Aluminum commands record premium in US amid economic recovery

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The premium buyers pay to have aluminum shipped to the U.S. Midwest touched a record high, surpassing the level reached six years ago when banks and trading houses famously joined in “merry-go-round deals” at warehouses to collect higher rents.

The latest surge is different. Driven by a jump in demand and shipping costs and a tariff holdover from the Trump administration, the price to deliver the lightweight metal touched a high of 25.6 cents per pound, surpassing the 24.5 cents a pound it hit in February 2015, according to researcher Harbor Intelligence.

The benchmark price of aluminum traded in London is up almost 20% this year in its best start since 2008, propelled by a global economic recovery that’s expected to fuel purchases of everything from autos to toasters. The metal is also rising on bets that China, the biggest producer, will curb supply to cut emissions, with Alcoa Corp. Chief Executive Officer Roy Harvey calling the nation’s steps to rein in output a “game-changer” for the industry.

The pandemic recovery in the U.S. is causing “booming demand” and “skyrocketing freight rates,” with the continuing tariffs on imported aluminum “now fully reflected as part of the perfect storm,” Jorge Vazquez, the managing director at Harbor, said in a phone interview.

Last month’s Suez Canal blockage briefly added more concerns for an unusually tight aluminum market that was already facing a week-long delay on average due to demand for all products — regardless of whether it was metal or other goods. The sudden rise comes months after premiums were as low as 9.35 cents per pound in August, according to Harbor.

(By Joe Deaux)

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