US aluminum waste and scrap imports rise in Jan, domestic market remains undersupplied

Thursday, Mar 09, 2017

US general imports of aluminum waste and scrap surged to 130.8 million lb in the first month of 2017, nearly 18 million lb more than was imported in December, according to data released Wednesday from the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission.

The total for the month surpassed January levels in 2015 and 2016 by 23.8 million lb and 40.4 million lb, respectively. At the current rate, the US is on pace to bring in nearly 1.57 billion lb of aluminum waste and scrap by year-end. In 2016, US imports finished just shy of 1.3 billion lb.

The bulk of inflow for January, over 80%, came from the US' immediate neighbors to the north and south. Canada was responsible for 69.6 million lb of US aluminum waste and scrap imports, and Mexico came in second at 36.3 million lb. The two nations, along with Guatemala, have consistently ranked in the top-three for origin of the imports. Guatemala sent over 4.4 million lb in January, up 75% from its levels reported for December, and even 180% higher year on year for January.

Rounding out the top five were Venezuela and Spain at 3.32 million lb and 1.63 million lb, respectively.


Despite rising import levels, exports outweighed imports by over 107 million lb in the opening month of 2017, according to the latest USITC release.

As exports continue to add to the US aluminum scrap international trade surplus, it has contributed to the current supply shortage in the domestic market. Smelter-grade scrap materials in particular have low stocks, which ultimately have also supported regional prices lately.

"There's just not enough smelter-grade [scrap material] out there," a Midwest scrap dealer said at the start of the week. "It's been a good first quarter for scrap prices, but there's just no flow out there."

S&P Global Platts assessed old cast at 62-63 cents/lb, delivered Midwest, on March 6, up 1 cent on the low side from the 61-63 cents/lb finish on March 2. At a mid-point of 62.5 cents/lb, old cast recently closed at its highest value going back to the start of 2016.

"It is tight out there for scrap," a secondary smelter said on Monday. "But if steel comes back up, shredders will be doing more steel and then more aluminum byproduct that is not out there now will be out in the market."

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