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Zinc Outlook 2022: Analysts Expect Small Refined Deficit

Click here to read the previous zinc outlook. After an uncertain 2020, zinc rose steadily in 2021, hitting a 14 year high in the second half of the year.The power crisis and increasing demand for the base metal as strict COVID-19-related lockdown restrict

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Click here to read the previous zinc outlook.

After an uncertain 2020, zinc rose steadily in 2021, hitting a 14 year high in the second half of the year.

The power crisis and increasing demand for the base metal as strict COVID-19-related lockdown restrictions were lifted supported prices for zinc during the 12 month period.

As the new year begins, the Investing News Network (INN) caught up with analysts to find out what’s ahead for zinc supply, demand and prices. Read on to learn what they had to say.


Zinc outlook 2022: 2021 in review


Zinc prices kicked off 2021 above the US$2,800 per tonne mark after rallying for most of the second half of 2020. A recovery in the steel sector helped the base metal throughout the first half of 2021 as COVID-19 lockdown measures eased, supporting demand for zinc.

Commenting on the main trends seen in the market in 2021, Helen O’Cleary of CRU Group told INN zinc’s demand recovery was stronger than expected in the US and Europe, but lagged in Asia excluding China.

In October, zinc prices hit their highest level in 14 years, hovering around the US$3,800 mark on the back of the power crisis and costs associated with carbon emissions.

“Zinc’s price outperformed expectations in 2021 on the back of strong demand and smelter disruption, particularly in Q4, when European smelters started to cut back due to record high energy prices,” O’Cleary said.

One of the world’s top zinc smelters, Nyrstar (EBR:NYR), said back in October that it was planning to cut production at its European smelter operations. Mining giant Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF) also said it was adjusting production to reduce exposure to peak power pricing periods during the day.

Speaking with INN, Carlos Sanchez of CPM Group said zinc has been in recovery since prices bottomed out in 2020, helped in part by vaccination efforts globally and also by supply disruptions around the world.

“The most recent issue is the concern about high energy input costs into smelters in Europe — that's been pushing prices higher recently,” he said. Even though prices could not sustain that level until the end of the year, zinc remained above US$3,500 on the last trading day of 2021.

Zinc outlook 2022: Supply and demand


As mentioned, demand for base metals took an upward turn in 2021 as the world economy recovered on the back of stimulus plans and as vaccination rollouts took place in many parts of the world.

Looking at what’s ahead for zinc demand in 2022, CRU is expecting Chinese demand growth to slow to 1.1 percent year-on-year as the effects of stimulus wane.

“In the world ex-China we expect demand to grow by 2.4 percent, with the ongoing auto sector recovery partially offsetting the construction sector slowdown in Europe and the US,” O’Cleary said.

CPM is also expecting zinc demand to remain healthy in 2022, both inside and outside of China, including demand from developing countries. “One thing that remains uncertain is what will happen with COVID,” Sanchez said.

Moving onto the supply side of the picture, the analyst expects that if everything remains status quo, disruptions are unlikely to happen.

“There are going to be some blips here and there, but there have been some labor issues in Peru; yes, there's been some energy problems in Europe and China, but that's a fact in zinc output and in demand to an extent,” Sanchez said. “But really the catalyst that we don't know, and how it can affect prices, is how COVID will impact industries.”

For her part, O’Cleary is expecting most disruptions to happen in the first quarter, with CRU currently having a disruption allowance of 55,000 tonnes for that period.

“But this may well tip over into Q2,” she said. CRU is expecting mine supply to grow by 5.1 percent year-on-year in 2022, and for the concentrates market to register a 190,000 tonne surplus.

Meanwhile, smelter output is forecast to grow by less than 1 percent year-on-year in 2022, according to the firm, which is currently forecasting a small refined zinc deficit in 2022.

“Should smelter disruption exceed our 55,000 tonne allowance the deficit could grow,” O’Cleary said. “But high prices and a tight Chinese market could lead to further releases of refined zinc from the State Reserve Bureau stockpile, which could push the market towards balance or even a small surplus.”

Similarly, CPM is expecting the market to shift into a deficit in 2022. “That's due to the strong demand, recovering economies of COVID and its financial economic effects,” Sanchez said.

Zinc outlook 2022: What’s ahead


Commenting on how zinc might perform next year, O’Cleary said prices are likely to remain high in Q1 due to the threat of further energy-related cutbacks in Europe during the winter heating season.

O’Cleary suggested investors keep an eye on high prices and inflation, as they could hamper zinc demand growth.

Similarly, CPM expects prices to stay above current levels and to average around US$3,400 for the year. “I wouldn't be surprised to see zinc top US$4,000,” Sanchez said. “But at the same time, I don't think it holds above there; you'd have to have really strong fundamentals for that to happen, stronger than what's happening now.”

The CPM director suggested zinc investors should keep an eye on COVID-19 developments and be quick movers, taking a position whether it's short or long.

Looking ahead, FocusEconomics analysts see prices for zinc cooling markedly next year before falling further in 2023, as output gradually improves and new mines come online.

“Moreover, fading logistical disruptions and easing energy prices will exert additional downward pressure, although solid demand for steel will continue to support prices,” they said in their December report, adding that pandemic-related uncertainty is clouding the zinc outlook.

Panelists recently polled by the firm see prices averaging US$2,827 in Q4 2022, and US$2,651 in Q4 2023.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates.

Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.

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Ontario election gives voters the chance to choose people over profits in long-term care

Ontario voters can bring about change by prioritizing people over profits and casting our ballots for those committed to transforming long-term care into…

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Flowers sit on a bench in front of a for-profit long-term care home in Pickering, Ont., where dozen of seniors died of COVID-19, in April 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to correct how public funds will be allocated for long-term care in Ontario. The choice is between more profits for shareholders or reinvestment in care for seniors and improved working conditions for employees.

Ownership in Ontario’s publicly funded long-term care is currently split between two types of providers.

First, there are for-profit facilities, owned largely by real estate companies that hold and/or manage licences to provide care. My research has found that currently, 60.1 per cent of the beds are owned or managed by for-profits. This group is a mixture of public corporate chains, real estate investment trusts and private equity firms. Six in 10 people who live in long-term care in this province do so under a profit-taking model.

The second group are care homes that happen to own real estate and reinvest surplus back into the home. Nearly four of 10 bed licences (39.9 per cent) are owned by this group. The latter are typically called not-for-profit, although they may also be publicly owned.

Even before the pandemic, for-profit facilities were associated with significantly higher rates of mortality and hospital admission, suggesting there’s significantly worse quality of care overall in for-profit than in non-profit and public homes.

In addition, the devastation in long-term care during the height of the pandemic’s first and second waves happened mostly in for-profits, where a higher proportion of residents died. There was a 25 per cent higher risk of death from COVID-19 in for-profit facilities.

A row of white crosses on a green lawn. A small Canadian flag is attached to one of the crosses.
Crosses are displayed in memory of elderly people who died from COVID-19 at a for-profit long-term care facility in Mississauga, Ont., in November 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Renegotiating licences

The Ontario government is currently approving licences with operators for up to 30 years. About one-third of the existing bed licences (26,531 beds) in 257 long-term care homes will expire by June 30, 2025. These licenses are in various stages of being renegotiated for the next 30 years.

The current government also announced there will be 30,000 new beds and 28,000 upgraded beds in place by 2028, also at various stages of approval. With the renewals, renovations and construction, what happens to long-term care licences in the next calendar year will shape the course of long-term care for the next 30 years.

A vote in this election therefore represents a choice between more for-profits or a move towards non-profit long-term care.


Read more: Canadians want home care, not long-term care facilities, after COVID-19


Long-term care licences can be very lucrative. Each new bed built is eligible for a construction funding subsidy, known as a CFS, calculated per day. The CFS ranges from $20.53 to $23.78 per day depending on where the home is located; large urban settings have higher subsidies. This is in addition to the funding an operator receives from government to provide care and food.

If a home has 160 beds, an additional 75 cents per bed per day is added to the subsidy. In the most expensive urban market with 160 beds (five units of 32 people), tax dollars will fund that organization $3,924.80 per day in capital costs to a maximum of $51,376 per bed — or a subsidy for the building of $8,220,160.

These subsidies are meant to cover between 10 to 17 per cent of capital costs. Rural beds are capped at a maximum subsidy of $29,246 per bed annually, while large urban centres cap at $51,376 per bed.

There are no upper limits on bed numbers, so it’s difficult to calculate the maximum subsidy. There are few homes in the province exceeding 160 beds, but that could change. The public doesn’t have a stake in the ownership of a home due to the subsidies.

Accommodation fees

Facilities also collect and retain rental accommodation fees from residents. For semi-private, shared nursing home rooms, a resident will pay $2,280.61 monthly at current rates, and for a private room, residents are charged up to $2,701.61 per month. Those living in for-profit retirement homes, many of whom are on waiting lists for a long-term care bed, are not included in this model.

If 60 per cent of the rooms are private and not shared, and assuming current accommodation rates, my calculations show the home will collect and retain $116,719,810 in accommodation fees over the 30-year licence, or nearly $4 million per year.

These funds collected for accommodation rental are completely separate from the funds publicly paid to support care, currently set at $187.73 per day for a home operating at 100 per cent based on the complexity of the needs of its residents.

If the current government or any successive government replicates past decisions, more than 65,000 Ontarians a year will live in a for-profit facility — many run by corporations focused on their real estate investments — in the next decade. If we follow a different path, these subsidies could fund operators that are primarily care organizations and where real estate holdings support the care, not the other way around.

A man pushes his walker as he strolls outside a long-term care home.
A man takes a walk outside the not-for-profit Seven Oaks Long-Term Care Home in Toronto in June 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

No one should assume they or their loved ones won’t need long-term care. All modern and caring societies have long-term care. The difference is that in countries like Norway, the focus is on high-quality, publicly delivered care, not on favouring for-profit real estate models.

Certainly not everyone will need long-term care. Not everyone needs open-heart surgery. But we do need high-quality public health care so that no one has to contemplate losing their life savings to survive. Those who need long-term care are among society’s most vulnerable members, and they deserve the very best quality of care and for every dollar to be invested in ensuring their care is top-notch.

No further study of this issue is required. Those living in for-profit facilities fare worse than those in non-profits and public homes.

In Ontario, we can prioritize people over profits by casting our ballots for those committed to transforming long-term care into a non-profit model focused on high-quality care. Know which party supports non-profit, long-term care and vote accordingly.

Tamara Daly receives funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

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Lab, crab and robotic rehab

I was in Berkeley a couple of months back, helping TechCrunch get its proverbial ducks in a row before our first big climate event (coming in a few weeks,…

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I got previews of a number of projects I hope to share with you in the newsletter soon, but one that really caught my eye was FogROS, which was just announced as part of the latest ROS (robot operating system) rollout. Beyond a punny name that is simultaneously a reference to the cloud element (fog/cloud — not to mention the fact that the new department has killer views of San Francisco and frequent visitor, Karl) and problematic French cuisine, there’s some really compelling potential here.

I’ve been thinking about the potential impact of cloud-based processing quite a bit the last several years, independent of my writing about robots. Specifically, a number of companies (Microsoft, Amazon, Google) have been betting big on cloud gaming. What do you do when you’ve seemingly pushed a piece of hardware to its limit? If you’ve got low enough latency, you can harness remote servers to do the heavy lifting. It’s something that’s been tried for at least a decade, to varying effect.

Image Credits: ROS

Latency is, of course, a major factor in gaming, where being off by a millisecond can dramatically impact the experience. I’m not fully convinced that experience is where it ought to be quite yet, but it does seem the tech has graduated to a point where off-board processing makes practical sense for robotics. You can currently play a console game on a smartphone with one of those services, so surely we can produce smaller, lighter-weight and lower-cost robots that rely on a remote server to complete resource-intensive tasks like SLAM processing.

The initial application will focus on AWS, with plans to reach additional services like Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Watch this space. There are many reasons to be excited. Honestly, there’s a lot to be excited about in robotics generally right now. This was one of the more fun weeks in recent memory.

V Bionic's exoskeleton glove shown without its covering.

Image Credits: V Bionic

Let’s start with the ExoHeal robotic rehabilitation gloves. The device, created by Saudi Arabian V Bionic, nabbed this year’s Microsoft Imagine Cup. The early-stage team is part of a proud tradition of healthcare exoskeletons. In this case, it’s an attempt to rehab the hand following muscle and tendon injuries. Team leader Zain Samdani told TechCrunch:

Flexor linkage-driven movement gives us the flexibility to individually actuate different parts of each finger (phalanges) whilst keeping the device portable. We’re currently developing our production-ready prototype that utilizes a modular design to fit the hand sizes of different patients.

Image Credits: Walmart

This is the third week in a row Walmart gets a mention here. First it was funding for GreyOrange, which it partnered with in Canada. Last week we noted a big expansion of the retail giant’s deal with warehouse automation firm, Symbotic. Now it’s another big expansion of an existing deal — this time dealing with the company’s delivery ambitions.

Like Walmart’s work with robotics, drone delivery success has been…spotty, at best. Still, it’s apparently ready to put its money where its mouth is on this one, with a deal that brings DroneUp delivery to 34 sites across six U.S. states. Quoting myself here:

The retailer announced an investment in the 6-year-old startup late last year, following trial deliveries of COVID-19 testing kits. Early trials were conducted in Bentonville, Arkansas. This year, Arizona, Florida, Texas and DroneUp’s native Virginia are being added to the list. Once online, customers will be able to choose from tens of thousands of products, from Tylenol to hot dog buns, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Freigegeben für die Berichterstattung über das Unternehemn Wingcopter bis zum 25.01.2026. Mit Bitte um Urhebervermerk v.l.: Jonathan Hesselbarth, Tom Plümmer und Ansgar Kadura von Wingcopter GmbH. Image Credits: © Jonas Wresch / KfW

There are still more question marks around this stuff than anything, and I’ve long contended that drone delivery makes the most sense in remote and otherwise hard to reach areas. That’s why something like this Wingcopter deal is interesting. Over the next five years, the company plans to bring 12,000 of its fixed-wing UAVs to 49 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. It will cover spots that have traditionally struggled with infrastructural issues that have made it difficult to deliver food and medical supplies through more traditional means.

“With the looming food crisis on the African continent triggered by the war in Ukraine, we see great potential and strong social impact that drone-delivery networks can bring to people in all the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa by getting food to where it is needed most,” CEO Tom Plümmer told TechCrunch. “Especially in remote areas with weak infrastructure and those areas that are additionally affected by droughts and other plagues, Wingcopter’s delivery drones will build an air bridge and provide food from the sky on a winch to exactly where it is needed.”

Legitimately exciting stuff, that.

Image Credits: Dyson

In more cautiously optimistic news, Dyson dropped some interesting news this week, announcing that it has been (and will continue) pumping a lot of money into robotic research. Part of the rollout includes refitting an aircraft hangar at Hullavington Airfield, a former RAF station in Chippenham, Wiltshire, England that the company purchased back in 2016.

Some numbers from the company:

Dyson is halfway through the largest engineering recruitment drive in its history. Two thousand people have joined the tech company this year, of which 50% are engineers, scientists, and coders. Dyson is supercharging its robotics ambitions, recruiting 250 robotics engineers across disciplines including computer vision, machine learning, sensors and mechatronics, and expects to hire 700 more in the robotics field over the next five years. The master plan: to create the UK’s largest, most advanced, robotics center at Hullavington Airfield and to bring the technology into our homes by the end of the decade.

The primary project highlighted is a robot arm with a number of attachments, including a vacuum and a human-like robot hand, which are designed to perform various household tasks. Dyson has some experience building robots, primarily through its vacuums, which rely on things like computer vision to autonomously navigate. Still, I say “cautiously optimistic,” because I’ve seen plenty of non-robotics companies showcase the technology as more of a vanity project. But I’m more than happy to have Dyson change my mind.

Image Credits: Hyundai

Hyundai, of course, has been quite aggressive in its own robotics dreams, including its 2020 acquisition of Boston Dynamics. The carmaker this week announced that part of its massive new $10 billion investment plans will include robotics, with a focus of actually bringing some of its far-out concepts to market.

Another week, another big round for logistics/fulfillment robotics, as Polish firm Nomagic raised $22 million to expand its offerings. The company’s primary offering is a pick and place arm that can move and sort small goods. Khosla Ventures and Almaz Capital led the round, which also featured European Investment Bank, Hoxton Ventures, Capnamic Ventures, DN Capital and Manta Ray.

Amazon Astro with periscope camera

The periscope camera pops out and extends telescopically, enabling Astro to look over obstacles and on counter tops. A very elegant design choice. Image Credits: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

We finally got around to reviewing Amazon’s limited-edition home robot, Astro, and Haje’s feelings were…mixed:

It’s been fun to have Astro wandering about my apartment for a few days, and most of the time I seemed to use it as a roving boom box that also has Alexa capabilities. That’s cute, and all, but $1,000 would buy Alexa devices for every thinkable surface in my room and leave me with enough cash left over to cover the house in cameras. I simply continue to struggle with why Astro makes sense. But then, that’s true for any product that is trying to carve out a brand new product category.

A tiny robot crab scuttles across the frame. Image Credits: Northwestern University

And finally, a tiny robot crab from Northwestern University. The little guy can be controlled remotely using lasers and is small enough to sit on the side of a penny. “Our technology enables a variety of controlled motion modalities and can walk with an average speed of half its body length per second,” says lead researcher, Yonggang Huang. “This is very challenging to achieve at such small scales for terrestrial robots.”

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Scuttle, don’t walk to subscribe to Actuator.

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Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections responsible for spreading of COVID-19 less than symptomatic infections

Based on studies published through July 2021, most SARS-CoV-2 infections were not persistently asymptomatic, and asymptomatic infections were less infectious…

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Based on studies published through July 2021, most SARS-CoV-2 infections were not persistently asymptomatic, and asymptomatic infections were less infectious than symptomatic infections. These are the conclusions of an update of a systematic review and meta-analysis publishing May 26th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine by Diana Buitrago-Garcia of the University of Bern, Switzerland, and colleagues.

Credit: Monstera, Pexels (CC0, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

Based on studies published through July 2021, most SARS-CoV-2 infections were not persistently asymptomatic, and asymptomatic infections were less infectious than symptomatic infections. These are the conclusions of an update of a systematic review and meta-analysis publishing May 26th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine by Diana Buitrago-Garcia of the University of Bern, Switzerland, and colleagues.

Debate about the level and risks of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections continues, with much ongoing research. Studies that assess people at just one time point can overestimate the proportion of true asymptomatic infections because those who go on to later develop symptoms are incorrectly classified as asymptomatic rather than presymptomatic. However, other studies can underestimate asymptomatic infections with research designs that are more likely to include symptomatic participants.

The new paper was an update of a living (as in, regularly updated) systematic review first published in April 2020, which includes additional, more recent studies through July 2021. 130 studies were included, with data on 28,426 people with SARS-CoV-2 across 42 countries, including 11,923 people defined as having asymptomatic infection. Because of extreme variability between included studies, the meta-analysis did not calculate a single estimate for asymptomatic infection rate, but it did estimate the inter-quartile range to be that 14–50% of infections were asymptomatic. Additionally, the researchers found that the secondary attack rate—a measure of the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 — was about two-thirds lower from people without symptoms than from those with symptoms (risk ratio 0.32, 95%CI 0.16–0.64).

“If both the proportion and transmissibility of asymptomatic infection are relatively low, people with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection should account for a smaller proportion of overall transmission than presymptomatic individuals,” the authors say, while also pointing out that “when SARS-CoV-2 community transmission levels are high, physical distancing measures and mask-wearing need to be sustained to prevent transmission from close contact with people with asymptomatic and presymptomatic infection.”

Coauthor Nicola Low adds, “The true proportion of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection is still not known, and it would be misleading to rely on a single number because the 130 studies that we reviewed were so different. People with truly asymptomatic infection are, however, less infectious than those with symptomatic infection.”

#####

In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper in PLOS Medicine:

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003987  

Citation: Buitrago-Garcia D, Ipekci AM, Heron L, Imeri H, Araujo-Chaveron L, Arevalo-Rodriguez I, et al. (2022) Occurrence and transmission potential of asymptomatic and presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections: Update of a living systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med 19(5): e1003987. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003987

Author Countries: Switzerland, France, Spain, Argentina, United Kingdom, Sweden, United States, Colombia

Funding: This study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation http://www.snf.ch/en (NL: 320030_176233); the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en (NL: 101003688); the Swiss government excellence scholarship https://www.sbfi.admin.ch/sbfi/en/home/education/scholarships-and-grants/swiss-government-excellence-scholarships.html (DBG: 2019.0774) and the Swiss School of Public Health Global P3HS stipend https://ssphplus.ch/en/ (DBG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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