Column: Global aluminium production growth brakes sharply – by Andy Home (Reuters U.K. – January 24, 2019)

LONDON (Reuters) – Global aluminium production grew at its slowest pace in a decade in 2018, and most of that was in the first half of the year. Output totalled 64.34 million tonnes, according to the International Aluminium Institute (IAI), up by just 1.5 percent on 2017. Production did no more than flat-line over the second half of 2018.

It was the weakest production performance since 2009, when the industry was battered by the global financial crisis, a collapse in prices and multiple smelter closures. Even China, the world’s dominant producer, ran out of expansion steam last year with growth of 1.6 percent, while the rest of the world managed just 1.4 percent.

For the world outside China it was a year of unusually high disruption rates but for smelters everywhere the real problem is price. As articulated by U.S. producer Alcoa last week, at current prices some 30-40 percent of the world’s smelters are losing money.

The IAI’s assessment of Chinese production last year jars with the official figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The NBS figures suggest China’s output surged to a record high of 3.050 million tonnes in December with full-year output apparently up 7.4 percent.

This is a “record” only within the troubled parameters of the official count, which started losing credibility some time during Beijing’s “illegal” capacity closure campaign of 2017.

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