Since the EU agreed to a new departure date for the UK of October 31, people here are currently enjoying a much-needed break from the constant news and debate about Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal agreement was rejected three times by Members of Parliament and so Conservative Cabinet Ministers are currently meeting with their Labour opposition counterparts to try and agree a way forward. It is hoped that, in the coming days, there will be an attempt to reach a compromise on the UK’s future customs arrangements with the EU, which has been the key sticking point.
Ministers insist it is still their aim to get the approval of Members of Parliament before May 22 for the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU so the country does not have to hold elections to the European Parliament.
Despite the Brexit uncertainty, employment has continued to increase at a solid pace. The unemployment rate stood at 3.9% in the three months to February 2019 - its lowest level since the same period in 1974/75.
For non-ferrous traders and merchants, the market has picked up and there is more movement of material in the context of the earlier months of 2019. However, year-on-year volumes are lower, with some merchants estimating this decrease to be 10-20%. Consumers of all metal types are not as hungry as one would have expected with this shortfall; it is believed this is due to the USA filling the void with grades they had previously sold in China. Some buyers have increased their prices to try and boost volumes but have just been left with reduced margins. Exporters are reporting a surge in interest for electric motors from Asian buyers, however.
Despite the improved LME aluminium price, it is still not easy to sell as every automotive manufacturer is still on a go-slow because of Brexit uncertainty and the move away from diesel engines. There is also an increasing supply of aluminium because, in the recent past, it has been the metal of choice to substitute others that are less readily available.
Exporters report that the run-up to Easter was busy owing to suppliers taking advantage of the LME copper price bubbling just below the £5000 per tonne mark and the unfortunate news that several merchants had experienced break-ins resulting in significant losses. Utility companies and the railways are once again being targeted, with large amounts of “live” cable being stolen. This was last seen just before an Act of Parliament was passed in 2013 to ban the paying of cash for scrap metal and more stringent traceability was introduced. The incidents of metal theft immediately dropped off but are now increasing again, due in part or wholly to the increase in prices and lack of enforcement of the Act.
It is thought that that some grades - including No 1 and No 2 copper scrap, and several types of aluminium scrap - are looking likely to see a dramatic reduction in May with the Chinese government introducing changes to import quotas. It is believed that Chinese importers will not want shipments arriving after June 15 and will probably not start buying until July 15 as it still very unlikely that any quota approvals will be granted before the beginning of July.
News headlines in the UK have been dominated recently by the Extinction Rebellion movement, which was founded last year to demand more aggressive government action on climate change and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Thousands of activists unleashed strategic disorder in London over a 10-day period to draw attention to the accelerating climate crisis.
Extinction Rebellion’s urgency and energy on the issue of climate change is aligned with a wave of rising youth climate activism in Europe, the USA and beyond, including a series of student strikes led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She joined the Extinction Rebellion protests in London and delivered a fiery speech to British MPs whom, she says, have failed to take climate change seriously. They responded this week and passed a motion declaring an environment and climate change emergency.
Recycled Products Ltd (GBR), Board Member of the BIR Non-Ferrous Metals Division