Home » US, UK Sanctions Jolt Metal Markets, LME Faces Pressure

US, UK Sanctions Jolt Metal Markets, LME Faces Pressure

US and UK sanctions on new Russian metal supplies cause volatility in global markets

by Victor Adetimilehin

Western sanctions targeting new supplies of Russian metals have sent shockwaves through global markets, sparking volatility and reigniting debate over the role of the London Metal Exchange (LME). While the curbs aim to squeeze Russia’s economy, their impact on overall metal trade remains unclear.

Sanctions Disrupt, But Don’t Cripple Metal Trade

The US and UK imposed sanctions on Friday, banning deliveries of freshly produced Russian aluminum, nickel, and copper onto the LME. However, these measures don’t prevent Russia from selling its metals elsewhere, particularly to China, a key buyer. Additionally, the vast majority of global metal trade occurs directly between miners, traders, and manufacturers, bypassing exchanges like the LME.

Major Russian mining companies like MMC Norilsk Nickel have already reduced reliance on Western financial systems. The industry has also been preparing for potential sanctions for the past two years. While the recent measures are unlikely to cripple Russian metal exports, they could push them towards China at discounted prices.

LME Caught in the Middle of Geopolitical Tensions

The LME’s response has been to enforce the US and UK sanctions but allow trading of “old” Russian metal already present in its warehouses. However, this approach raises concerns. A surge in deliveries of this existing stock could disrupt prices further. Additionally, the decision reignites the debate on whether to ban all Russian metal from the LME, potentially impacting its role as a global benchmark.

The uncertainty surrounding sanctions has caused significant price swings in the metals market. Aluminum prices initially soared to record highs before retreating. The sheer volume of Russian metal stockpiled in LME warehouses (91% for aluminum, 62% for copper, and 36% for nickel as of March 2024) adds to the volatility. Estimates suggest a significant amount of Russian aluminum exists outside the LME system, which could further disrupt markets if released.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Metal Trade

The long-term impact of these sanctions on metal prices and trade flows remains to be seen. The LME faces pressure to address concerns about Russian metal and maintain its position as a reliable price setter. The industry, meanwhile, will likely adapt to the new landscape, with China potentially emerging as a major beneficiary. Despite the current volatility, there’s hope that markets will eventually stabilize and find new equilibrium points.

Source: Mining.com

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