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.

Miner dies at St. Lawrence Zinc

Since I’ve been giving the chinese so much grief over their horrible mining safety record, it’s only fair that I report on western mine accidents too.


A mining accident Saturday claimed the life of a St. Lawrence County man.

Clewis was standing on a platform, drilling into a wall, when the ceiling collapsed, pinning him under a slab of rock. Aldridge, who had jumped clear, called for help.

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.

China quake seen cutting metals output, lifting zinc prices

Now here’s an aspect of the China quake scenario I’ll bet you hadn’t considered …

Heightened concerns that China’s devastating earthquake will curtail the country’s massive metals output helped aluminum, zinc and other base metals extend a two-day rally Friday.

China is the world’s largest producer of zinc, aluminum and lead.

Only a sliver of the country’s base metals mining and production takes place in Sichuan province, the epicenter of Monday’s 7.9-magnitude earthquake, which Chinese authorities now estimate has claimed more than 21,500 lives. But the two nearby provinces also jolted by the quake — Shaanxi and Gansu — have mines and smelters as well.

Bloomberg wrote:

Zinc rose in London, heading for the biggest weekly gain since February, as the biggest earthquake in nearly six decades in China hit output in the world’s biggest producer. Aluminum also climbed.

China’s 7.9-magnitude earthquake is affecting as much as 350,000 tons of zinc smelting capacity in Sichuan and neighboring provinces, according to Beijing Antaike Information Development Co. The tremor that took place May 12 also affected transportation and power supplies.

At the same time, other analysts are saying that China will temporarily stop buying some metals, because they are distracted by bigger domestic issues at the moment.

However, logic would indicate that, if there is rebuilding to be done afterwards, they will need more, not fewer, resources.

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

Material Pricing

Here’s a brief update on material pricing.

Zinc has now fallen from the $2 US/lb that it was late last year to about $1.50 US now. However, many platers buy zinc on contract, and so until their contracts run out, higher prices will prevail. By comparison, zinc was $0.50 in June of ’05

Copper is again on the rise. It got down as far as $2.50 in February, but is up around $3.30 now. A year ago it was $4.00, so it’s a bit off the peak, but not enough to feel comfortable.

Nickel is climbing and shows no sign of stopping. It’s currently about $22.75, up from $16 at the year boundary, from $8 a year ago, and $3 five years ago.

Zinc is used in almost every method of rust-proofing steel (except stainless steel). Nickel is used in stainless steel. Brass is a combination of zinc and copper.

Higher prices spur fast growth at zinc mines

Three zinc mines, closed since 2001, have been reopened, since higher zinc prices make them worth operating.

Trio of reopened operations adds more jobs than expected
East Tennessee Zinc Co. – a new zinc mining operation in Knox and Jefferson counties – has grown to more than 330 employees since its start last fall and expects to grow even more, a company official said Monday.

The Young mine in New Market opened in 1956; the Coy mine in Strawberry Plains was started in 1957; and the Immel mine in East Knox County’s Mascot community opened in 1965.

Material Prices

Copper has bounced and is back on the rise. From a low of $2.40 a few weeks ago, it’s gone back up to $3. It’s still a whole lot better than the $4 it hit a while back, but not nearly low enough or stable enough for metal stampers to specify it reliably.

Other metals:
Zinc, having hit $2, is down to $1.45, but there was a short run up a few weeks ago.
Nickel, which was $3 5 years ago, is now $22, more than 5 times the price of 5 years ago and shows no sign of slowing down.

You can see the historical charts yourself here: Copper, Zinc & Nickel
all courtesy of Kitco Metals.