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Aluminum billet producers say spot inquiries up

Keywords: Tags  aluminum, aluminum billet, Alcoa, ABI, Aluminerie de Becancour, United Steelworkers union, extruders, Suzy Waite


NEW YORK — Aluminum billet producers this week reported an uptick in calls from consumers seeking metal.

AMM’s spot billet premiums remain in a range of 11 to 13 cents per pound on sales of about 2,500 tonnes of metal.

"Calls are coming in now. It was light (last week), but now bookings are coming in. I’d say we’ve got three or four spot quotes out there that we’ll probably get," one producer told AMM.

"I’m starting to get calls this week for people looking for metal," a second producer said. "Most of the extruders I’ve talked to have had good bookings and are comfortable with where business is."

Demand from end markets is seen as robust, but several sources attributed the rise in inquiries to the ongoing concerns over Alcoa Inc.’s Aluminerie de Becancour (ABI) smelter in Quebec.

Since September, Alcoa and the United Steelworkers union have been trying to renew a labor contract covering some 900 workers at the 400,000-tonne-per-year smelter, leaving some nervous that billet supply will diminish if negotiations turn sour and workers strike or are locked out (amm.com, Jan. 4).

"Some of the spot business we did (this week) are normally ABI customers," the first producer said. "It’s not enormous quantities, so I wouldn’t call it panic buying. I think they’re just hedging their bets."

As talks continue in Quebec with no signs of a resolution, producers and consumers are taking a closer look at their inventories.

"I wouldn’t say the ABI situation is keeping me awake at night, but February is looking stronger. We may need to reshuffle our portfolio," a third producer said.

One ABI customer told AMM he hasn’t had to go to the spot market yet, as he loaded up on extra inventory late last year. But this could change if Pittsburgh-based Alcoa and the USW fail to come to a resolution soon.

"We got a bit ahead of that game. We’ve carried more inventory since December and are fine through February. If talks still aren’t settled, we’ll have to decide what to do going forward," the consumer said. "If something does happen, it will make it tough. November is one thing, but going into spring and summer? It will not be good."

Still, while most agree that a lockout or strike at ABI would make North American billet even more scarce this year, others say it’s not as clear-cut.

"If there is a lockout or a strike, I’m sure they’ll get people running the facility," the second producer said. "Plus we don’t know how much metal they’re sitting on up there."

Imports from the Middle East could also offset any tightness for a couple of months, although a fourth producer said it’s risky for North American consumers to rely on this metal, which is typically bound for China.


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