Commodities Roundup: Northvolt makes battery cell development; metal inventories dwindle; US, Japan announce start of steel, aluminum consultations

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Here’s a quick rundown of news and thoughts from particular commodity sectors, including a development in the battery cell space, updates on dwindling LME inventories and more.

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

Stainless steel remains elevated

This week, MetalMiner’s Nichole Bastin delved into the stainless steel and nickel markets, where prices remain elevated.

“Nickel continues to be within an overall uptrend,” Bastin wrote. “However, LME prices experienced significant volatility throughout October.

“Prices dropped as low as $17,810/mt in the early days of the month before they spiked to $20,475/mt by Oct. 21. Prices have since retraced and appear to have consolidated near February highs.”

Northvolt produces battery cell with recycled materials

Swedish firm Northvolt announced it has produced a battery cell using 100% recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt.

“What we have shown here is a clear pathway to closing the loop on batteries and that there exists a sustainable, environmentally-preferable alternative to conventional mining in order to source raw materials for battery production,” Northvolt Chief Environmental Officer Emma Nehrenheim said. “The recycling process can recover up to 95% of the metals in a battery to a level of purity on par with fresh virgin material. What we need now is to scale-up recycling capacities in anticipation of future volumes of batteries requiring recycling.”

The firm said it aims to scale up its recycling capabilities to produce cells made of 50% recycled material by 2030.

Dwindling inventories

MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns took a look at the issue of dwindling metal inventories on the LME.

“But while resurgent demand in the world’s largest consumer is certainly a part of the problem, demand elsewhere is also significant,” Burns wrote. “A global rush to restock supply chains has put base metal supply under extreme duress. Overlaying that has been a highly constrained and chaotic global shipping market. Sky-high rates are not just delaying shipments but dissuading the normal flow of metal that would restock or resupply regions in response to arbitrage price differences.”

However, given price movements over the last year-plus, Burns emphasized that inventory levels do not necessarily directly correlate with higher or lower prices.

“First, while in many cases analysts will point to falling inventory levels as a reason for rising prices, the current ultra-low levels of LME stocks support the point we have always made at MetalMiner: there is little direct correlation between inventory and prices,” he noted.

“Indirect? Yes, but falling inventory does not automatically suggest prices will rise. Today’s base metal prices are nearly all off peaks seen in Q3 despite even lower inventory levels on the LME.”

US, Japan to start Section 232 talks

Earlier this month, the U.S. and Japan indicated they will initiate talks regarding ways to address global steel and aluminum excess capacity, including the former’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.

In 2018, the Trump administration imposed the tariffs of 25% for steel and 10% of aluminum. Trump cited national security provisions under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

A number of countries have negotiated exemptions — or quotas — from the tariffs. Recently, the U.S. reached an agreement with the E.U. to implement tariff-rate quotas for steel and aluminum.

However, the tariffs remain in place for imports from Japan.

“The United States and Japan will seek to resolve bilateral concerns in this area, including the application of Section 232 measures, trade flows, and the sufficiency of actions that address steel and aluminum excess capacity with the aim of taking mutually beneficial and effective actions to restore market-oriented conditions and preserve our critical industries,” the United States Trade Representative’s office said in a statement released Nov. 12.

US steel capacity utilization rises to 84.1%

U.S. steel capacity utilization reached 84.1% for the week ending Nov. 13, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported.

Steel output for the week totaled 1.86 million tons, up 0.6% week over week.

Meanwhile, steel output of 82.6 million tons for the year to date marked a 20.0% year-over-year increase.

Fleet management company adds to EV orders

Fleet management company Merchant Fleets will expand its purchases of BrightDrop electric vehicles to 18,000.

BrightDrop, a General Motors business, focuses on first- and last-mile delivery operations.

“BrightDrop, the technology startup helping decarbonize last-mile deliveries, today announced that Merchants Fleet, the nation’s fastest growing fleet management company, plans to expand its purchase order to 18,000 BrightDrop electric vehicles with the addition of 5,400 EV410s – the recently unveiled mid-size electric light commercial vehicle (eLCV),” GM said in a release.

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