January 5, 2024

Stainless Steel Market Summary

The Curiosity Of Prices Rising As Nickel Falls

Most market participants in Australia and New Zealand are currently enjoying their Christmas and summertime break, with the result that we turn our attention overseas for pricing and news developments. In Taiwan, the stainless steel wire rod and cable manufacturer, Walsin Lihwa, has just raised its January price for 300 series stainless steel wire rods by USD 65 m/t while the price of its 200 series and 400 series was kept flat. The company said its modest adjustment was to reflect the cost of stainless steel scrap. Yieh Hsing Enterprise, also from Taiwan, raised its 300 series prices by the same $65 amount. Meanwhile, market sources report that Taiwan´s Yieh United Steel Group (Yusco) has raised its domestic prices of 304 products by $32.50 m/t while holding steady the price of its 430 products and the surcharge on its 316L products. That said, Yusco has just announced it will negotiate with customers individually for both domestic and export offers in January 2024. The last time the company didn’t announce


prices was in May last year.

On a macro level, the London Stock Exchange price for the key stainless steel ingredient, nickel, has continued its long downward trend. As our graph shows, the January 2 price was USD 16,574 m/t. In theory, a falling nickel price should put downside pressure on global stainless steel prices. The global nickel market has been in supply-demand surplus for the past 18 months and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, according to the International Nickel Study Group (INSG). The Group’s latest forecast is that supply will exceed demand by 239,000 m/t this year. This cumulative supply excess is huge relative to the size of global consumption which was calculated last year to be 2.95 million m/t. Nickel demand is expected to grow strongly over the coming years thanks to the metal’s use in electric vehicle (EV) batteries. However, this demand increase is likely to be offset by supply growing even faster as Indonesia makes its bid to become a global hub for EV battery materials. Indonesia’s mined nickel production surged by almost 50% in 2022 and again by more than 30% in 2023. The country accounts for just over half of global production.

In other developments, the Spanish stainless steel producer, Acerinox, is considering the sale of its Bahru Stainless plant in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Acerinox cited escalating production in China for its planned exit from Malaysia. It said the rising volumes of material had resulted in falling prices, contributing to the plant’s overall loss of more than 500 million euros since 2018. In that same period, it cut production at the Bahru Stainless plant from 276,000 m/t to 129,000 m/t in 2022. Sources say Acerinox is now focused on the United States market where prices are higher. According to MEPS, the transaction prices in China for grade 304 cold rolled coil fell to USD 1,750 m/t last November, the lowest level since July 2020. In the United States, the same product declined to $3,575 m/t and has not been below $3,500 since July 2021. Elsewhere, after reporting an 83% decline in its core earnings during last year´s third quarter, the Finland-based stainless steel producer, Outokumpu, has revealed plans to transfer its precision strip operations from Dahlerbrück to Dillenburg. Simultaneously, it plans to close its coil service centre in Hockenheim and transfer the volumes to other sites. Outokumpu said that “prompt actions” were required to “secure competitiveness in Europe”. The restructuring measures are expected to deliver annual savings of around 15 million euros.

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.