Metal prices continue to weaken on falling demand

February 15, 2016

2015 was a terrible year for commodities, including metals, with prices continuing to tumble throughout the year based in the main on the slump in the price of oil, concerns about slowing growth in China, and the strengthening of the US Dollar which makes commodities priced in this currency more expensive. The Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM), which tracks 22 commodities, fell by 25% in 2015 the fifth straight annual loss and the longest downward slide since the data began in 1991.

Copper prices have more than halved since their peak in 2011 falling from $6300 mt at the beginning of 2015 to around $4500 mt at end of January 2016. Nickel has fared even worse falling to $8500 from $15,500 a year earlier, cobalt fell to $22,000 mt from $31,000, and molybdenum from $20,000 to $11,900 mt. Steel billet fell by more than 50% from $490 mt to $220 mt.

Over the course of 2015 tungsten (-40%), niobium (-21%) and tantalum (-37%) all experienced substantial downturns in both pricing and consumption, and there is likely to be a period of restructuring and consolidation of supply in the year ahead. Tungsten APT prices continued their downward trend in the middle of 2015 to fall to $160-$165 mtu in January 2016 from $320-$350 mtu a year earlier. The tungsten market was in oversupply leading to mine production of 87,000 mt exceeding consumption in 2015. In late 2015 the sole tungsten mine in Canada suspended operations because of low W prices and was placed on care-and –maintenance status. Eight large Chinese tungsten producers plan to reduce output of W concentrates.

Bucking this negative trend a new tungsten mine began production in Zimbabwe in 2015; a large new mine in Vietnam has ramped up production for APT and tungsten oxides, the Drakelands tungsten mine in Devon, UK, is scheduled to start production in August 2016, and new ferrotungsten plants also began production in Russia and the Republic of Korea. Drakelands is operated by Wolf Minerals and said to have one of the Western World’s largest reserves of tungsten at 37.5 million tonnes. Wolf aims to generate 5,000 tonnes of tungsten concentrate per year over 10 to 15 years.

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