China is the key to the metals markets today. And there are some important signals about this market registering in the last few weeks.
Last month, I wrote about diverging global shipping indexes. The Baltic Dry Index, which tracks global shipping rates, has been falling the last several weeks. While the China Containerized Freight Index, tracking solely Chinese shipping prices, has been on a tear. The CCFI is up 12% since the beginning of January.
This could indicate an increase in goods being shipped out of China these days. And those goods might be metals. A few weeks ago, odd shipments of aluminum started showing up at ports in northwest Japan. Speculation is these sailed from Shanghai.
If China is indeed starting to re-export its vast stockpiles of metals built over the last year, there are major implications for prices. There is a lot of supply that could "hit the street" in a hurry.
Some more evidence of re-exports emerged last week.
The European Commission reported that Chinese applications for steel imports into Europe were up 50% in January, as compared to December 2009. Chinese exporters applied to send 244,000 mt of steel into Europe.
Overall, China accounted for 16% of total import applications during the month. The first time in over a year that China represented the largest volume of import orders.
These applications don't guarantee shipments will be made. Exporters are under no obligation to actually send the amount of capacity they apply for.
But this is a development to watch. If these exports do materialize, they represent a large wave of steel breaking over world markets. Running contrary to the conventional wisdom that rampant development in China is sucking up any raw materials the nation can get its hands on.
If China isn't using as much steel as we thought, what's happening to stockpiles of copper, coal and iron ore?
By. Dave Forest of Notela Resources