LME ‘affirms support’ for billet contract as stocks drop to zero

The London Metal Exchange “reaffirmed” support for its steel billet contract on Wednesday August 13, despite warehouse stocks for the contract dropping to zero.

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The last remaining 520 tonnes of metal were drawn out of a warehouse at Antwerp in Belgium, Wednesday’s stock report from the exchange showed.

Despite all stocks being drawn down and no open interest on the contract, the LME said that it was “logical” to reaffirm its support for the billet contract.

“We are fully aware of the difficulties around physical delivery in Turkey, which means that this may never be a contract that regularly goes to delivery,” a spokeswoman for the exchange said.

“We are confident price convergence will continue to improve, and many segments of industry believe it is logical to maintain a physically delivered billet contract to ensure this,” she added.

The contract was launched in 2008, with the support of trading companies such as Stemcor, Mitsui and Metalloid, and banks including Deutsche Bank.

Interest and participation in the LME billet contract collapsed amid a disconnect between contract prices and the physical market, and issues concerned with warehousing.

The official cash price for LME billet on August 12 stood at $420 per tonne. Steel First’s CIS steel billet export price assessment stood at $507-510 fob Black Sea on August 11, some $90 above the LME price.

After pushing through widespread reforms of its heavily criticised warehousing system, the LME implemented a special load-out rate for billet – its only ferrous contract – earlier this year in an attempt to reinvigorate the contract.

The exchange refocused the steel contract to Europe, following its decision to delist six warehouses in the USA (including Detroit) and Asia as good delivery locations for the contract.

While the LME maintains support for the contract, steel traders speaking to Steel First said that the elimination of warehouse stocks was a further sign of its collapse.

“The contract has completely died,” a UK-based trader commented. “Ironically, everyone has left the market at the point when it has become tradeable again, but whoever held this material in Antwerp had had enough of waiting around.”

Sources said that interest in the market had contracted to the stage where only three companies were actively involved in the contract this year – trading houses Gerald Metals and Trafigura, and bank JP Morgan.

It is not known which company held the stocks drawn down on Wednesday.

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