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- CRB Fundamentals - 2008 Commodity Articles


Magnesium (symbol Mg) is a silvery-white, light, and fairly tough, metallic element and is relatively stable. Magnesium is one of the alkaline earth metals. Magnesium is the eighth most abundant element in the earth's crust and the third most plentiful element found in seawater. Magnesium is ductile and malleable when heated, and with the exception of beryllium, is the lightest metal that remains stable under ordinary conditions. First isolated by the British chemist Sir Humphrey Davy in 1808, magnesium today is obtained mainly by electrolysis of fused magnesium chloride.

Magnesium compounds, primarily magnesium oxide, are used in the refractory material that line the furnaces used to produce iron and steel, nonferrous metals, glass, and cement. Magnesium oxide and other compounds are also used in the chemical, agricultural, and construction industries. Magnesium's principal use is as an alloying addition for aluminum. These aluminum-magnesium alloys are used primarily in beverage cans. Due to their lightness and considerable tensile strength, the alloys are also used in structural components in airplanes and automobiles.

Prices - The average price of magnesium in 2007 rose +43.4% to $1.73 per pound, up from $1.20 last year. However, the recent price of magnesium is still well below the record high in the $1.93-2.25 range seen in 1995.

Supply - World primary production of magnesium in 2006 rose +10.8% yr/yr to a new record high of 689,000 metric tons. The current level of magnesium production has more than doubled since the mid-1970s (production was 249,367 metric tons in 1976). The world's largest primary producers of magnesium are China with 534,000 metric tons of production in 2006, Russia with 50,000 metric tons, Canada with 50,000 metric tons, and Brazil with 6,000 metric tons. The U.S. production amount is not available because it is considered proprietary data but is probably less than about 50,000 metric tons. China's production has increased almost eight-fold over the past 8 years from 70,500 metric tons in 1998 to 534,000 metric tons in 2006. Canada's production has grown by more than seven-fold from the mid-1980s. Russia's production is a little more than half of what it was in the mid 1990s.

Demand - Total U.S. consumption of primary magnesium in 2006 fell 5.5% to 77,517 metric tons. U.S. consumption of magnesium for structural products in 2006 fell 23.0% yr/yr to 28,417 metric tons. Of the structural product consumption category, 92% was for castings and the remaining 8% was for wrought products. U.S. consumption of magnesium for aluminum alloys rose + 11.2% yr/yr in 2006 to 33,700 metric tons. The consumption of magnesium for other uses rose by +4.1% yr/yr in 2006 to 15,400 metric tons.

Trade - U.S. exports of magnesium in 2006 rose +27.5% yr/yr to 12,300 metric tons from last year's record low of 9,650 metric tons. U.S. imports of magnesium in 2006 fell -11.1% yr/yr to 75,300 metric tons.

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