Bulk ferro-alloy prices have shown impressive gains again this month, with ferro-silicon, silicon metal and manganese alloy prices all making significant increases. Noble alloy markets also enjoyed upward momentum, with both vanadium and molybdenum prices rising sharply.

Recovering demand from steelmakers globally, together with restricted alloy supplies, and low inventories continued to underpin prices and provide momentum to alloy pricing.

Other factors lending support included a shortage of increasingly expensive containers, high sea freight prices, and a combination of newly-imposed tariffs (in China), or tariffs recently removed (in the UK), on materials such as ferro-silicon and silicon metal, respectively.

We forecast that pricing strength will continue through the second quarter of this year, with prices remaining well above long-term averages through the second half.

International restrictions were gradually being removed with the rollout of vaccines against the Covid-19 pandemic gaining pace globally, supporting overall economic activity, with positive implications for steel demand.

There have been numerous government programs for public-sector spending on infrastructure, as well as the release of pent-up demand from private sector consumption.

Increased monetary supply and government spending was pointing to higher inflation, demonstrated by the commodity boom. This typically means higher interest rates to cool over-heating economies.

While record-high pricing was forecast to persist through 2021, slower growth was forecast for 2022.

The Chinese ferro-silicon export duty was increased to 25% on May 1, from 20% previously. The increased export duty has diminished exports from China and increased demand overseas, not only in Asia but in other regions, with importers competing for other supply sources.

The move by the Chinese government surprised the market because Chinese producers had been asking for the export duty to be reduced amid difficulties exporting against cheaper competition.

China had previously imposed a 25% duty on ferro-silicon exports between 2008 and 2016, before reducing the duty to 20% in 2017, so a reversal cannot be ruled out.

Export prices were likely to remain high because two of China’s largest international competitors, Russia and Malaysia, do not produce ferro-silicon in volumes anywhere near the level of Chinese output, and Malaysian output will be further disrupted by a Covid-19 outbreak at OM Holdings’ Sarawak alloy plant.

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