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Brazilian silicon producers slash output

Keywords: Tags  Silicon, Rima Industrial, Ligas de Aluminio, Liasa, Minasligas, Globe Specialty Metals, Jeff Bradley, hydropower Brazil

NEW YORK — Brazil’s silicon industry has significantly curtailed output as producers opt to sell power back to the spot market instead of producing in a move some speculate could eventually lead to higher silicon prices in the United States. 

A combination of slumping silicon prices and a dry winter has led a number of Brazilian producers to turn off capacity, choosing instead to sell their power back to other consumers, participants say.

Depending on how much rain Brazil gets in the next few months, this trend could continue into early next year and push U.S. silicon prices up by curbing imports, market players speculate. U.S. prices are currently at two-year lows of $1.25 to $1.30 per pound.

At least three Brazilian silicon producers have significantly cut production, sources told AMM. Rima Industrial SA, which has a capacity of 65,000 tonnes per year, is running about 43 percent of its total production, a source familiar with the operation told AMM. Ligas de Aluminio SA (Liasa) and Cia Ferroligas Minas Gerais (Minasligas) have also shut a significant amount of their production, other participants said.

A Rima spokesman declined to comment, while Liasa and Minasligas did not respond to requests for comment. All three companies are based in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

Sources said a lack of rainfall is behind the situation in Brazil, a country that largely relies on hydropower. After a dry winter, many of the dams in central Brazil are dried up, which means that energy prices have skyrocketed, sources said.

“The cost of the energy is so high right now. (Utilities) cannot generate as much energy from the dams because the level of the water in the dams is so low,” a source familiar with the situation told AMM.

In Brazil, companies can take their contracted power and sell it to the open spot market, and given today’s low silicon prices, many have made that choice.

“Brazilian silicon producers can go to the market and sell at the spot market price without getting permission from the electric company,” the source said. “So right now, instead of producing silicon, producers are selling energy into the market at about five times the cost of what they’re paying for energy on contract.”

“It’s a much better scenario to sell the energy,” the source added. “First, (they) can sell it for much more than they’re buying it. Second, the current market price for silicon is awful.”

Jeff Bradley, chief executive officer of New York-based Globe Specialty Metals Inc., confirmed the trend.

“They’re making more money right now shut down and selling back to the grid,” he told AMM on the sidelines at Dahlman Rose & Co.’s third annual Global Metals, Mining & Materials Conference in New York.

Brazilian silicon producers “are curtailed due to power constraints, and they are getting paid handsomely,” a second source agreed.

It’s unclear how long the producers will operate at limited silicon production, although some speculate it could last for the next two to three months.

“We don’t know when. It’s directly related to the spot price of energy in Brazil. (But) even when it’s raining, it takes a couple of months for the levels to come back,” the first source said. “It’s raining now (in Brazil), but even if it keeps raining through November and December, the situation will persist until the beginning of next year.”

Sources say that all three producers currently have enough inventory on hand to supply customers, but if the trend continues, some speculate it could lead to a change in dynamics in the United States.

“I can’t predict how fast, but it will definitely have an impact on pricing. There is no doubt in my mind,” the first source said.

“I hope prices rise,” Bradley added.

Brazil has shipped a significant amount of metal to the United States this year. The United States imported 6,724 tonnes of Brazilian silicon in September, up sharply from 2,423 tonnes in August and 4,832 tonnes in September 2011, data from the U.S. International Trade Commission shows.

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