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- CRB Fundamentals - 2008 Commodity Articles


Aluminum (symbol Al) is a silvery, lightweight metal that is the most abundant metallic element in the earth's crust. Aluminum was first isolated in 1825 by a Danish chemist, Hans Christian Oersted, using a chemical process involving a potassium amalgam. A German chemist, Friedrich Woehler, improved Oersted's process by using metallic potassium in 1827. He was the first to show aluminum's lightness. In France, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville isolated the metal by reducing aluminum chloride with sodium and established a large-scale experimental plant in 1854. He displayed pure aluminum at the Paris Exposition of 1855. In 1886, Charles Martin Hall in the U.S. and Paul L.T. Heroult in France simultaneously discovered the first practical method for producing aluminum through electrolytic reduction, which is still the primary method of aluminum production today.

By volume, aluminum weighs less than a third as much as steel. This high strength-to-weight ratio makes aluminum a good choice for construction of aircraft, railroad cars, and automobiles. Aluminum is used in cooking utensils and the pistons of internal-combustion engines because of its high heat conductivity. Aluminum foil, siding, and storm windows make excellent insulators. Because it absorbs relatively few neutrons, aluminum is used in low-temperature nuclear reactors. Aluminum is also useful in boat hulls and various marine devices due to its resistance to corrosion in salt water.

Aluminum futures and options are traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and the London Metal Exchange. Aluminum futures are traded on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM), the Osaka Mercantile Exchange (OME), and the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE). The NYMEX aluminum futures contract calls for the delivery of 44,000 pounds of aluminum and the contract is priced in terms of cents per pound.

Prices - NYMEX aluminum futures prices showed modest overall weakness in 2007. Aluminum opened the year at about 114 cents per pound, rallied to 121 cents per pound in February, and then moved lower into a range of 105-110. The metal stayed in that range, except for a brief rally to about 117 cents per pound in October, for the rest of the year. Aluminum at the end of 2007 was about 110 cents per pound.

Supply - World production of aluminum rose +5.6% yr/yr in 2006, the latest reporting year, to a record high of 33.700 million metric tons. The world's largest producers of aluminum are China with 28% of world production in 2006, Russia (11%), Canada (9%), U.S. (7%), and Australia (6%). U.S. production of primary aluminum in 2007 (through November, annualized) rose +11.3% yr/yr to 2.543 million metric tons. U.S. production of aluminum from secondary sources in 2006 rose +15.8% yr/yr to 3.510 million metric tons.

Demand - World consumption of aluminum in 2001, the latest reporting year for the series, fell 4.8% yr/yr to 23.613 million metric tons, which was moderately below the record high of 24.811 million metric tons consumed in 2000. U.S. consumption of aluminum in 2006 fell 10.6% yr/yr to 5.840 million metric tons which was a 14-year low.

Trade - U.S. exports in 2006 (the latest reporting year for the series) rose +19.0% yr/yr to a new record high of 2.820 million metric tons. U.S. imports of aluminum in 2006 fell 2.8% yr/yr to 5.180 million metric tons, down from the 2005 record high of 5.330 million metric tons. The U.S. relied on imports for 26% of its consumption in 2007.

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