US aluminium imports slip further in August

US imports of aluminium lagged the year-ago level in August for a fifth straight month, lending credence to claims of tightening domestic aluminium supply due to trade regulations enacted by the Trump administration.

US imports of unwrought aluminium – excluding inflows from Canada – totaled 141,590 tonnes in August, down 25.1% from 188,964 tonnes in the same month last year, data from the US Commerce Department and US International Trade Commission (ITC) show. Including the 153,188 tonnes imported from Canada for the month, imports totaled 294,778 tonnes – the second-lowest monthly total thus far this year, after June’s 119,062 tonnes.

Aluminium imports, excluding Canada, totaled more than 1.43 million tonnes for the first eight months of this year, down by 14.3% from nearly 1.67 million tonnes in the same period last year.

The depressed imports, due largely to the 10% US Section 232 tariff on aluminium imports, could lead to tightness in domestic primary aluminium supply by year-end, market participants told Fastmarkets, speculating that this tightness could emerge by the fourth quarter of this year and cause a rise in regional premiums.

But for now premiums continue to soften. Fastmarkets assessed the US Midwest duty-paid premium at 20-20.5 cents per lb on Friday October 5, the lowest level since late July but still more than double the 9.4-9.5 cents per lb recorded at the start of this year. 

Imports from India were at the lowest level thus far this year in August, at 10,678 tonnes compared with 17,144 tonnes in July. Meanwhile, inflows from Malaysia during August were at the highest level so far this year, at 620 tonnes compared with the previous month’s 416 tonnes.

Aluminium imports from Russia totaled 16,394 tonnes in August, up from 14,959 tonnes in July but down 83.3% this year’s high of 98,099 tonnes in March – prior to US sanctions being levied against Russian producer UC Rusal plc.

The deadline for companies to wind down operations and contracts with Rusal currently stands at November 12 following many extensions of the original deadline.

Market participants have told Fastmarkets that they expect the US Department of the Treasury to ultimately roll back the sanctions, suggesting that US import volumes could rebound in the months ahead.