Raw Material Pricing – Party like it’s 1999

Remember that old Prince hit?
I was dreamin’ when I wrote this
Forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin’
Coulda sworn it was judgment day

As I was doing the research for this article, that tune kept going through my head. The events of the last 6 months do feel more like a dream than reality. Judgment day? We’ll talk more about that later in the update series.

Raw materials are a large component of costs for metal stampers. So what has happened to the prices of the most commonly used raw materials?

Metal stampers care most about these input costs:
something to make the steel not rust (usually zinc or nickel)

For Copper, Aluminum, Zinc & Nickel, prices are back down to 2004 levels. In a few cases, even below 2004 levels. See these charts, courtesy of Kitcometals.com

Steel prices are down below 2007 levels.

So it’s not 1999, but in a lot of ways, it’s 2004 all over again.

What does this mean for stampers? Well, a major input cost has reverted to 5 years ago levels. Is that enough to ensure a return to profitability? Not usually. Stay tuned for the next part of the puzzle.

Copper Leads Decline in Metals in London on Outlook for Demand

And yet, Copper is still multiples of it’s price a mere 5 years ago.

Copper fell in London, heading for the biggest quarterly decline in more than two decades, on concern that worsening financial turmoil will slow global growth and crimp demand for industrial metals.
Copper has lost 25 percent this quarter, the worst performance since at least 1986

Copper Drops to One-Week Low in New York as Bailout Plan Stalls

Of course, a one week low when it’s already too high is of more interest to speculators than manufacturers, but it is interesting to see how these things are all intertwingled.

Copper fell to a one-week low after the U.S. government’s $700 billion plan to bail out the finance industry faltered and regulators seized lender Washington Mutual Inc., raising concerns that economic growth will stall.

Metals tumble on rising LME stocks

Yahoo! Malaysia News

Industrial metals lead, zinc and tin fell sharply on Thursday, hit by waning demand and rising stockpiles in warehouses.

While zinc is certainly down from recent highs (as much as $2 in December/January 06/7) to “only” a buck now, it was 50 cents 5 years ago. So we still have some adjusting to do to get back to historical levels.

The other metals are the same story. Copper was $4 recently, now it’s “only” $3.67. But 5 years ago, less than a buck.

A year ago nickel touched $25 briefly. It’s currently $10, but was $5 5 years ago.

Chile copper strike keeps two Codelco divisions shut – Yahoo! Malaysia News

This can’t be good for copper prices.

from Yahoo Malaysia
A strike by Chilean mining subcontractors in its fourth day and denting output will keep state-run copper powerhouse Codelco’s Andina and Salvador divisions closed through the weekend, the firm said on Saturday.

Volatile times ahead for copper pricing

Last week, Bloomberg.com reported:

Mexico’s copper output plunged 49 percent in January from a year earlier because of a strike at Grupo Mexico SAB’s Cananea mine, the nation’s largest producer.

This past Monday, they reported
Striking miners and other workers scuffled with rocks and sticks at Mexico’s largest copper mine, injuring nearly two dozen people, the mine’s owners and local media said Sunday.
Grupo Mexico SAB issued a statement urging government authorities to intervene after Saturday’s scuffle at the Cananea mine in the northwestern state of Sonora, where strikers tried to block other workers from entering the facility.

Copper is now at $3.90+ and still seems to be headed upwards.

Codelco Copper Output Falls for Third Year

This would go some distance towards explaining why copper inventories are so tight and prices so high. Hopefully the new mine in 2008 will bring some stability to the copper market.

Chile’s state-owned Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said output fell 6.6 percent last year, the third straight annual drop, because of aging mines and labor protests.
Production dropped to 1.67 million metric tons from 1.78 million tons in 2006, Santiago-based Codelco said in a statement. A strike in June and July curbed output, and the amount of copper in the rock at mines declined.
Global stockpiles of the metal have tumbled this year, and copper prices have climbed 27 percent. Production will rise in 2008 with the opening of a new mine, Codelco Executive President Jose Pablo Arellano said at a news conference.

Copper drops, but not as much as you might think (or wish for)

For an amusing hour or so yesterday, Kitco, my favorite metals reporting web site, was claiming that Copper had dropped a dollar to $2 and change. It must have been a reporting glitch, because later the metal went back up to $3 and change. But for a few minutes there I was ready to break out the champagne.

But copper at $3 is a lot better than a year ago, when it was up to $4.

Likewise, zinc is still above “normal” levels, but has subsided recently to a buck (it had been $2 just over a year ago).

Nickel, having been close to $25 a year ago, is down around half that now. For a while, in late 2007, it was actually down under 12

Copper Slips Slightly To Continue Recent Decline

Since copper is often used in construction, the red metal usually moves with economic news. Traders still considered the Federal Reserve’s announcement of a series of measures aimed at addressing the problems in the short-term funding markets, which could boost fuel demand. The moves were made in conjunction with many of the world’s other major central banks. The announcement came a day after the Fed announced a quarter-point reduction in its benchmark interest rate, a move that was widely criticized for not giving enough help to the markets.
With concerns over the U.S. economy, copper supplies are at a nine-month high. Data showed inventories monitored by the London Metal Exchange were at 3,675 metric tons, up 193,000 tons, its highest level since the middle of March.

For all that copper goes up slightly and down slightly, it’s still awfully expensive in terms of long term trends. Copper is back to where it was a year ago, but still more than 3 times the price it was 5 years ago (about 80 cents US).