The first day of the Fastmarkets International Aluminium 2022 conference commenced on Wednesday, 14th September in Barcelona, Spain.

Opening the day of discussions was Perrine Faye, Editorial Director for Metals and Mining Fastmarkets, who opened the panel to the challenges of “uncertainty [which] goes hand in hand with volatility.” The panel discussion, directed by Andrea Hotter, Special Correspondent, Fastmarkets, hosted Roy Harvey, President and Chief Executive Officer Alcoa Cooperation, Ron Knapp, Adviser, Office of the Chairman China Hongqiao Group Limited (HK), and Ali Al-Baqali, CEO Alba.

The Executive panel addressed the “short term crisis, after short term crisis” as a “long term industry”, as summarised by Ron Knapp. “The biggest concern is how all these challenges are impacting the company and industry as a whole,” commented Ali Al- Baqali. He continued that despite the disruption and claims that there is a lower demand for aluminium, there is still a high demand. “Although some sectors require less aluminium, the demand overall is still high.” With this in mind, the panel naturally moved to the news of China enforcing a cap of 45 million tonnes a year on aluminium production. With this cap, will this result in further turmoil for the industry? As Roy Harvey state: “It has been an interesting summer, it looks to be an interesting fall, and we anticipate a difficult winter.”

Moving onto the ‘Pricing Trends and Outlooks’ of the aluminium industry, Alice Mason, European Base Metals Editor, Fastmarkets and Imogen Dudman, Price Reporter, Fastmarkets, assessed the price trends for the market over the past year, in response to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis. The discussion looked at the dramatic increase in aluminium premiums in response to the ‘crisis after crisis’ and what can be expected in the future. The two speakers remained positive for the future, looking into Q1 - Q2 of 2023. It is interesting to note that in response to a survey addressed to the audience questioning the prices of aluminium as per the LME, the speakers from the Executive Panel unanimously agreed that the LME 3M Aluminium in one years’ time should be back above $3,200 per ton.

Returning to the spotlight was Roy Harvey in his Fireside Chat with Andrea Hotter. Dropping light on Alcoa and his attitude toward the number of challenges he states: “In the world we live in today we have to adapt and be flexible as it swings around us. We need to be smart and active… when we look to the future, the fact is that demand is still going strong, there is a strong path for aluminium to go Carbon neutral and so there is hope.” He went onto say, “technology will be the saviour; if renewables is the first checkbox, technology is the second which will take us further.” Mr Harvey concluded that “the most important thing is that we maintain momentum and forward progress, not only with regards to renewables, but in every aspect, unanimously across the industry.”

Following Roy Harvey was the Analyst Panel discussing ‘Geopolitical Implications and Supply Chain Disruption’. The main issues addressed in this panel were: Russian - Ukraine war, the Energy Crisis, and the implications of COVID. What was evident from this panel was the majority of discussions are based upon speculation and not certainty. This was reiterated in the following panel on ‘Developments in Bauxite and Alumina’. Nicholas Snowdon, Metals Strategist Goldman Sachs provided some hope as he reports that “the Middle East and Indian metal has increase production as a result of the war”, and was supported by Micheal Widmer, commodities strategist Bank of America Merrill Lynch who noted that smelters have only shut down sections or plants to reduce the impact these ‘crisis’ have.

Next, was a panel on raw material which looked at the ‘Developments in Bauxite and Alumina’, where further discussion took place with regards to the impacts the multiple challenges have on the raw materials. This reinforced the concerns previously stated by industry speakers. However, hope once again re-emerged as the audience was reassured that Australia and Guinea are very unlikely to make actions which would take the industry into further turmoil as they themselves are dependent on the aluminium industry.

After lunch, we returned to a series of presentations on Exchange. Starting the presentations was Christian Mildner, Head of Sales from the London Metal Exchange (LME) who provided an update from the LME on their LMEPassport, Responsible Sourcing and Metals Hub. Mr Mildner also reminded the audience of the LME week which is coming up this October. Following The LME was a presentation from Ian Caton, Director of Metals Products CME Group. Alice Mason, European Base Metals Editor, Fastmarkets brought the two speakers together and noted the importance of transparency in the market: transparency ultimately being the main goal for the CME and LME.

In the spotlight, Andy Farida, Commodities Research Analysts at Fastmarkets, gave his view on the Aluminium Market of China and provide his opinion on research for the industry. Weighing up the issues and successes of the Chinese base market, as well as the approaches towards the issues the industry faces, be it Bullish or Bearish, a ray of light theoretically shone through our bleak tunnel. The challenges make way for potential hope. Mr Farida noted that rather than being in a recession, we are “talking ourselves into a recession”; the aluminium industry is waiting for a catalyst, whether this cause a positive or negative reaction is unknown. But I believe we can hope for our future as aluminium constantly shows us that it’s designed for a bright one.

The penultimate panel visited China, India and the Middle Eastern industries. Ron Knapp returned, complimenting Andy Farida on his presentation, where once again hope appeared. Carbon and sustainability came to the forefront of the presentation, as both the key challenge and opportunity of the Chinese market. This comes in response to China’s now focus on expanding and developing the ESG goals. Mahmood Daylami, General Secretary of the Gulf Aluminium Council, emphasised the GCC’s commitment to research with realistic outcomes. Indian representative Nilesh Koul, Head of Marketing, Hindaclo, reiterated prior presentations and the qualms of the industry.

Finally, Douglass Archibald, Business Development Manager, Cargill Ocean Transportation, spoke on the impacts of the global turmoil on the transportation industry, as well as the sustainability goals and successes of the company.

The consensus from the conference and speaking with the attendees is that the aluminium industry has found itself in a world full of challenges recently. Should we have been born to a world without human interference, we can be certain that the material would be resting easy in the earth. But alas this is not the case. Despite the ‘crisis after crisis’ reality, there is light, as some say, at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, science does not believe in the fortune telling, and so despite all best efforts to predict and anticipate the future, there is no way of knowing what to expect until we are there.

Make sure to keep up to date on the events at the International Aluminium 2022 Conference by Fastmarkets. The event closes on Wednesday, 15th September.