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Metal Market Moves

Plus500 | Thursday 25 April 2024

Recent times have seen changes in the fortunes of certain commodities that are making waves across global markets. Let’s take a look at how the prices of certain resources and associated companies are shifting:

Metal Market Moves

Copper Burnishes Its Shine

Copper has emerged as the top performer among precious metals this year, surpassing both Gold (XAU) and Silver (XAG). Traders may be placing their bets on the enduring and expanding demand for this industrial metal, particularly in sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI) and electric vehicles (EVs).

According to market experts, the Copper market is experiencing a significant awakening to the prospect of heightened future demand. This sentiment is echoed by observations that the surge in Copper prices reflects a shift in global manufacturing activity, as indicated by the rise in purchasing managers' index (PMI) readings across major economies like the U.S., Europe, and China.

In comparison to Gold and Silver, Copper has seen more substantial year-to-date percentage gains. As of the time of writing, so far in 2024, the price of Copper has increased by nearly 16%. This trend underscores the increasing significance of Copper as a barometer for economic activity, with its prices influenced by factors such as manufacturing trends and monetary policy decisions.

Some experts predict that the demand for Copper (HG) is poised to escalate further, fueled by the growing adoption of AI, EVs, and the broader movement toward decarbonization. They anticipate that Copper will play a pivotal role in facilitating this transition.

Highlighted is the steady growth in global Copper demand over the past century, driven by economic development, particularly in emerging markets. Recent data indicate a notable increase in refined Copper usage, particularly in China, where the emphasis is shifting from property development to manufacturing and green infrastructure projects.

Despite efforts to boost Copper supply, including new projects and expansions, challenges such as operational disruptions and declining ore quality are constraining production growth. This imbalance between supply and demand has led to a decrease in global Copper surplus and contributed to upward pressure on prices.

Additionally, Copper plays a unique role in supporting key sectors like data centres, renewable energy, and electrification. The proliferation of EVs, in particular, has led to a surge in Copper demand, with each electric vehicle requiring significantly more Copper than traditional vehicles.

Looking ahead, the continued growth in EV sales, coupled with increasing investment in AI and renewable energy, is expected to sustain demand for Copper. As global economies transition toward greener technologies, Copper may be poised to remain a crucial component of the world’s metal markets going forward. (Source: MarketWatch)

Albemarle on the Come Up?

The influence of the EV industry’s ups and downs is also making itself known with one key American firm. Albemarle (ALB), headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., faces a considerable challenge with the downturn in Lithium prices, a pivotal component in EVs. With prices plummeting over 80% since their peak in 2022, Albemarle, the world's largest Lithium producer, has felt the impact acutely.

However, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon as Lithium prices exhibit signs of stabilisation. Should this trend continue, it could provide a much-needed boost to Albemarle's beleaguered stock.

During the peak of the EV frenzy in 2022, Lithium commanded nearly $60,000 per metric ton. However, Lithium’s price fall was partially exacerbated by a surge in new Lithium mines coming online, leading to an oversupply amidst uncertain demand. Consequently, Albemarle's stock has dropped by 64% since its November 2022 peak price of $327.

However, there may be cause for optimism on the horizon as Lithium prices have seen a 15% increase this year, surpassing $11,000 for the first time since December 2023. Continued price rises are anticipated as Albemarle and other producers curtail expansion plans. Albemarle's decision to delay volume increases at its South Carolina plant is a notable move in this regard. Additionally, improvements in China's economy could further bolster Lithium demand.

Some analysts predict a rebound in Lithium prices, with projections suggesting a price of approximately $21,000 by 2026. Any supply shortages could drive prices even higher.

Albemarle's extensive Lithium production across countries like Australia, Chile, and the U.S. serves various industries, including EV manufacturers and chemical makers. The decline in Lithium prices has significantly impacted Albemarle's financial performance, with analysts projecting a 39% drop in sales and an 80% decline in earnings for the current year.

However, with the recent stabilisation in Lithium prices, analysts are more optimistic about Albemarle's earnings prospects for the coming years. Sales are foreseen to rebound to $6.93 billion by 2025, with earnings nearly doubling to over $8 per share. Further increases in Lithium prices could accelerate these gains.

Despite the current challenges in the EV market, which has experienced a growth slowdown, long-term prospects remain promising. Both EV sales and demand for Lithium are expected to grow steadily over the next decade, providing significant opportunities for Albemarle's future growth and profitability.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the shifting fortunes of key commodities are reshaping global markets. Copper's surge, fueled by AI and EV demand, underscores its pivotal role in economic activity. Meanwhile, Albemarle navigates the tumultuous Lithium market, poised for a potential rebound as EV demand and Lithium prices stabilise, signaling brighter prospects ahead. However, markets can shift on a dime, so the near-term trajectories of key commodities and associated industry players are far from etched in stone.


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