SHANGHAI The high spread between copper and aluminum prices continues to put pressure on Chinese cable producers to substitute aluminum alloy for copper, an issue that captured the spotlight during a recent copper conference in Kunming, China, held by Beijing Antaike Information Development Co.
"At present, 50 percent of the cables are made of aluminum alloy in North America, and this number is about 60 percent in Europe and 70 percent in South Korea and Japan, while this number is less than 10 percent in China," Antaike analyst You Zhenping said at the conference. "Under the current high copper price and fierce price competition among cable producers, many cable producers are seeking technology to lower costs."
Chinas cable industry accounted for 64 percent of the countrys total copper consumption in 2012, reaching 5.1 million tonnes, according to the Shanghai Electric Cable Research Institute.
On the other hand, the spread between copper and aluminum prices has grown since October 2011, encouraging Chinas copper cable producers to use aluminum alloy instead to reduce costs.
"By using aluminum alloy, we can reduce costs by up to 50 percent compared with using copper, while getting almost the same quality," a source at one of northern Chinas largest copper cable producers told AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin. "Downstream consumers are willing to accept aluminum alloy cables (because they are) 20 to 30 percent cheaper."
China ranks first globally in its overall copper cable output, but its industry concentration ratio is low: the top 10 cable producers only account for 7 percent to 10 percent of total production.
Replacing copper with aluminum alloy in cable may drive consolidation in the cable sector, a source in Chinas copper industry said.
"There are thousands of cable producers in China, (and) many of them are small ones. Those companies do not have the capability to build up new production lines for aluminum alloy, and then will lose price advantage gradually, further being eliminated from the market."
International cable producers also have an eye on Chinas cable market.
General Cable Corp., Highland Heights, Ky., entered the aluminum alloy cable market in December 2012 by completing its acquisition of Alcan Cable China, which represented approximately 10 to 15 percent of Alcan Cables overall revenue (amm.com, Dec. 4).
A version of this article was first published in AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin.