"The aluminium industry – like all industrial sectors – is still facing a testing future in the short term, but there should be cause for optimism."
The aluminium industry has seen a dip in demand and impact on aluminium production in 2020 due to the pandemic, especially the automobile, aerospace & construction industries has taken probably the maximum hit in the first two quarters of 2020. By late Dec'20 the industry is already seeing the signs of recovery. The LME (London Metal Exchange) 3 months aluminium price stayed consistently above $2000/T in Dec, compared to $1800/T a year back. It is also expected that this resurgence will continue in the first couple of quarters in 2021 as well, because it has been observed that a lot of smelters are already sold out for this time period.
Chinese (& to some extent Asian) demand has been the key driver for the aluminium industry along with some other metals as well. China, after 2009, has again become a net importer, pushing the global market demand higher. This shows the strong domestic consumption and policy impact in China on the global aluminium sector & most importantly, it's not only for primary ingots, there's been a strong physical demand for value added & finished products as well. Finally, re-opening of more automotive plants in Japan, European and US markets & strong orders from European customers indicate a recovery in these geographies as well. The possibility of pent-up demand from last year to get unleashed in the first half of 2021 is only going to push prices further as most manufacturers are gearing up production for this year and next.
In the longer term however, the pandemic may act as a blessing in disguise. The growth drivers of aluminium industry have actually been accelerated due to this pandemic and if anything, the opportunities are far greater now considering the pace of growth in the pre-COVID-19 times. The growth & increasing appetite for environment friendly solutions in transport, infrastructure, energy, packaging sectors will only push the use of aluminium post 2021 much further. The trend was already established before 2020, but certainly it received a big push during the last year. Aluminium is the most recycled and recyclable of all metals & with such a strong sustainability credential, the metal is ready to meet consumer expectations.
A recent survey conducted by CM group, along with IMF, shows a strong positive sentiment within the industry with 83% of respondents saying the pandemic will have just a short-term impact on aluminium consumption; with most expecting China's economy to rebound in 2021. ~56% thinks the pandemic will cause fundamental changes to supply and consumption and that low-cost and well-performing organizations can benefit and increase their market share at the expense of outdated, high-cost rivals. Ramping up recycling initiatives, much more focus on Green aluminium, higher emphasis on essential end-use sectors & multiple alternatives for supply chain & raw materials – may prove to be the most important factors in the global aluminium industry in the post pandemic world.
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