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Red metal soars after Covid blues

Prices for all metals are high as leading economies bounce back from the pandemic restrictions.

Metal markets have remained strong in the past two months with most of the industry coming through the pandemic well. Demand for metals seems to continue unabated; this applies to both new and scrap metals. The scrap market to Asia is currently going well. According to Morgan Stanley, Chinese imports of copper scrap rose 35% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous quarter. Imports are also above 2019 levels, the bank said.

However, the rampant growth of infections in India is cause for concern as it is feared they will affect the metal market.
As with other sectors, freight space on ships is both scarce and expensive. In addition, due to the high volume of freight, there are also problems with promised delivery dates and other issues.

Economic upturn

Economic prospects look good. In early April, the International Monetary Fund released its latest World Economic Outlook (WEO) projecting expansion of the global economy by 6% in 2021 and 4.4% in 2022.

‘The projections for 2021 and 2022 are stronger than in the October 2020 WEO,’ the IMF says. ‘The upward revision reflects additional fiscal support in a few large economies, the anticipated vaccine-powered recovery in the second half of 2021, and continued adaptation of economic activity to subdued mobility.’

But the IMF concedes that ‘high uncertainty’ surrounds this outlook because of the pandemic, vaccine supply and financial conditions. On the trade front, the IMF is projecting global trade in goods and services to surge 8.4% this year and increase by 6.5% in 2022. There was an 8.5% contraction in 2020.

US data

At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released updated producer price indexes in the US, including for recycled commodities, for March 2021. It reported all scrap commodities up on a year-to-year basis. Recyclable paper led the way, rising 65.7% with copper base scrap a close second, up 62.7%. Aluminium base scrap rose 40.8%.

The Census Bureau reported US retail sales 9.8% higher in March. Excluding autos, retail sales were up 8.4% month-on-month in March. Total retail sales were up 14.3% year-on-year in Q1.

Copper

Copper prices are seen as a barometer for the state of the world economy and it has continued its upward trend. At the end of April, LME prices rose briefly to US$ 10 000 for the first time since February 2011 and shortly afterwards fell back below this magic mark. LME stocks continued to rise in the past few weeks.

On the European scrap market, blank copper wire scrap achieved US$ 9 340 and the prices of the other varieties also rose sharply. Chopped copper wire scrap fetched US$ 9 485 for the first grade and US$ 9 136 for the second. Heavy copper scrap was available for US$ 8 557. The prices of unalloyed copper wire were US$ 9 027 for first quality and US$ 8 822 for the second.

Aluminium

With a few exceptions, the aluminium market remained very robust. Three-month aluminium quoted on the LME at the end of April was US$ 2 438 – in March it had been US$ 2 166. Alloy remained around…

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