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This morning in metals news, Tokyo Steel plans to raise plate prices, Rio Tinto says new aluminum capacity is needed outside of China and copper prices tick upward.

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Plate Prices Rise

Tokyo Steel plans to raise heavy plate prices by 2.5% in December, according to a Reuters report. The steelmaker had not raised heavy plate prices since January, the report noted.

MetalMiner’s Take: Plate prices have always had their own price dynamics separate from the other forms of flat rolled steel (such as HRC and CRC).

Plate prices in the U.S. have remained fairly well-supported compared to the other forms of steel, so it should come as no surprise that in markets with strong construction demand, like Japan, mills would announce price increases.

Interestingly, Chinese plate prices have started to slip, but those dynamics could change based on environmental curbs, whether the Japanese plate price increases stick and Chinese demand.

U.S. metal-buying organizations will want to pay close attention to these price dynamics in Japan and China.

Aluminum Capacity

Rio Tinto Group says the world needs new aluminum capacity outside of China in the coming years, Bloomberg reported.

Copper Price Rises

Prices of LME and SHFE copper increased Monday, Reuters reported, on the heels of positive sentiment stemming from comments made by President Donald Trump regarding tariffs on China.

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During a press briefing Monday, Trump said the U.S. might not need to impose further tariffs on China, the world’s top copper consumer.

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Strengthening the domestic steel and aluminum industries and bringing jobs back to the sectors stood out as one of the primary stated objectives of the Trump administration’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.

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Detractors have argued that while the tariffs could spur employment in primary metal producing sector, employment in metal-using sectors could suffer by virtue of higher prices.

For example, The Beer Institute was among the metal-using industry groups to express displeasure with the Trump administration’s decision to maintain the metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico (even as the countries came together in agreement on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement).

“It is disappointing that President Trump did not lift tariffs on aluminum as the United States, Canada, and Mexico announced a new trade agreement,” said Jim McGreevy, president and CEO of the Beer Institute. “Aluminum used to make beer cans has nothing to do with our nation’s national security, and continuing to impose these tariffs on some of the United States’ closest allies unnecessarily increases costs on our nation’s vibrant beer industry–which is a crown jewel for American manufacturing.”

Those criticisms aside — it is still too early to make any grand conclusions about tariffs and their impacts on jobs, whether for or against — let’s take a quick look at employment figures in primary metals manufacturing for the year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), preliminary October data show employment in primary metals manufacturing reached 381,900, down 300 from the September total of 382,200. Meanwhile, the industry saw primary metals manufacturing employment of 379,100 in January 2018, marking a 0.7% increase from January to October.

U.S. primary metals manufacturing employment, 1990-2018. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The fabricated metals sector fell slightly to 1,495,400 jobs in October, down from 1,495,500 in September. Fabricated metals employment hit 1,462,000 jobs in January 2018.

U.S. fabricated metals sector employment, 1990-2018. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The metal ore mining sector added 200 jobs, going from 38,900 to 39,100 in October.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector as a whole made gains in October, adding 32,000 jobs last month and 296,000 in total so far this year.

U.S. manufacturing employment, 1990-2018. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

“It’s good news that factories hired 32,000 new workers in October,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in a release earlier this month. “If there is any employment impact from tariffs or retaliation, it’s being more than washed away by the overall strength of the manufacturing economy. That said, tariffs alone aren’t going to keep manufacturing strong.

“We need to see structural economic reforms in China, a better deal for workers through fairer trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, Japan and the European Union, as well as a renewed effort to crack down on exchange rate misalignment and manipulation.”

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Those are the numbers — the jury is still out on the overall efficacy of the tariffs, and to what extent the tariffs have contributed to new jobs this year in primary metals manufacturing.

Thus far, companies like U.S. Steel have credited the tariffs in jobs announcements this year. U.S. Steel on June 1 announced the addition of 300 jobs related to the restart of a blast furnace at its Granite City plant in southwestern Illinois. (Prior to that, in March, U.S. Steel announced the restart of another blast furnace at the Granite City plant, which included the addition of 500 jobs.)