Commodities Roundup: Steady steel production; oil price supported in the short term; housing starts cool in February

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For the buyers and category managers out there, here’s a quick rundown of news and thoughts from particular commodity markets, including coverage of steel production, oil prices, housing starts and more.

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

US steel production steady

The US steel sector continues to post incremental gains in capacity utilization week after week.

For the week ending March 13, US steel production totaled 1.76 million net tons at a capacity utilization rate of 77.7%.

The rate increased from 77.4% from the previous week. Meanwhile, for the year to date, production fell by 6.8% year-over-year.

US applies duties on aluminum sheet from 18 countries

The Biden administration has moved forward with anti-dumping duties on imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from 18 countries.

“Previous administrations’ focus on China — first on extrusions in 2011 and then foil and sheet in 2018 — succeeded in bringing down imports from 620,000 metric tons in 2017 to 170,000 tons last year, Reuters reported,” MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns explained this week.

“However, the wider Section 232 10% tariff is so riddled with exclusions and special exemptions that imports from the rest of the world have continued to make up a significant proportion of the market supply landscape.

“Imports of sheet, plate and strip totaled 1.3 million metric tons in 2019. That represented about 62% of total aluminum product imports that year, according to Reuters. Although volumes shrunk sharply to 836,000 tons last year, this was due to the broader COVID-19 disruption to the U.S. manufacturing sector.”

Nickel price drops

Supply concerns have left many metals buyers scrambling for supply. In terms of steel and steel production, prices have continue to rise and mills have not brought new supply onstream to the point that it has eased the supply squeeze.

Nickel's story, meanwhile, has run in the other direction.

The nickel price plunged to close February on news of nickel matte supply deals by China’s Tsingshan Holding Group.

News from Reuters indicating that Tsingshan will supply a combined 100,000 tons of to Huayou Cobalt and CNGR Advanced Material helped ease supply fears.

“However, the falling nickel price will not result in more availability or shorter lead times,” MetalMiner’s Lisa Reisman cautioned. “In fact, more fabricators and OEMs have started to pursue import options to help alleviate supply chain hiccups.”

The nickel price, however, has stabilized over the past two weeks. The LME three-month price fell from $19,700 per metric ton on Feb. 25. Meanwhile, by March 4, the price had fallen to nearly $16,200 per metric ton.

Since then, the price has traded sideways. On Wednesday, the price closed at $16,181 per metric ton.

Housing starts fall in February

In its latest housing starts report, the US Census Bureau this week reported February starts fell 10.3% compared with the previous month.

Starts during what proved to be an especially frigid February also fell 9.3% compared with February 2020 levels.

Building permits also fell by 10.8%.

Circling back to steel production, building materials for new housing construction remain particularly expensive. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, inputs for new residential construction have surged by 14% from April 2020 to February 2021.

Short-term oil outlook

In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration said it expects oil prices to remain elevated into April.

“Higher crude oil prices in March and April are primarily a result of lower crude oil production from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+), as announced at their March 4 meeting,” the EIA reported.

We noted earlier the steadying of US steel production. Meanwhile, for oil, OPEC and its partner countries recently agreed to largely maintain current levels of production. The agreement allowed for modest increases in output by Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Brent crude price recently crossed the $70 barrel threshold before retracing. The Brent crude price had fallen to $65.36 per barrel midday Thursday, according to oilprice.com.

Last week, we noted the fine line oil producers are walking between price support and potential demand damage.

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