The EU crisis and global recessionary trends have dampened steel production. With lowered prices and falling demand, steel producers are looking to cut costs by shutting down unprofitable plants. According to researcher World Steel Dynamics, prices for hot rolled steel have fallen by 12% since February 2012 and a further drop in price is expected. Capacity utilization is also down to 76% from 80%. To keep prices stable in the current global environment, steel production needs to slow down. Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG is trying to sell its loss-making sheet-metal plant in Alabama, while Arcelor-Mittal has closed a Belgian plant and is idling some of its other plants.
Steel production had grown to a record1.5 billion metric tons last year on the back of projections of a strong demand for steel. Since then the EU crisis has killed Europe’s public infrastructure and construction projects and even China’s growth story has slowed down. However, steel imports into the U.S rose by 18.8% during the first quarter of 2012 due to demand from its recovering automobile and manufacturing industries.
The Chinese steel industry has been hit by overproduction, impacting margins due to a huge surplus. Falling demand is also seeing iron ore piling up in China’s ports, and fresh imports are being rejected due to lack of storage space. It has been reported that 41.2% of Chinese firms reported losses during Q1 of 2012 representing a 23-fold decline from last year . According to China Iron and Steel Association the growth in demand for steel fell to 8% in 2011 and is expected to fall by another 4% this year. Chinese steel companies’ woes were further compounded by China’s policy measures to rein in its domestic property market, which is a major steel consumer.
Declining Chinese demand for iron ore and falling prices could not have come at a better time for Indian steel producers who are facing a huge shortage of iron ore due to a ban on illegal mining in key iron ore mining regions in India. With the current gap between domestic and international iron ore prices, Indian companies are capitalizing on the advantage with iron ore imports.
Worldsteel indicated that India’s demand for steel is set to grow by 6.9% in 2012 and reach levels of 9.4% in 2013 owing to rapid urbanization and growing infrastructure investment. In fact at 6.9%, India’s demand for steel is twice the global growth. The Rio Tinto group is advancing its study of an Indian iron ore mine to take advantage of India’s growing demand for steel.
With a downturn in Europe and China, Russian steel major Evraz, is eyeing opportunities in North America. The company plans to invest around 6 billion dollars over the next four years to gear up to meet the growing demand for pipelines and railway lines in North America. Evraz has projected a growth of 4% per year through 2016 in the North American steel market.
In a protectionist measure the U.S. International Trade Commission voted to continue imposing anti-dumping duties on steel pipe and tube imports from Brazil, India, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey. Meanwhile China has decided to stop investigating an anti-dumping probe against Russian steel.
China has been very selective in allowing foreign direct investment in its domestic steel companies. Most recently, Arcelor-Mittal was prevented from becoming a majority stakeholder in China’s Hunan Valin Steel. South Korean Posco and Nippon Steel of Japan made better progress in acquiring stakes in Chinese companies as they focused on major value added steel areas. This is in line with Chinese policy to encourage joint ventures in areas where China can gain access to cutting edge and high-end technologies.
Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organization this year is being viewed with a mixture of wariness and anticipation. While some countries are jostling to get ahead in exporting goods and services into Russia, others are wary of Russian steel exports playing havoc with international pricing and negatively impacting European steel producers.