Japan’s zinc demand may increase 7.2 percent this year to a four-year high as the economy recovers from an earthquake and tsunami and the weaker yen helps boost exporters, the country’s largest smelter said.
Demand will rise to 537,400 metric tons, the highest level since 2008, from 501,200 tons in 2011, said Nobuyuki Nakamoto, general manager at Mitsui Mining & Smelting Co.’s zinc business.
Zinc, the second-best performer among six base metals on the London Metal Exchange, has gained 7.6 percent this year on signs economic growth is accelerating. Japan’s machinery orders exceeded all economists’ estimates in February, signaling gains in capital spending. An increase in demand may boost prices of the metal used to galvanize steel and benefit producers such as Korea Zinc Co., Nyrstar NV and Teck Resources Ltd.
“Domestic consumption is recovering,” Nakamoto said in an interview on April 9. “We expect demand for rebuilding to emerge up at the end of this year or early next year.”
Japan’s March 11 disaster, the yen’s strength and Thailand’s worst floods in almost 70 years curbed demand last year from the auto and electronics parts industries. Reconstruction may require an additional 20,000 tons of zinc each year for about three years, he said. The yen has fallen from a post-World War II high of 75.35 per dollar in October and traded at 80.88 today.
Japan was Asia’s fourth-biggest user in 2011 after China, India and South Korea, according to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group. The country’s demand accounted for 4 percent of the world’s 12.7 million tons.
The market may swing to a deficit in 2013 from a surplus this year, Michael Widmer, head of metals research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a weekly note on April 2.
Surpluses have been declining at a steady pace since 2009 because of muted increases in mine supply, Widmer said. The market may swing into a deficit of 160,000 tons in 2013 from a surplus of 141,000 tons in 2012, he said. Supply exceeded demand by 561,000 tons in 2011, down from a surplus of 699,000 tons in 2010 and 789,000 tons in 2009.
Zinc for three-month delivery on the LME declined 0.3 percent to $1,984.50 a ton at 4:12 p.m. Tokyo time. The metal will average $2,133 in 2012 and $2,425 in 2013, Widmer said.
Zinc stockpiles monitored by the LME rose 0.5 percent to 899,825 tons, the highest since May 23, 1995, bourse data showed April 10.