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Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the Earth's crust. In nature however it only exists in very stable combinations with other materials (particularly as silicates and oxides) and it was not until 1808 that its existence was first established.
Pure aluminium is a silvery-white metal with many desirable characteristics. It is light, nontoxic (as the metal), nonmagnetic and nonsparking. Its density is only one third that of steel. Aluminum is resistant to weather, common atmospheric gases and a wide range of liquids. Aluminum has a high reflectivity, and therefore finds more decorative uses. Aluminum has high elasticity, which is an advantage in structures under shock loads.
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Aluminium keeps its toughness down to very low temperatures, without becoming brittle like carbon steels. It is easily worked and formed. Aluminium conducts electricity and heat nearly as well as copper.
Aluminium is today one of the most widely used industrial raw materials all over the world. Known for its lightweight and corrosion resistance, Aluminium is an important material used in a wide spectrum of industries ranging from aerospace, engineering, transportation, logistics and construction.
Aluminium ore, most commonly bauxite, is plentiful and occurs mainly in tropical and sub-tropical areas - Africa, West Indies, South America and Australia. There are also some deposits in Europe. It is easily formed, machined, and cast. Pure aluminium is soft and lacks strength, but alloys with small amounts of copper, magnesium, silicon, manganese, and other elements have very useful properties. The Bayer process is used to refine aluminium from bauxite.
The leading producing countries include the United States, Russia, Canada, the European Union, China, Australia, Brazil, Norway, South Africa, Venezuela, the Gulf States (Bahrain and United Arab Emirates), India and New Zealand; together they represent more than 90 percent of the world primary aluminium production. Global production of Aluminium was estimated to be 33 million ton in 2006.
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The largest aluminium markets are North America, Europe and East Asia. India is rated as the fifth largest producer of Aluminium in the world. It is estimated at about 3037 million tonnes for all categories of bauxite (proved, probable and possible). With the present level of consumption of aluminum, the identified reserves would have an estimated life of over 350 years. India's reserves are estimated to be 7.5 per cent of the total deposits and installed capacity is about 3 per cent of the world.
In terms of demand and supply, the situation is not only self-sufficient, but it also has export potential on a competitive basis.
About a decade back, the primary Indian aluminium producers were BALCO, NALCO, INDAL, HINDALCO and MALCO. Of the five, two (BALCO and NALCO) were in the public sector while the other three were in the private sector.
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As a result of the process of liberalization of trade in aluminium, India has emerged as a net exporter of aluminium, on competitive terms. Government monopoly, in terms of aluminium production, removal of price and distribution control over aluminium, has been diluted in favour of private sector.
The ownership pattern in private sector has undergone changes. With the takeover of INDAL by the HINDALCO, it has emerged as the major producer of aluminium in the country.
Production capacity was expected to increase with the completion of 35,000 ton per year smelting capacity at Hindalco and 245,000 ton expansion by Balco by the end of 2006. Annual consumption of India is projected to reach 780,000 tons in 2007 compared with 618,000 ton. India also exports around 82,000 ton of Aluminium per year.
LME, NYMEX, TOCOM, SHFE are the leading centres of global aluminium trade.