Exports of processed aluminium from the People’s Republic of China are expected to drop thanks to investigations of the fake semis market and resulting anti-dumping measures taken by the United States, Australia, and the European Union, explained Soloviev.
“Rusal estimates that [global] aluminium consumption will grow by 5.7 per cent to 59.5 million tonnes this year,” he told the South China Morning Post. “Chinese growth is expected to continue to be strong at 7 per cent year-on-year in 2016 to 31 million tonnes.”
He went on to explain that the automotive and aerospace sectors should lead demand growth, followed closely by the construction, electrical, consumer durables, and packaging sectors. As to supply, additions in capacity by China aren’t expected to make up for closures in the remainder of the market.
“We see no new significant capacity additions over the next five years outside China, with [the supply] deficit forecast to [rise] sharply in 2016 and expected to surpass 2.4 million tonnes this year,” Soloviev said.
Soloviev projects that China will idle an additional 1 million metric tons of capacity if prices hold at current levels. This is in addition to the 1 million metric tons projected to close by the end of the current quarter.
“Around 50 per cent of closed capacity is highly unprofitable at [an aluminium] price below 12,000 yuan [US$1,847.90] per tonne [and] thus has little chance to be restarted,” Soloviev said.
He went on to explain that, even if prices rebound in the immediate future, restarting closed capacity would still not be profitable due to tight supply of bauxite and alumina, and the correspondingly inflated prices of same.
In addition to tightening supply, aluminium prices have risen by ten percent in the previous month to a six-month high of US$1,635 per metric ton. China also has had a drop in the addition of capacity for four straight years up through 2014, according to analysts at Haitong Securities.
“With alumina price rebounding from the trough, the implementation of fees charged by grid operators on grid-connected power plants owned by [smelters], and power plant facilities upgrades to meet more stringent pollution reduction requirements, [mean that] aluminium production costs will rise,” said Haitong Securities in a report. “With supply slightly tight, aluminium price is set to continue its rebound.”
However, according to a China International Capital Corp. report, China’s plant utilization rate ran at only 75% capacity in 2015, with 12.5% of it consisting of idled or curtailed capacity.
China’s excess capacity problem is “structural rather than cyclical,” according to Soloviev, and fueled by cheap financing and government subsidies over the past several years.
“This is a vicious cycle: while volumes increase, prices and margins fall,” he explained. “This makes it impossible to invest in innovation or create new high-end products … the best solution would be to keep four to five large players [by consolidating] the industry.