Weak outlook for aluminium as demand, prices will take time to recover | Mint
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Business News/ Companies / News/  Weak outlook for aluminium as demand, prices will take time to recover
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Weak outlook for aluminium as demand, prices will take time to recover

Global demand has been weak, and expectations of a recovery in China lifting prices haven’t borne fruit.

Weak outlook for aluminium as demand, prices will take time to recoverPremium
Weak outlook for aluminium as demand, prices will take time to recover

NEW DELHI : Falling aluminium prices that eroded the profitability of manufacturers over the past year are likely to remain range-bound in the second half of FY23, too, experts said.

Global demand has been weak, and expectations of a recovery in China lifting prices haven’t borne fruit. China’s recent export-import data was not encouraging, and its inflation print confirmed that recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy is losing steam, analysts said.

“For aluminium, with Chinese smelters restarting and demand remaining weak in the western economies, the slight oversupply situation may persist at least till the end of 2023," said Jayanta Roy, senior vice-president and group head, Icra. Hence, aluminium prices may remain in the $2,100-2,300 a tonne range in the second half of the year, he added.

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Graphic: Mint

Satish Pai, managing director, Hindalco Industries Ltd, too, said after the company’s earnings release that he expects aluminium prices to stay in the same range.

Imports of Chinese foils have picked up, and analysts said imports of other products too can rise if China’s domestic demand remains weak. Aluminium prices on the London Metal Exchange (LME) that had averaged $2,395 a tonne during the March quarter have fallen further to the $2,161 a tonne level in the June quarter, impacting profitability.

Aluminium prices have stayed around $2,177 per tonne in the ongoing quarter. Notably, these prices are significantly lower than they were during the previous year. LME aluminium prices had averaged $3,273 a tonne and $2,883 a tonne during the first and second quarters of 2022, respectively.

Aluminium prices remained firm during the first half of 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. However, weakening global demand amid recession concerns in the rising interest rate environment have pulled down prices since then. The China demand, which was anticipated to pick up during 2023 after easing of covid curbs, also did not meet expectations.

The decline in LME aluminium prices impacted profitability of leading aluminium makers in the June quarter. The aluminium segment of Vedanta Ltd that contributed around 35% to its overall revenues, saw a significant decline in the operating performance. The segment’s Ebitda (earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortization) declined 6.24% sequentially and 16.8% year-on-year (y-o-y). The company’s profit before tax thereby declined 4% sequentially and 43% y-o-y.

Hindalco also felt a similar impact. Ebitda of the aluminium upstream segment was down 41% y-o-y and 11% sequentially.

Thus, despite a sequential improvement in operating performance by the company’s US subsidiary Novelis, a better performance by the company’s aluminium downstream business and a y-o-y profitability improvement in the copper segment, consolidated net profit of Hindalco was flat sequentially and down 41% year-on-year.

The solace for aluminium manufacturers, however, comes from coal prices which have been coming down since November 2022. Coal prices are expected to stay muted in the current fiscal due to sufficient availability in the global market, subdued global demand and gradual adjustments of the global markets to the Russia-Ukraine war, said CareEdge Research.

Since aluminium production is an energy intensive business, the declining coal prices mean reduced power costs, which may support the profitability of aluminium manufacturers.

For Hindalco, the prospects are supported by its US subsidiary Novelis, which is a converter of aluminium and feels lower impact of aluminium price volatility.

The volumes of Novelis remained impacted by channel destocking in the US. That is over and some restocking has started in the ongoing quarter. The company’s copper and downstream aluminium businesses are also performing well.

For natural resources conglomerate Vedanta, the prospects will also hinge on other base metal prices such as that of zinc and lead. Also, it has exposure to oil production, iron-ore and a power business as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ujjval Jauhari
Ujjval Jauhari is a deputy editor at Mint, with over a decade of experience in newspapers and digital news platforms. He is skilled in storytelling, reporting, analysing and writing about stocks, investment ideas, markets, corporates and more. He is based in New Delhi.
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Published: 14 Aug 2023, 09:50 PM IST
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