China’s race to restore normality has opened up a rare opportunity to profit from shipping aluminum into the country, which is typically burdened by excess supply of the metal.
The theoretical margin from importing aluminum into China jumped to the highest level since 2016, according to Bloomberg calculations based on local spot prices and the cost of the metal in Japan.
Chinese prices were as much as $239 lower as recently as March but have taken off in the ensuing weeks and were $140 higher last week. The dislocation is being driven by China emerging out of lockdown sooner than the rest of the world, kick-starting demand while it remains suppressed elsewhere, according to Wang Rong, an analyst with Guotai Junan Futures Co in Shanghai.
“The rebound in aluminum demand in China is pretty strong as manufacturers are catching up on orders hindered by the virus,” Wang said by phone. “In the meantime, consumption of the metal is severely restrained overseas.”
China produces half of the world’s aluminum and has struggled in recent years with domestic overcapacity. It’s been a net exporter of aluminum products since 2001, with domestic metal prices averaging about $56 less than overseas supplies over the past year.
It imported a record 1.5 million tons of primary aluminum in 2009 as a massive government stimulus plan to cushion against the global financial crisis drove local prices to a steep premium. Whether the recent reversal in the relationship results in an increase in imports will depend on whether traders can overcome any logistical constraints in getting the product to the country, said Wang.
The blow out in the relative value of Chinese aluminum has coincided with a declined of about 40% in inventories monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange since March. During the same period, stockpiles in the London Metal Exchange’s warehouses in Asia, in Malaysia, have risen more than 40%.