GLOBAL CHROME WRAP: Prices weaken across Asia as tight supply boosts US market

Global ferro-chrome markets diverged further on Friday April 7 as prices fell across Asia on poor demand and rose in the USA amid tightening availability.

  • Chinese alloy price weakness spreads to Japan and South Korea
  • Gap between spot and contract prices in China narrows further
  • USA holds firm amid tight supply
  • Traders struggle to secure material in USA and Europe
  • Prices hold steady in Europe

Prices for domestic and imported ferro-chrome dropped in China as local producers lowered spot offers, narrowing the premium prompt material had been commanding over contract business.

Metal Bulletin’s price quotation for spot Chinese domestic ferro-chrome dropped to 9,850-10,200 yuan per tonne, compared with 10,200-10,700 on March 31. 
Contract prices held at 9,600-9,850 yuan per tonne for the second consecutive week. 

Metal Bulletin’s charge chrome index, cif Shanghai, which tracks South African imports, dropped 1 cent to $1.15 per lb.

Large mills said they need not accept offers from overseas ferro-chrome suppliers around the index level because of the narrowing gap between domestic spot and contract prices. The mills dictate contract prices through monthly tender announcements.

A source at one large mill said it had bought domestic material at a price equivalent to $1.10 per lb, while another source was seeking prices as low as $1.05 per lb.

Prices started to succumb to downward pressure in late March, when mills announced lower-than-expected ferro-chrome tender prices for April, saying March supply had been underestimated. 

While production in Sichuan province and Guizhou province declined slightly in March as a result of environmental inspections, the production loss was countered by large increases in output from the provinces of Shanxi and Inner Mongolia province, a buyer at a leading stainless steel mill told Metal Bulletin. 

Chrome ore markets also weakened as ferro-chrome smelters, seeing prices for their own product drop, attempted to push prices for their raw materials lower.

Metal Bulletin’s UG2 chrome ore index, cif China, dropped to $368 per tonne on Friday, having previously held at $370 per tonne for three consecutive weeks. 

Prices for Turkish lumpy chrome ore (40-42% Cr), cfr Chinese ports dropped to $375-390 per tonne from $390-410 per tonne previously. 

Alloy prices also fell in Japan and South Korea as buyers showed resistance to a price increase last week.

“Demand from both these two markets is less than robust,” an Indian producer source said.

Metal Bulletin’s price quotation for high carbon ferro-chrome, cif Japan dropped to $1.15-1.22 per lb on Thursday April 6, compared with $1.19-1.22 per lb previously. 

Metal Bulletin’s price quotation for high carbon ferro-chrome, cif South Korea dropped 2 cents at the low end of its trading range on Thursday to $1.15-1.20 per lb. 

“We have no intention of buying ferro-chrome at the moment; the current offer levels are too high to accept,” a trader in Tokyo said.

And a trader in Seoul reported difficulty securing sales at the low end of the trading range.

“I am now offering at $1.15-1.17 to my customers and so far only very small deals can be made,” the trader said.

Prices for high carbon ferro-chrome in Europe were stable, as prices in the USA strengthened because of tightening availability.

“Markets are tight outside Asia; I have traders calling me for material all the time from Europe and the USA,” a supplier source in Europe told Metal Bulletin.

“End-user consumption is still calm and steady because of long-term contracts with producers, but the trade needs to cover in. No global supplier is going to send material to Europe or the USA just in case a trader has demand,” the supplier added. 

High carbon ferro-chrome prices, delivered Europe stood at $1.27-1.42 per lb on April 7. 

Spot prices for high carbon ferro-chrome, in-warehouse Pittsburgh climbed to $1.44-$1.49 per lb on April 6, up from $1.42-1.48 per pound previously, according to Metal Bulletin sister publication AMM’s latest assessment. 

“High carbon ferro-chrome seems to be impossible to get your hands on here, especially for good-quality material,” a supplier source in the USA told AMM.

Spot activity increased over the past week, allowing suppliers who did have material to push prices higher.

“There is a lot more activity this week. It seems all the traders are out looking for material,” a second supplier source told AMM.

The increase in spot market activity has helped to bolster a market that was already seeing healthy demand on long-term contracts.

“Contract business remains fantastic. January through to March has been very strong, and April is looking to be very strong as well, based on customer offtake,” a third supplier source told AMM.

“The first half is pretty much already in the books, and we are very happy with what it is looking like right now. There is no pressure to sell if we can’t get our price,” the third supplier added.

Other suppliers agreed they are under no pressure to sell and will turn down enquiries if the price is not right.

“We have done way more allocations toward long-term than we have done in many years. If I don’t get a deal in the spot market, I am OK with that, given the long-term volumes we have been able to do,” a fourth supplier source told AMM.