MB APEX FULL YEAR 2011: Citi analysts name their picks for 2012

Aluminium prices are likely to perform relatively well in the coming year, while nickel will be neutral, analysts at Citigroup told Metal Bulletin.

Aluminium prices are likely to perform relatively well during 2012, while nickel will be neutral, analysts at Citigroup told Metal Bulletin.

Aluminium prices will be fairly well supported by the rising energy complex. Nickel might have a short term dip in the second quarter, but it will pick up towards the end of the year,” David Wilson, director of metals research and strategy, said.

He was speaking as Metal Bulletin presented him and fellow analyst Heath Jansen with an award as a result of Citigroup’s predicting base metal prices in 2011 with 93.4% accuracy.

“We’re more negative towards copper. This rally we’ve had in the last couple of weeks is very much technically driven, and a lot of the CTA community were very short coming into the back end of last year,” he added.

This will lead to some sharp short covering across a number of metals where CTAs were also short, which includes aluminium, nickel and zinc.

“What we do see is bonded warehouse stocks picking up strongly and premiums falling off. Chinese traders trying to sell back into the London Metal Exchange points to a market that’s fairly well sold at the moment,” Wilson said.

“The idea they will dash back in at higher prices is optimistic, when there’s already been a long period of restocking. Where is the incentive?”

Back in 2011, he added, when copper was still the bellwether of the market, Citi analysts saw that the price was likely to come down fairly early on.

“We said it would come down to $7,500 when it was still at $9,500. We wrote a report asking where the floor would be,” Wilson said.

“We thought it would be about $6,800 on the cost of production, and that’s when the market became very, very bearish. We called that range quite well.”

Demand for aluminium, meanwhile, is likely to be fairly strong in 2012, Wilson said, and especially in China.

“There’s going to be a reacceleration of investment in smelting capacity in the west of the country,” he said.

Heath Jansen, md and head of Citi Investment Research and Analysis (CIRA) metals, mining and steel team, added that US demand for the light metal could also rise, as the manufacturing sector regains strength.

Aluminium consumption rates are likely to be higher on average in 2012, the analysts said, as the metal does not suffer from the same supply constraints as other materials.

“It’s because of the different nature of the production process. When you look at the end consumer sector, they’re using more and more aluminium,” Wilson said.

“There’s great price stability, and it’s a much easier metal to hedge over a long period. Auto producers with a model life cycle of five to seven years like to be able to hedge a big portion of aluminium exposure at the beginning of the planning process.”

Citi is now advising a short position on copper and lead, and is effectively neutral on the other base metals, Wilson said.

Claire Hack
Twitter: @clairehack_mb

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