Metal markets seen divergent in 2012

Jan 31, 2012 | 07:00 PM | Bill Beck

Tags  2012 outlook, Market Spotlight, Bill Beck

As the new year got under way, copper, iron ore and aluminum—mainstays of the minerals and metals segment of the North American economy—all seemed to be going their separate ways.

Copper was buoyed by reports that China had ended 2011 with record monthly imports of the red metal. The story was somewhat similar for iron ore, which opened 2012 strong on news that China, the world’s biggest iron ore purchaser, had imported 686 million tonnes in 2011, up 11 percent from 618 million tonnes the previous year. Iron ore has enjoyed an unprecedented price rise during the past eight years, climbing to as high as $220 per tonne in 2011, more than six times the $33 per tonne that iron ore fetched on world markets as recently as 2003.

Aluminum producers, meanwhile, have been evaluating significant capacity cuts in an attempt to stem the steady slide in prices after reaching record levels in May 2011. In January, Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc., one of the larger world producers, announced a fourth-quarter net loss—its first quarterly loss since 2009—as aluminum prices dropped 11 percent in the quarter. Alcoa subsequently announced plans to decommission nearly 300,000 tonnes of annual smelting capacity in Tennessee and Texas and idle an additional 224,000 tonnes of smelter capacity in Europe.....

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