Chart of the week
Magnesium prices on the metals market have been soaring since September. Recent weeks have seen the spot price (for immediate delivery) exceed all-time highs. In the space of a year, prices have risen almost fourfold, outpacing other industrial metals that have also risen sharply in the past year, particularly copper, aluminium, steel and zinc.
The metals market has been under pressure for over a year. The Covid-19 crisis is slowing down mining production, especially in the most affected countries, and compromising supply. Demand, meanwhile, has quickly returned to pre-crisis levels and stocks of many industrial metals are now running low.
In parallel, China’s boycott of Australian coal has caused a national energy crisis. Given the energy-intensive nature of its magnesium production process, it has decided to suspend operations across 70% of its production plants until the end of the year. However, China has a near monopoly on the world market, producing 87% of all magnesium. This combination of low stocks, low production, and high demand amounts to a perfect storm for higher prices.
Above all, the situation could lead to shortages for industries that rely on magnesium. The automotive sector, which accounts for a third of global demand, is one of the worst hit by the situation. Aluminium producers, who also account for a third of global demand (aluminium contains 3–5% magnesium), are badly affected, although some groups have already indicated reassuring stock levels. In addition, carbon steel producers potentially face being impacted.
If China continues to curb production levels, supply disruptions could trigger a chain reaction affecting the economy in a similar way to that of the ongoing semiconductor shortage.
The following opinion was written on October 29, 2021 and is susceptible of changing.
Sources : Bloomberg, and calculation from Lazard Frères Gestion
As of : October 26, 2021
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