US Consumption Of Lead By Product

With the numerous stories including mine regarding the closure of the Heculaneum, MO primary lead smelting facility, I thought this chart would be helpful to put the consumption of lead for ammo into perspective. The chart is from IndexMundi which got it from the US Geological Survey Mineral Resources Program.

For 2010, lead used in shot and bullets comprised 4.6% of the total lead used in the United States. This was down from 5.26% in 2009.

TABLE 5———–
(Metric tons,
lead content)———–
SIC2 code Product 2009 2010
Metal products:
3482 Ammunition, shot and bullets
67,900 65,700
Bearing metals:
35 Machinery except electrical W W
371 Motor vehicles and equipment W W
37 Other transportation equipment W W
Total 1,100 1,230
3351 Brass and bronze, billets and
1,370 1,410
36 Cable covering, power and
(3) (3)
15 Calking lead, building
(3) (3)
Casting metals:
36 Electrical machinery and
371 Motor vehicles and equipment W W
37 Other transportation equipment W W
3443 Nuclear radiation shielding W W
Total 15,900 16,400
Pipes, traps, other extruded
15 Building construction 1,130 990
3443 Storage tanks, process vessels,
(4) (4)
Total 1,130 990
Sheet lead:
15 Building construction 16,300 16,000
3443 Storage tanks, process vessels,
3693 Medical radiation shielding W W
Total 25,400 23,400
15 Building construction W W
Metal cans and shipping
367 Electronic components,
accessories, and other electrical equipment
6,160 6,130
371 Motor vehicles and equipment W W
Total 6,450 6,420
Storage batteries:
3691 Storage battery grids, post, etc. 389,000 478,000
3691 Storage battery oxides 750,000 806,000
Total storage batteries 1,140,000 1,280,000
27 Type metal, printing and allied
(3) (3)
34 Other metal products5 5,790 8,800
Grand total 1,260,000 1,410,000
Other oxides:
285 Paint W W
32 Glass and ceramics products W W
28 Other pigments and chemicals W W
Total 10,100 9,760
Miscellaneous uses 12,200 13,700
Grand total 1,290,000 1,430,000
W Withheld to
avoid disclosing company proprietary data; included in appropriate totals.
1Data are rounded to no more than three significant digits;
may not add to totals shown.
2SIC Standard Industrial Classification.
3Included with -Metal products: Other Metal products.-
4Included with -Metal products: Sheet lead: Building
construction- to avoid disclosing company proprietary data.
5Includes lead consumed in foil, collapsible tubes,
annealing, galvanizing, plating, electrowinning, and fishing

Looking at where raw lead is found, data from the US Geological Survey shows that Australia has the greatest proven reserves of lead. China which has the second largest amount of reserves of lead is actually the largest miner of lead accounting for about half of the world’s yearly production in 2012. The United States has only the 6th largest reserves in the world.

Kurt Hofmann makes an excellent point in his post about the Herculaneum smelter closure. He notes that the possible squeeze in lead for bullets might be felt even more keenly due to the Federal ban on many other materials for use in handgun ammo.

Perhaps, perhaps not, but regardless, the squeeze is likely to be felt quite keenly by gun owners. All the more keenly because of longstanding federal law banning the use of many other materials in the construction of bullets used in “handgun ammunition.” If lead is unavailable/unaffordable (and now verboten, to California hunters), and if a great many other possible bullet materials are illegal, the remaining options are both few and of limited utility.

And what, anyway, is “handgun ammunition,” you ask? Excellent question. Handguns have been built in nearly every caliber that rifles have, including the .50 BMG and the .600 Nitro Express. It seems apparent that any caliber that can be fired from a rifle can also be fired from a handgun, given a shooter with sufficient tolerance for recoil (and, in many cases, for impracticality).

And that means that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can, if it chooses, ban bullets made with tungsten alloys, steel, brass, etc., in virtually every caliber. It is hardly difficult to imagine the BATFE, especially under an administration like this one, choosing to do precisely that.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to reduced US production of primary lead.

Wall Street Journal – Lead Prices Expected To Rise

As a follow-up to my post on the closing of the Herculaneum, MO primary lead smelter is this article from Friday’s Wall Street Journal regarding an anticipated rise in the price of lead.

Bullish investors are hoping for a repeat of last year’s rally, when lead prices soared by 17% between late October and early February.

Some money managers say gains could be even bigger this time amid tighter supplies compared with a year ago. Lead production has been under pressure as more smelters around the world are shut down due to environmental concerns. The International Lead and Zinc Study Group estimates global lead supply will total 11.02 million metric tons in 2013, while demand is pegged at 11 million metric tons. The group predicts supply will fall short of demand in 2014 for the first time since 2009.

“The market looks a lot tighter in terms of balance this year and next year,” said Joseph Murphy, a senior analyst who helps manage about $2 billion at Hermes Commodities, a unit of Hermes Fund Managers Ltd. in London. Mr. Murphy’s fund had recently added bullish wagers on lead futures.

Lead used in batteries for automobiles and trucks account for 80% of the demand. The estimate that I’ve seen for ammo is about 3% of the total usage. According to the International Lead Association, 98% of lead used in car batteries in the US will be recycled.

While demand for lead has been increasing, the amount of lead obtained from primary metal production has been level or slightly decreasing since 1970 according to this chart from the International Lead Association.

The bottom line is that, with increased demand for lead, ammunition makers will have to pay more for their components to make bullets. One cannot expect the ammo makers to just swallow this cost so we should expect the price of both finished ammo and components to increase.