Liberty Steel, Tata Steel, and the world’s steel price rally
Metals giant Liberty Steel has hired a team of specialist directors to beef up its board and speed up the group’s refinancing and restructure following the failure of its backer Greensill Capital. The four new directors will create a special restructuring and transformation committee with the power to restructure the company and either improve or sell any under-performing divisions.
Greensill, which collapsed in March, was the biggest lender to the steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, the parent of Liberty. The failure has jeopardised around 5000 UK jobs in the country’s steel sector, leaving Liberty seeking urgent financing. The UK government has already turned down the company’s March request for a £170 million bail-out.
At the same time a dramatic increase in steel consumption is underway as the globe gradually fights its way free of the covid virus. As the slump eases experts predict an unprecedented price increase thanks to even the biggest mining firms struggling to meet fresh demand.
How about Tata Steel? It made a good quarterly profit thanks to economic recovery following a nationwide lockdown which inspired a global rebound in steel consumption, with prices to match. Tata Group net profit rocketed to 66.44 billion rupees from January to March compared to 14.81 billion rupees losses for 2020, with sales shooting up by 39%.
Steel prices from Asia to North America have also rocketed, delighting steel makers. Take the South Korean supplier Posco, one of the biggest outside China. It revealed the highest quarterly profit since 2011, supported by economic stimulus and helped by the rollout of coronavirus vaccines. The sector expects steel’s quick recovery to continue.
Aluminium prices rocket
Aluminium prices have increased sharply by almost 25% in 2021 so far, as commodities and equities markets surge. Investors are expecting a crack-down on polluting smelters in China, which is also accelerating demand. The metal hit almost $2,500 per tonne recently, the highest price since 2018, and the rally has been driven further by rising tensions between China, the world’s biggest aluminium producer, and Australia, a vital provider of the raw materials bauxite and alumina. China says it will indefinitely suspend all activity under a China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, which marks a nosedive in relations between the two nations.
Tirupati Graphite is in the news, having developed a remarkable graphene-aluminium composite that should act as a useful substitute for copper. The company is exploring the composite’s potential for power and propulsion systems, reducing their weight as well as cutting back on CO2 emissions. Apparently the composite has a much higher higher conductivity and strength compared to aluminium. The innovation has already caught the eye of a handful of major companies around the world, including one FTSE 100 engineering group that’s working with Tirupati to explore commercial opportunities as well as develop the new material further. The graphene-aluminium composite provides increased thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity, and improved mechanical properties, those that make copper the preferred material in electrical and thermal conductivity applications. Better still, the unique manufacturing process developed by Tirupati is commercially scalable.
Aluminium beverage can recycling hits a high in 2020
During 2020 the aluminium drinks container sector hit a recycling high of 82%. The industry body Alupro says Environment Agency data revealed a 6% increase on 2020, which experts are putting down to a significant increase in domestic consumption through the pandemic. This led to more aluminium packaging being collected and recycled than ever before, making the year a record-breaker.
Packaging Recovery Notes or PRNs were created for 151,515 tonnes of the metal, including 106,047 tonnes of separately collected aluminium packaging. The amount of aluminium recovered from incinerator bottom ash came to 45,468 tonnes, and 86% of the total was recycled in Europe.
A dramatic increase in the volume of separately collected aluminium packaging from the kerbside clearly reflects changing consumer behaviour and a better awareness of recycling. The hike in aluminium recovered from incinerators is down to several new companies being approved to issue PRNs as well as a suite of new energy recovery facilities in the UK. And it looks like aluminium packaging collection rates will continue to grow through 2021.
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