ma Hongchang notes that Chinese imports grew significantly in 2021. For the January-October period, imported volumes are thought to have increased by 0.52 million tonnes, or 86%. During 2022, it is estimated that 2.55 million tonnes of copper scrap will be recovered and that, with imports, domestic supply will be 3.75 million tonnes. 

Board member Darrell Wong of Liberty Iron & Metal reports that South-East Asia looks poised to continue its recovery this year with exports racing ahead. Malaysian exports jumped 32% on the year in December 2021 with trade data showing strong growth in electrical and electronic products, which make up nearly 40% of the total. Singapore’s exports rose 24.2% in the third quarter of 2021, the largest gain in around a decade.  

Fellow board member Rick Dobkin of Shapiro Metals reports that metal markets in the US continue to be volatile with aluminium and nickel rising and falling rapidly.  

‘At the time of my December 2021 report, US primary and secondary aluminium prices were at parity; now the primary price is nearly 20% higher than that for high-volume secondary 380 ingot as most secondary alloy prices have not moved much in recent months.’ 

Freight rates easing?

Long-term contracted ocean freight rates have fallen for the past two months, according to latest Xeneta Shipping Index, suggesting a cooling in the heated market for container ships. The index, which is based on data from leading global shippers, was down 3.6% in January, following a fall of 1.6 in December. Previously, there had been 14 months of consecutive increases back to September 2020. Even so, contracted rates are 98.1% up year-on-year, demonstrating the current strength of shipping lines in international trade.  

Patrik Berglund, ceo of Xeneta, says carriers are in a position to dictate terms to smaller shippers, through elevated rates and limiting availability, while locking in ‘bigger fish’ at favourable prices.

The news comes after research from shipping consultancy Drewry indicating that the profits of the world’s largest lines in 2021 would be over US$ 150 billion (EUR 132 billion) – more than their combined profits over the previous 20 years.

Meanwhile, Poland now requires anyone transporting waste into or through the country to be registered. This includes all waste covered by the EU Waste Shipment Regulations. If a transport is not reported correctly, then a fine will be calculated at 46% of the gross value of the transported goods, and never less than EUR 4 350. 

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