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Trade News

Aluminum Market Fluctuates: China's Pause on Russian Imports Amidst Price Hike

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Leo Gonzalez

May 15, 2024 - 03:01 am

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Chinese Aluminum Buyers Hesitate on Russian Metal Amid Price Surge

Bloomberg News

In recent developments, Chinese buyers have shown a temporary reluctance to purchase Russian aluminum. This hesitation arises as the practicalities of commerce momentarily dampen the endeavors to strengthen Sino-Russian trade relations.

Despite anticipations that sanctions on Russian base metals imposed by leading UK and US exchanges would funnel additional aluminum sales toward China, the current rise in global prices has rendered imports prohibitively expensive. Traders report that with the international pricing surge, potential Chinese buyers are disinclined to engage in purchases at elevated rates, while sellers are not prepared to propose substantial concessions on shipments amid steady demand from other Asian markets.

Trade Conundrums Amid Geopolitical Alliances

Russian rail transportation hurdles are also surfacing as a challenge to the prospective increase in shipments bound for China. Amid these logistical difficulties, the two nations continue to showcase their alliance.

This week's noteworthy visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to China, upon the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, underscores the firm partnership between the two countries, commonly referred to as the "no-limits" friendship. This high-level engagement saw optimism reflected in the financial markets, with shares of Russia's premier aluminum producer, United Co. Rusal International PJSC, soaring by as much as 6.4% in Hong Kong. However, Rusal has chosen not to offer public remarks on this development.

China: Russia's Commodities Sanctuary

China has swiftly emerged as a pivotal sanctuary for Russian commodities as Western markets become increasingly off-limits due to sanctions following Russia's military actions in Ukraine. This dynamic has positioned Chinese importers to secure discounts on crucial resources, often settling transactions in yuan to circumvent the traditionally used U.S. dollar.

The repercussions of this shift are particularly pronounced in the aluminum trade. Last year, Rusal noted that revenue from China represented 23% of its total earnings, a sharp increase from the mere 8% in 2022. Official statistics from Chinese customs indicate that aluminum exports from Russia to China in the first quarter surged to double the volume at 393,000 tons. However, despite these trends, the differential between world and Chinese market prices, exacerbated by Western sanctions, has closed what was once a lucrative arbitrage opportunity.

Economic Slowdown Influences Metal Demand in China

While contracts covering long-term agreements continue to be honored, imports of Russian aluminum into China are predicted to reduce in the forthcoming months of April and May, as posited by Li Jiahui, an analyst at Shanghai Metals Market. The analyst highlights the lack of spot market activity for Russian aluminum, attributing the lull to import losses.

To restore appeal to Chinese buyers, Russian vendors would need to introduce more significant discounts. However, they may be wary of doing so as the demand from Southeast Asia, along with Japan and South Korea, remains robust.

Anticipating a Seasonal Surge

Despite the economic downturn currently dampening China's demand for metals, the forthcoming peak season for aluminum consumption could potentially reverse this trend. This anticipated upsurge may help close the discrepancy between local prices and those prominent in the international sphere.

International Trade Policy Impact

President Joe Biden recently announced major tariff increases on a broad spectrum of Chinese imports. This maneuver, strategically timed in an election year, aims to bolster the American domestic manufacturing base within critical industries. The policy implementation leaves room for the continued importation of essential solar machinery but excludes markets where China holds dominance.

Trade Measures and Market Reactions

The new tariffs have broad implications for various sectors:

  • Solar machinery tariffs have been tailored to spare key equipment segments.
  • Minerals tariffs have bypassed markets under Chinese control.
  • Sharp declines have hit soy oil following the exemptions of Chinese feedstocks from the tariff increments.
  • In response to the tariff adjustments, China pledged to undertake 'resolute measures.'

The market response, dissected by analysts, predicts that stocks in the Chinese consumer and climate change sectors are likely to outperform others given the current economic climate. This forecast, provided by AllianceBernstein, contrasts the prospects of traditional baijiu distillers with the anticipated performance of alternative industries.

Strategic Resources and Allegations of 'Predatory' Tactics

Further complicating the global commodities narrative are accusations from a senior U.S. official directed at China's CMOC Group Ltd. The conglomerate stands accused of practicing 'predatory' pricing strategies to depress cobalt costs by flooding the market with supplies from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite concerns about overcapacity within China's battery sector, the demand for raw ingredients essential for the energetic transition remains undeterred.

An Outlook on Upcoming Industry Events

The commodities and financial markets are closely watching several key events on the horizon that could impact various sectors:

  • Wednesday, May 15: China will declare its monthly medium-term lending rates, followed by an online briefing by CCTD on Chinese coal and the commencement of the Antaike copper conference in Jiangxi.
  • Thursday, May 16: President Putin’s visit to China coincides with the second day of the Antaike copper conference.
  • Friday, May 17: Putin’s visit continues alongside the release of China’s new home prices, industrial output data, and statistics regarding retail sales and property investment. Iron ore port stockpiles and Shanghai exchange commodities inventory data are also due.
  • Saturday, May 18: China will release its secondary batch of April trade data with a focus on agricultural and gas imports and exports covering alumina, copper, and rare-earth products.

The detailed itinerary reflects an array of topics, from lending rates to the progression of key commodity conferences and noteworthy state visits. Each event could offer further insight into the direction and health of the Chinese economy, international trade dynamics, and resource markets.

In conclusion, the interplay between Chinese demand, Russian supply, and the vagaries of international sanctions is shaping the contemporary landscape of the aluminum market. While the impact of these factors has led to a temporary reticence among Chinese consumers towards Russian aluminum, the enduring strategic relationship between the two nations suggests a complex and evolving narrative. Future trade patterns will likely be influenced by geopolitical developments, global market prices, and the potential for Chinese consumer demand to rebound in the coming months.

This news coverage was enhanced with input from journalist Yuliya Fedorinova.

For additional information and updates, please visit Bloomberg News.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.