In general, business activity levels died down fairly quickly after the second week of December. Parallel to this, exporters are awaiting feedback on test shipments to China under the country’s new import regime. It is too soon to tell the impact of this new system going forward.
Brexit has become a fact amid the on-going struggle to bring Coronavirus fully under control. Faced with a rapidly-worsening situation, the Netherlands has opted for a stricter lockdown while Belgium has continued with its existing approach. There is hope of a positive change now that the vaccination programme has begun, although we must remain mindful of the possibility of a third wave, hence the continued importance of tele-working and home offices.
Traffic levels are peaking again and there is government talk of introducing extra controls in an effort to fight the virus. As mentioned previously, the majority of yards and industrial works have adjusted and found ways to continue functioning since the first wave of infections, but the challenge remains to keep the virus from company premises as it seems to be omnipresent.
As mentioned above, most metals exporters are still awaiting more reassurances on deals done into China. Since they are not totally comfortable with the new Chinese customs controls, with what qualities can be exported without problem, with what are the grey areas and with how rules will be enforced, exports at present are not at full speed.
Another challenge is the rising cost of containers. Decent numbers seem to be out there but a significant amount of material appears set to stay in Europe for the time being. Apart from this, steel prices have increased and therefore many yards are focusing more on the ferrous side of the business than on non-ferrous.
Whereas demand for aluminium seems strong out of Asia, EU demand seems stable with enough material available. It has become a little tougher to find homes for zinc in the EU market. Besides the pricing increase for stainless, supply and demand remain fairly stable. Business is gradually slowing, however. For cables, stronger competition is being felt from the Polish region. With copper prices still high in early December, suppliers were eager to sell; however, conditions turned noticeably south in the second week of the month with the approach of the holiday period. Currently, most consumers are well supplied for the first quarter.
Metallo Belgium N.V., Board Member of the BIR Non-Ferrous Metals Division