December 6, 2023

Stainless Steel Market Summary

Market Wary Amid Global Cross Currents

The stainless steel market during November traded sideways, with a slight downside momentum. The 304 grade export prices from Taiwan and China fell by around US $50 per metric tonne (m/t) whilst 316L prices went down by a larger amount equating to about 8%. Meanwhile, the nickel cash price on the London Metal Exchange dropped to as low as $15,865 m/t in late November before recovering to $16,650 by December 1. But this is still well short of the $17,750 m/t of November 1. The nickel market has been overwhelmed with supply from Indonesia. However, according to Macquarie, a fall in prices below $15,000 m/t on the LME would push a further 35-40% of the industry into loss making territory. This suggests there will be considerable support for prices well above $15,000 m/t and probably in the $17-18,000 range. The overall stainless steel market is still somewhat bearish with sufficient stock levels being held by most distributors. Indeed, with December and January being holiday months, many buyers in


Australia and even more so in New Zealand are holding off buying large quantities until a clearer picture emerges on the supply side in the first quarter of 2024. Most distributors are still buying their normal monthly stock requirements, but the indent business has slowed due to the recent interest rate increases by the Reserve Bank of Australia and its New Zealand equivalent. This is especially so given that talk of further rate rises still persists. Two additional supply-side complicating factors have been the recent delays following the cyber-attack on DP World and the ongoing industrial action planned at all four of DP World´s Australian ports until at least December 11. This may result in an influx of material all at once when it is eventually offloaded.

The local markets in Taiwan and China are showing signs of strength and many of the local re-rollers and service centres have tried to increase their local sales to offset sluggish demand from their traditional export markets. It´s also worth mentioning the EU has undertaken a dumping investigation for cold rolled stainless steel products being exported from Taiwan to the EU for the period August 23, 2023 until May 23, 2024. Not surprisingly, Taiwanese mills are reluctant to export to Europe because, when the result of the investigation by the EU is announced in May next year, it will be retroactive from August 23 of this year. To offset this reduction in exports to Europe, the Taiwanese have looked to other markets such as South America and the Middle East. But this has proved difficult, considering the weak demand in those markets as well.

Stainless Steel Feedstock Index

Stainless Steel Feedstock Index – EAF (AUD)
Stainless Steel Feedstock Index – EAF (USD)

The Stainless Steel Feedstock Index (SSFI) is a creation of the newsletter Australian Steel News (ASN). Whilst it doesn´t show the actual cost of buying stainless steel in the Australian marketplace, it does show the month-to-month change in the combined price of the ingredients typically used in the making of one tonne of 304 grade stainless steel via the electric arc furnace (EAF) method. First, the following pricing information is obtained:

Iron ore  –  62% Fe fines iron ore CFR China via SGX. Group.

Ferro Chromium  –  Latest price range average from Argus Media.

Nickel  –  London Metal Exchange 3-month futures closing price.

We assume the composition to be iron ore 70%, ferro chromium 18% and nickel 8%. (The cost of the remaining 4% of ingredients is minimal). The prices for the main three ingredients are combined to give the SSFI which is expressed in USD and AUD terms per metric tonne.