© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Employees work at the production line of aluminium rolls at a factory in Zouping, Shandong province, China November 23, 2019. Picture taken November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
LONDON (Reuters) – Aluminium prices on the London Metal Exchange shrugged off a decision by the United States to impose steep tariffs on Russian metal on Friday, though traders said prices would have jumped if the U.S. had imposed sanctions instead.
One year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States said it would impose a 200% tariff on aluminium produced in Russia from March 10, effectively a ban on Russian aluminium imports to the country.
Benchmark aluminium on the London Metal Exchange (LME) was down 2.2% at $2,342 a tonne at 1730 GMT after touching $2,321.5, its lowest since January 9.
“The game-changer would have been if the U.S. had imposed sanctions on Russian aluminium,” an aluminium trader said. “Sanctions would have meant that not many (consumers or traders) elsewhere in the world would touch Russian aluminium.”
Russian aluminium producer Rusal accounts for about 6% of global supplies estimated at around 70 million tonnes this year.
Rusal declined to comment.
In 2018, U.S. Treasury Department sanctions on Rusal froze the bulk of the company’s exports, paralysed its supply chain and scared off customers. The U.S. lifted these sanctions on Rusal early in 2019.
The sanctions imposed in 2018 triggered a spike in LME aluminium prices and in the duty-paid physical premium paid by buyers in the spot market in the United States on top of the LME prices.
U.S. aluminium premiums at around $650 a tonne are up more than 40% since October when talk of tariffs on Russian metal began.
U.S. imports of unwrought aluminium and alloys from Russia amounted to 191,809 tonnes, or roughly 4.4% of the more than 4.4 million tonnes total last year, compared with 8.9% in 2018 and 14.6% in 2017, according to Trade Data Monitor.
“(U.S.) import levies on Rusal’s aluminium unlikely to make any real difference to the market in the United States,” an analyst at a commodities focused funds said.
“Aluminium and other base metals are completely focused on the macro picture today. The dollar is having a good run and that’s not good for metals.”
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