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US nonferrous scrap exports dip in 2016

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Shipments of nonferrous scrap from the United States took a step backward in 2016 amid a substantial drop in demand for aluminum
scrap from China and other key consuming countries.

Export volumes declined for five of the six scrap grades—aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, zinc and used beverage cans (UBC)—tracked by AMM, with shipments tumbling 247,416 short tons last year compared with 2015, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

Aluminum scrap led the way with a 180,795-ton decline in 2016 compared with volume charted for the previous year. Market
participants noted that while a stronger U.S. dollar had an impact on aluminum scrap exports, the drop in shipments was tied mostly
to a weaker appetite on the part of Chinese consumers.

Purchases of aluminum scrap by China, including Hong Kong, fell by 146,685 tons. Other key scrap consuming countries—including
Canada, Mexico, India, South Korea and Taiwan—followed this trend.

Other sources attributed the drop in U.S. exports of aluminum scrap—as well as UBCs, which fell by 27,733 tons year on year—to less competitive offshore pricing compared with the domestic market.

“It seemed like more guys in the U.S. where consuming the off-spec material,” a source said. “They weren’t necessarily paying more for it and there wasn’t better pricing offshore, just less off-spec material available.”

U.S. exports of zinc and lead scrap also trended lower last year, with shipments dropping by 27,695 tons and 1,606 tons, respectively,
from 2015 levels.

Copper scrap wasn’t immune to the drop either with export volumes retreating by 12,324 tons in the same comparison.

Weaker demand from Germany accounted for most of the decline in the volume of copper scrap exports last year, with that country’s intake dropping by 12,381 tons. Other key consumers in Belgium, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan also took fewer tons last year.

China bucked the trend, however, as consumption of red metal scrap increased by 935 tons in 2016. While total copper shipping
volumes were off from the previous year, copper traders’ views on the market were mixed.

“I found the markets to be up somewhat year over year,” one trader said. “China was much better,” he added. “We are up a little bit,
but not as much.”

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