Ulbrich Economic Update - Number 9 (2020 Overview)

| A Letter from the CEO, Chris Ulbrich


As we begin the New Year, we are pleased to report we are very optimistic about 2021. We are hopeful the end of the pandemic is near – even though the initial rollout of vaccines is somewhat disappointing. That said, we remain confident relief is within sight and a return to normalcy can’t be far behind. We believe a new era of economic prosperity will soon become a reality.

As you may recall, with high hopes, Ulbrich commenced with publishing its very own Economic Update in 2019. The newsletter provides readers with a comprehensive summary of key data and recent economic trends impacting the steel and commodities markets, as well as associated industries across the globe. We are happy and proud to say that Ulbrich’s easy to read monthly newsletter has been very positively received. In fact, since its inception, we have a built a subscription base of over 4,500 contacts. Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented challenges presented by the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus, we were forced to temporarily suspend publishing our informative periodical in April of 2020. That said, we are happy to be restarting publishing the Economic Update and look forward to once again, sharing key metrics and news about worldwide business activity, new business developments and emerging trends. With this in mind, please feel free to forward the Ulbrich Economic Update to anyone you think will benefit. Visit www.ulbrich.com/blog/ and subscribe to our newsletter to be added to our mailings.

In this issue, we present a timely overview of key metrics from 2020 – a year that we will never forget. Beginning in March of 2021, we plan to regularly publish the Economic Update on a monthly basis. Future issues will include interesting articles focusing on economic and innovative initiatives taking place around the world. As we all hope for improved market conditions in the near term, the Economic Update will track how regional, national and worldwide economies perform in 2021. We live in an exciting age with innovation, technological advancements, artificial intelligence and opportunities for growth. The Economic Update will keep you in the know about what’s going on all around us – we hope you enjoy reading it.

Ulbrich wishes you and yours the best of health and healing in the New Year. We all have been through so much and we certainly embrace 2021 and the hopeful horizons that abound. Thank you for your support of Ulbrich as we continue to reach for new and exciting heights. In turn, we wish you all the best for much success with all of your business endeavors!


Chris Ulbrich, Chief Executive Officer/Chairman

Economic Update 2020 Overview

2020 Overview // Executive Summary


U.S. STOCKS HIT RECORD-SETTING YEAR-END LEVELS IN 2020, capping off a banner year in everything from options bets to bitcoin. The jobless rate held steady at 6.7% in December, far below its April peak of 14.8% but still almost twice its prepandemic level. About 16 million people were on unemployment benefits under all programs at the start of the year. The economy has recovered 12.4 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost in March and April. Manufacturing activity rose to its highest level in nearly 2.5 years in December. Services sector activity accelerated in December, but surging COVID-19 infections depressed employment. Sales of previously owned homes rose in 2020 to the highest level in 14 years. December housing starts were the highest since 2006. Consumer confidence sagged and remains far below pre-pandemic levels. The budget deficit from October through December totaled a record $573 billion, a 61% increase from a year earlier. Economists raised their U.S. GDP growth prediction for 2021, as vaccinations and the prospect of additional financial relief from Washington for individuals and small businesses brightened economic prospects.

stock market world map


THE WORLD BANK HAD LOWERED ITS PROJECTIONS FOR GLOBAL GROWTH in the current decade, even before COVID-19. The pandemic raises the prospect of a “lost decade” ahead, the World Bank said, as it also cut its forecasts for this year. Activity in the eurozone manufacturing sector hit its highest level in December since May 2018. The eurozone manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose to 55.2 from 53.8 in November, marking the sixth consecutive reading indicating expansion. China’s GDP grew 2.3% in 2020, the only major economy in the world to avoid a contraction last year as nations struggled to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steel Industry Update

U.S. STAINLESS STEEL PRODUCERS HAD A DIFFICULT YEAR IN 2020. Pandemic shutdowns negatively impacted
some important stainless markets, such as restaurant and food processing equipment. Allegheny Technologies announced it was exiting the standard sheet business in mid-2021, reducing domestic production of common 304 cold-rolled stainless coil. Buyers are already looking to place business with the other three domestic sheet mills, extending lead times to over six months in some cases.

nurse preparing vaccination shot

Medical Update

HEALTH EXPERTS WARNED A NEW STRAIN OF THE CORONAVIRUS may evade current vaccines after enough
mutations, highlighting the importance of a national surveillance program to determine the prevalence of the new COVID-19 variant. This new variant was first detected in the U.K through genome sequencing. To accelerate its efforts for national-level surveillance, the CDC has already contracted LabCorp and is also supporting a collaboration formed by Illumina and Helix to track the new variant.

Metals & Commodities Market Update

IRON ORE PRICES WERE TEETERING NEAR RECORD TERRITORY AT THE END OF 2020 as a landslide at a Brazilian iron ore mine intensified concerns about supply and Chinese demand runs hot. The price of iron ore soared to its highest level since September 2011, almost doubling its value at the start of the year. Nickel prices climbed higher in mid-January on supply worries from top producers. Three-month nickel futures soared from a low of $5/lb in April of 2020 to over $8/lb in January.

Airplane and hydrogen tank

Latest Aerospace Market Developments

are looking again at hydrogen-powered flight. Many planes are driven by propellers which can be turned by electric motors. Using fuel cells, it is possible to generate the electricity needed with hydrogen. A British firm, ZeroAvia, expects to achieve commercialization as early as 2023 with demonstration flights in the 500-mile range in 20-passenger aircraft. An American electric-motor manufacturer magniX announced a partnership with Universal Hydrogen to convert a 40-seat de Havilland to run on fuel cells by 2025.

Automotive Industry Economic Trends

ELECTRIC VEHICLES ARE GAINING A NEW CACHE, but few bear any resemblance to good old Detroit steel until
now. This summer, startup Rivian expects to ship the already-sold-out launch editions of its first-generation R1T pickup and R1S SUV, vehicles with ranges of over 300 miles and price tags around $70,000. GMC’s Hummer EV pickup is due in the fall. Reservations are already full for the $112,595 Edition 1, which is reported to have a range of over 350 miles and can do zero-to-60 in 3 seconds.

large wind turbine in field

Energy Sector Trends

A MONSTER WIND TURBINE IS UPENDING AN INDUSTRY. GE’s giant machine, which can light up a small town, is stoking a renewable-energy arms race. At the mouth of Rotterdam’s harbor is a wind turbine so large it is difficult to photograph. The turning diameter of its rotor is longer than two American football fields end to end. Later models will be taller than any building on the mainland of Western Europe, packed with sensors gathering data on wind speeds, electricity output and stresses. When assembled in arrays, the wind machines have the potential to power cities, supplanting emissions-spewing coal or natural gas-fired plants.


EUROPE’S LARGEST STEELMAKER HAS UNVEILED BREAKTHROUGH TECHNOLOGIES that will take the company to 30% lower CO2 emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. ArcelorMittal Europe is investing in two routes to carbon neutrality, Smart Carbon and an innovative direct reduction-based route, in recognition of the need to act now to reduce CO2 emissions, in line with the EU’s Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. In its first phase, Smart Carbon will primarily use circular carbon.

Read the Economic Update 2020 Overview

Get the Full 2020 Overview:

Download the 18 page Economic Update for the full recap of 2020's events and economic trends that impacted the steel and commodities markets, as well as the associated industries across the globe!

Stay Up to Date:

Stay up to date on the latest state of the markets and ecosystems fueled by stainless steel and other key manufacturing materials by subscribing to get the Ulbrich Economic Update delivered to your inbox monthly. Subscribe to our newsletter

All articles