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U.S. commission to look into aluminum market manipulation

Workers start aluminum smelter pots on potline B at the Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter west of Ferndale on Feb. 15, 2011. The U.S. International Trade Commission says it will investigate possible aluminum market manipulation after plummeting prices have hammered the industry.
Workers start aluminum smelter pots on potline B at the Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter west of Ferndale on Feb. 15, 2011. The U.S. International Trade Commission says it will investigate possible aluminum market manipulation after plummeting prices have hammered the industry. pdywer@bhamherald.com

A federal agency will be looking into the whether market manipulation is taking place in the aluminum industry.

The U.S. International Trade Commission announced Wednesday, April 6, that it is launching an investigation to examine the U.S. aluminum industry and global aluminum trade. The study will include a public hearing as well as research into recent trade trends and the factors that increased supply and drove down prices in recent months.

The drop in aluminum prices is one factor that led Alcoa to announce the curtailment of the Intalco Works aluminum smelter near Ferndale. The curtailment is scheduled to take place at the end of June, laying off around 465 workers.

In recent weeks the union has expressed optimism that the smelter could stay open beyond the end of June, but as of yet no new announcement has taken place. If the smelter is curtailed, Alcoa plans to keep the casthouse operating, employing about 100 people.

The investigation may not help the Intalco workers’ current situation. The trade commission expects to deliver the report to the House Committee on Ways and Means by June 24, 2017.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, sent a letter in February pushing for an investigation into what she called unfair and questionable trade practices by China. In her original letter DelBene noted that China has gone from producing 10 percent of the global supply to more than 50 percent in the past 10 years.

“While I’m glad to see the U.S. International Trade Commission has granted my request for an investigation into the market manipulation of aluminum, I encourage the ITC to expedite the investigation,” DelBene said in an email. “This is an important issue affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of working families in the first district.”

Aluminum prices have fluctuated in recent weeks, according to data from the London Metal Exchange. They rose to around $1,600 a metric ton in March but dropped to $1,497 a metric ton on Tuesday, April 5.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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