January 25, 2018 / 11:10 AM / a year ago

GRAPHIC-New capacity, restarts to plug aluminium supply gap

* Aluminium stocks in China at record highs

* China to add 4.4 million tonnes of capacity this year

* Signs of China ramping up already coming through

By Pratima Desai

LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Shortages of aluminium created by cutbacks in China are expected to be filled by new Chinese capacity and restarts in the United States, which means prices are likely to have peaked for now.

Benchmark aluminium on the London Metal Exchange hit $2,290.50 a tonne in December, its highest since March 2012.

Attempts to go higher have failed mainly due to stock data suggesting oversupply in China.

Inventories of aluminium in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange stand at record highs of 783,759 tonnes compared with around 100,000 tonnes a year ago. AL-STX-SGH

“Last year China saw a surplus of one million tonnes and the world ex-China a 1.6 million tonne deficit, so the global market was in deficit,” said Wood Mackenzie analyst Ami Shivkar.

“We’re expecting a balanced market this year.”

Wood Mackenzie expects new capacity in China and restarts “could be a catalyst for a correction in the aluminium price - a correction not a price collapse”.

U.S.-based Alcoa is planning to restart more than 161,000 tonnes of capacity in Indiana in the second quarter, analysts say, while Century Aluminium is considering the restart of about 100,000 tonnes in South Carolina.

China accounts for more than half of global production estimated at around 65 million tonnes this year.

An environmental crackdown last year on polluting industries such as aluminium smelting and a clampdown on unauthorised capacity meant China’s surplus fell short of the amounts needed to cover the deficit in the rest of the world.

Consultants AZ China estimate China will add around 4.4 million tonnes of new capacity this year, though much of that will be replacing older polluting plants. They estimate China’s output will total 38.7 million tonnes this year

Additionally, output cuts during the winter months starting in November will also be unwound from the middle of March, creating surpluses which are likely to mean higher stocks in exchange warehouses or rising Chinese exports.

China’s exports are also expected to be boosted by higher aluminium prices on the LME versus those on ShFE.

“(The differential) has certainly opened the window for Chinese semis exports, which we would expect to rise over the first quarter,” BMO Capital Markets analysts said in a note.

Signs of China ramping up are already coming through in data. The National Bureau of Statistics recently reported that China churned out 2.71 million tonnes in December, up 15.3 percent from November.

“Output cuts for the winter season were meant to be 1.5 million tonnes, but only about 600,000 to 700,000 tonnes was delivered,” said Paul Adkins, managing director of AZ China.

“The environmental push is affecting the demand side; a lot of industrial activity has been closed because of pollution.”

AZ China expects a recovery in industrial activity this year to boost demand to 38.4 million tonnes.

Reporting by Pratima Desai; editing by Jason Neely

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