GLOBAL CHROME WRAP: Prices rise in China on tightening supply, high producer offers

Chinese chrome ore and ferro-chrome markets rose last week on the back of strong stainless steel demand, lending support to Korean and Japanese alloy prices, while tightness in the US market continued to boost the in-warehouse Pittsburgh assessment.

  • Ore prices rise as much as 13.4% in China as trader speculation continues
  • Alloys prices jump in China on tight supply
  • Chinese alloy strength boosts prices in Japan and South Korea
  • US prices edge higher on tight supply
  • Europe flatlines in thin summer trading

Chrome ore and ferro-chrome prices jumped in China on Friday August 18 amid tightening supply and after domestic and international suppliers raised offers.

The largest week-on-week moves were seen in the import markets for chrome ore, led by the stronger markets further upstream and continued speculative interest among traders.

Metal Bulletin’s price quotation for Turkish lumpy chrome ore (40-42%), cfr China rose 13.4% to $310-325 per tonne. 

Metal Bulletin’s UG2 chrome ore index, cif China rose 6.7% to $190 per tonne. 

“Fundamentally, the alloy market is still very tight in China and what has happened in the ore market, over the last two weeks, has been speculative action – traders jumping into the market,” a chrome ore trader told Metal Bulletin.

There were further strong gains in the domestic and import markets for ferro-chrome, which are being supported by a strong stainless steel sector and rising nickel prices, along with environmental restrictions on alloy production in certain areas.

A large mill has been buying large volumes of ferro-chrome in the spot market and has paid well above its August tender price to secure material, market sources told Metal Bulletin. 

Metal Bulletin’s price quotation for spot price Chinese domestic high-carbon ferro-chrome (6-8% C, basis 50% Cr) increased nearly 4% to 7,800-8,200 yuan ($1,168-1,228) per tonne, equivalent to about 90-95 cents per lb. 

“The majority of ferro-chrome production in August has been booked out, which makes spot supply very tight in the market,” a ferro-chrome producer said.

A number of smelters agreed they had no available material for mills that want to buy spot.

“Production in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces is affected by Chinese environmental inspections,” another ferro-chrome producer said.

Metal Bulletin’s charge chrome index, cif Shanghai rose 3 cents to 92 cents per lb. 

Metal Bulletin’s latest assessed contract price for Chinese domestic high-carbon ferro-chrome (6-8% C, basis 50% Cr) increased to 6,800-7,500 yuan per tonne on Friday August 18, up from the previous week’s assessment of 6,800-7,000 yuan per tonne.

Most market participants awaiting September’s tender prices from stainless steel mills said they expected the price to be at least 8,000 yuan per tonne. This compares with Baosteel’s tender price of 7,000 yuan per tonne for high-carbon ferro-chrome for July.

Strong Chinese prices boost sentiment
Elsewhere in Asia and beyond, spot high-carbon ferro-chrome prices followed Chinese prices higher. 

Metal Bulletin assessed spot high-carbon ferro-chrome, cif Japan at 90-93 cents per lb on Thursday August 17, compared with 86-90 cents per lb the previous week. 

“The price uptrend in China is greater than I expected, so offers from India to Japan are also rising, and soon we will see around 95 cents here,” a major trader in Japan told Metal Bulletin. 

Metal Bulletin’s assessment for high carbon ferro-chrome, cif South Korea rose to $0.88-0.95 per lb on Thursday, up from 85-90 cents per lb previously. 

“Suppliers all lifted their offers this week as the Chinese market price moved further up. Today, normal offers in the market are 90-95 cents per lb cif South Korea, or even 97 cents,” a major trader in Seoul said. 

High-carbon ferro-chrome, in-warehouse Pittsburgh rose to $1.40-1.48 per lb on August 17, up from $1.38-1.45 per lb the previous week, according to Metal Bulletin sister publication AMM’s latest assessment. 

Although spot market activity slowed week-on-week, offer prices were higher, as available spot supply remains difficult to find and large suppliers are declining to sell to traders at attractive prices.

“It is hard to get your hands on any material unless you go to one of the two main producers, and if you do, you can’t even think about selling under $1.40,” a supplier source told AMM.

Suppliers have felt little pressure to sell off inventories amid strong demand on contracts.

“The spot market is slow during the summer, but overall demand is still quite strong. Our contract releases in July were stronger than June, and August looks to be even better,” the first supplier source explained.

Europe bucks the trend
Europe was the only global market to flatline, as trading remained thin over the summer.

Metal Bulletin’s price quotation for high-carbon ferro-chrome, delivered in Europe held at $1.10-1.20 per lb. 

While most data points came in within the range, one deal reported second-hand below $1.10 and one deal above $1.20 were excluded as outliers.

“The requirements of the main consumers in Europe are covered; supply and demand is well-balanced and stocks levels are healthy,” a producer source told Metal Bulletin.