TOKYO -- As nonferrous metals rise in price, tin is heading in the opposite direction on speculation that China is ready to end export duties on ingots.
Three-month tin futures on the London Metal Exchange currently sit at the $19,000 per ton level. Although prices were stable, at around $21,000 at the end of 2016, they have plunged as much as 10% since late January.
Several Japanese trading house representatives said that before this year they never expected the price to dip below $20,000 per ton.
China is the world's largest producer and consumer of tin ingots. In 2008, the country started slapping a 10% tariff on ingot exports to secure a stable domestic supply. This has limited the amount of Chinese ingots circulating overseas.
The sharp price decline began in mid-January, when rumors first stirred that China would abolish the export tax. Although the Chinese government has not officially confirmed this, tin does not appear on the 2017 list of product-by-product tariff rates that the government published in January.
Lifting the export tax could lead to China-made ingots flooding the international market and driving down prices.
Fearing this scenario, investors are scrambling to sell their ingots.
Stabilize the price?
Over the past few years, tin ingot prices have wildly fluctuated, swinging on the pendulum known as Indonesia, the world's largest tin ingot exporter.
Indonesia began restricting tin exports in 2013 to maintain its influence in the international market.