Aluminium
Highs and Lows
March 2019
The US has slapped further tariffs on Iran, this time covering the country's iron, steel, copper and aluminium exports. Combined, these cover around 10% of the country's exports, and provide yet another political lever. Aluminium by itself, however, might not be that strong of a lever.

Iran has seen falling aluminium exports over the last three years, dropping below 100kt of ingot exports in 2016 and continuing to see decreases of around 10kt in exports every year. Despite the country's efforts to become a net exporter, however, production fell during the country's most recent year ending in March, dropping by 11% to reach 301kt. For the final month, Iran produced just 16.5kt of primary aluminium, a number that sits 42% below the same month a year prior.

Expectations of a price rise for the first month of Q2 have largely come true—even if the first weeks of May could indicate a change in fortunes. Asian prices climbed considerably in April, with spot prices averaging US$1,832.89/t—up from March's US$1,764.60/t average—while European prices for the month averaged US$1,890.41/t—a US$20/t increase. The price gap between Asian and ex-Asian prices narrowed sharply during the first week of April before almost reaching parity during the third week, with around US$2/t separating the two. Asian prices retained a gradual, slow increase throughout the remainder of the month, while European prices rose rapidly to retain a larger premium, ending the month with a US$50/t gap.

Stocks continued to see a gradual drawdown in April, lifting prices across the board. LME aluminium inventories fell to their lowest level since October, and a downswing in Latin American production fell by around 20% during Q1, largely on the continued partial closure of the Brazilian Albras smelter. Spain has also seen reductions in production, with its Aviles and La Coruna smelters curtailing production and contributing to a western-European 4% decline in production. Increasing demand in China also lifted Asian prices, easing margins for producers.

The saga of NASA's falsified aluminium test results looks to have drawn to a close. In 2009 and 2011, NASA saw two launches fail—the cause of which was eventually traced back to US-Based Sapa Profile, an extruded-aluminium manufacturer. In 2015, the company discovered and reported that a subset of its employees had been falsifying strength and durability reports for its aluminium components, affecting products shipped to hundreds of clients over two decades. Hydro Norsk, which purchased the company in 2017—well after the test falsifications had been detected and the employees involved had been fired—has now agreed to pay a reparative sum of US$46m to NASA for damages accrued as a result of the faulty components.