Base metals have been weakening in recent weeks and traders are not showing a great deal of confidence. The LME copper price at the time of writing stood around £5,145, down on the previous week by £102 per tonne and just up on January prices by 0.5% (£26 per tonne).
Primary nickel prices continue to fall on the LME. Market chartists are predicting that support will be around £10,254 per tonne while resistance is more probable at £11,445 per tonne.
In contrast, the secondary aluminium ingot markets saw a reversal of fortunes, with prices showing significant improvement over January, although still well down on this month in 2011 (see table below).
Availability of aluminium scrap remains variable at best, and this perceived ‘tightness’ in the scrap market, along with a strengthening euro and rising UK scrap prices, has lent a much needed push to the UK aluminium ingot market.
MRW ingot prices have increased across the board. LM2 is trading near to March 2012 levels at £1,530 per tonne; LM4 is up £20 to £1,600 per tonne; and LM6 rose to £1,720 per tonne.
LM25 posted the strongest increase, up £75 per tonne to £1,515 per tonne, while LM24 and LM25 traded up on average of £45 per tonne to £1,700 and £1,580 per tonne, respectively.
Traders report significant enquiries from the Continent, particularly Germany. One producer said he’d had more enquiries from these markets compared with this time last year.
Demand for material from the automotive industry remains a key driver for the sector, and a few producers are hopeful that prices will hold, based on current demand and an increase in orders.
This sentiment is maintained despite the announced closure of the Anglesey Aluminium Metal remelt facility at Holyhead, Wales, and the loss of 60 jobs.
One ingot producer felt that there was still a “buzz” about the sector, and remained quietly optimistic about the UK’s position as a key provider of quality of aluminum ingot.
But he did sound a warning that energy-intensive industries such as remelt will remain vulnerable to increasing UK energy costs.
Further weakness was emerging for nickel as the LME price continued to decline. Mid-week LME prices were trading around £10,986 per tonne; a week earlier, they were £11,500.
In the light of such downturns in the primary markets, this left sellers in a difficult position, with many not willing to sell on material while prices are falling sharply.
Stainless steel scrap prices are likely to follow suit if the trend continues. At present, MRW nickel and alloy prices were mostly unchanged this week, with no movements on the stainless steel grades.
Lead and tin
At the time of writing, the three-month LME lead price for February had continued to retreat and was down on the previous week by £40 to £1,511 per tonne, but only down on the month by around £8 per tonne.
Lead battery trader Clarity EU report that the price of lead acid batteries remained consistently high throughout the month, and only saw a tail-off towards the end of February.
Supplies of batteries have noticeably picked up in the past couple of weeks, with trading in high volumes, perhaps in part as a result of the continuing cold weather. But almost certainly this can also be attributed to a local smelter which is understood to have experienced technical problems.
Tin prices have started to recover from the rapid declines seen halfway through February. The LME tin price stood at £13,477 per tonne at the start of the week.
Prices for 99% tin have not fared much better to its primary cousin. At around £13, 631 per tonne, they are nearing the low levels seen last year in the same period.