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Moly is known for its volatile price activity, and has been known to hit incredible highs and extreme lows — sometimes at the drop of a hat. In fact, in the last couple of decades the moly price has ranged from just under $2 per pound to about $40 per pound.
The moly price is currently at the low end of that spectrum following a quiet 2014. Many market watchers, including CPM Group, believe that the metal’s price won’t see much of an uptick until 2016. At that point, factors such as declining by-product moly production and lower Chinese production in general may combine to push the moly price upward. On the demand side, moly consumption by the steel industry could rise on the back of investments in energy infrastructure, growth in the transportation industry and more.
Moly is used by the steel industry because it has good tolerance for high-heat and high-stress situations. Indeed, corrosion-resistant stainless steels contain 6 to 7.3 percent moly. That said, the metal is used in chemical applications as well. For example, oil manufacturers use it as a catalyst to remove sulfur from crude. Oil companies also use higher-grade stainless steels containing 13 to 16 percent moly when they need to drill down very deep. The moly included in such steels makes managing tough underground conditions much easier.
It’s also worth noting that moly-99, one of moly’s 35 known isotopes, has been gaining attention in recent years. Its delicate supply-demand balance has been thrown out of whack, and that’s a problem because its decay product, technetium-99m, is a key component of nuclear medicine. That branch of medicine uses radiation to diagnose illnesses, and a shortage of technetium-99m could thus cause problems for medical facilities, and of course patients. Some firms are working to resolve the issue, and it will be interesting to see their progress moving forward.
In terms of where moly is being produced, the top producer by a long shot is China. In 2014, the Asian nation put out 100,000 tonnes of the metal. Though that’s a drop of 1,000 tonnes from the previous year, it’s miles ahead of the 65,500 tonnes produced by the United States, the world’s second-largest producer of moly. The third-biggest producer of 2014 was Chile, with output of 39,000 tonnes.
It might seem odd that China produces so much more moly than every other country in the world, but it’s important to remember that it has a massive industrial sector and is keen to limit its reliance on western mine output. By producing the moly it needs on its own, China is able to both keep the momentum going in its industrial sector and avoid overpaying other countries for the metal.
China used to have moly export quotas in place, but they were eliminated in 2015 following a World Trade Organization ruling. The full implications of the nation’s more open moly trading policy remain to be seen