Gentle Hint Of Optimism Enters The Market
The November rally in international stock markets reflects the growing belief that central banks around the world have finished with rate rises. And some sharp declines in the level of inflation in some developed countries gives further weight to that belief. All of which is welcome news for the global steel industry which has been beset with problems since the pandemic began. However, the most encouraging indications of all are coming from the biggest steelmaker in the world, China. After a year-long period in which its property sector has been in the doldrums – thus reducing domestic steel demand – the Chinese central government announced on October 24 that it would issue Yuan 1 trillion (US $136.7 billion) worth of treasury bonds to support infrastructure investment. The market is expecting a further stimulus for the property sector in 2024. Domestic steel prices in China have been on the rise since the announcement and Platts reports that long and flat steelmakers were heard ramping up production amid
improved profit margins. Whilst a healthy steel market is always better than an ailing one, the weakness in China´s property sector has been to the advantage of global steel consumers, with China increasing its steel exports at competitive prices. China’s net exports of total steel over January-October jumped 67%, or 27.42 million metric tonnes (Mm/t) year on year to 68.604 Mm/t, according to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics. The steel exports are expected to remain generally strong in the coming months, however, relatively high steel production and still sluggish domestic demand could limit the upside of any steel price rally.
In Japan, the world´s fourth largest steelmaker, Nippon Steel, has increased its role in a growing trend where steelmakers seek greater control over the cost of the raw materials they need to produce steel. In late November, Reuters reported that Nippon Steel was part of a Glencore-led consortium which sealed one of the mining sector’s biggest deals in years, agreeing to buy Canadian miner Teck Resources’ steelmaking coal unit for $9 billion. The Japanese company will pay around $1.34 billion for its 20% stake. “Coking coal prices are expected to rise as supply will get tighter in the medium term as there has been little investment in mines due to carbon-neutral push,” Nippon Steel´s executive vice president, Takahiro Mori, told Reuters. “So, it’s extremely important to secure our own interests,” he added. Nippon Steel already owns stakes in several coking coal mines which account for about 20% of its annual coal imports. This latest deal will boost that share to around 30%. It now procures 20% of its 50 million tonnes of iron ore imports from its equity holdings. In China in 2022, the state-owned agency, China Mineral Resources Group, was set up to act as a centralised buyer of iron ore for 20 of the country´s largest steelmakers.
India is already the world´s second largest steelmaking country; and its ascent continues – also as an importer and exporter. For the April – October period of this year, India’s crude steel output stood at 82.2 million metric tonnes (Mm/t), up 15% on last year. Of that amount, 3.5 Mm/t was sold to buyers in Italy, Spain, Belgium, Nepal and the UAE, according to government data. Meanwhile, during the same April – October period, India imported 3.5 Mm/t of finished steel, up 10.1% on a year earlier. China was the top provider with 1.1 Mm/t being a four-year high. South Korea was the second-biggest exporter of finished steel to India.