Tariffs and sanctions do not work. Sometimes they backfire spectacularly. Eurointelligence provides an interesting example.
- The EU is in a state of desperation over the fast arriving prospect of acute aluminium shortages as US sanctions against Russian companies and their EU dependencies, are beginning to bite.
- Prices of raw aluminium and aluminium oxide have skyrocketed, as we are now only days away from the shut-down of Rusal’s aluminium plant in Ireland.
- The EU might also get caught in the cross fires of a US/China trade war.
The big story over the weekend is the clear and present danger that US sanctions against Russia pose for Europe’s manufacturing industry. The FT has the story that the EU faces imminent supply shortages of raw aluminium and aluminium oxide. One of the companies targeted by the sanctions is the Russian aluminium supplier Rusal, on which the EU depends for its aluminium supplies. The price for aluminium has skyrocketed in the last few days as shortages are becoming acute.
Such bottlenecks are evidence of the EU's acute dependence on both on Russia and the US. EU diplomats are now begging the Trump administration to exempt aluminium from the sanctions. France is leading an effort by EU countries to get the US to ease its sanctions against Moscow.
As the supply lines of alumina are running thin, the EU’s metal industry is warning that it may need to curtail production, and this will have knock-on effects on the whole of the European manufacturing industries, including car companies.
Negative spillover effects can materialise in certain product categories and services through Sino-European supply chain networks and financial interdependency. But the possible damage extends beyond the material consequences and risks. They translate into a more comprehensive re-think about the nature of trade relations between European countries with the US and China. One way or the other, EU members states and candidate countries are caught in the trade war crossfire.
China is in play and won’t go away in Europe. For policymakers in Brussels, Berlin, Athens and Budapest the escalating trade confrontation between the US and China will challenge the prospects for a sustainable economic recovery in 2018. But the collateral damage of this ongoing dispute could hurt German car manufacturers exporting to China, delay lending by Chinese banks for infrastructure projects in Southeast Europe, and ultimately broaden the fault lines emerging within Europe and vis-à-vis Washington DC and Beijing.*
Shortages Force Trump's Hand
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions earlier this month on Rusal, the second-largest aluminum producer in the world, as part of a crackdown on Russian oligarchs. Rusal is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The sanctions barred Americans from doing business with Rusal and put pressure on world aluminum supply.
On Monday, the Treasury Department said it will consider easing the sanctions on Rusal if Deripaska divests. Alcoa (AA) stock lost 13.5%, Century Aluminum (CENX) 5.3% and Aluminum Corp. of China (ACH) 9.6%. The price of aluminum itself fell more than 5%.
Rusal produces 7% of the world's aluminum, and the United States is its second-biggest market after Russia.
"Rusal has felt the impact of US sanctions because of its entanglement with Oleg Deripaska, but the US government is not targeting the hardworking people who depend on Rusal and its subsidiaries," Mnuchin said in a statement.
We messed up big time.
Weekly Aluminum Chart
Why the EU foolishly follows Trump sanctions on Russia is a mystery.
Regardless, and as I and others have stated repeatedly, no one wins trade wars and no one benefits from sanctions.
Both operations are lose-lose policies.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock