September 6, 2023

Stainless Steel Market Summary

Demand Weakness Leads To Price Direction Uncertainty

The Australian and New Zealand markets during August showed some signs of destocking with most distributors running down their stock to more manageable levels. Nevertheless, levels are still higher than the long-term averages. Although the market is well off its peak from late 2022, it is still active with several projects in the pipeline and quoting going on: mainly for larger infrastructure projects. That said, the general enquiry flow for both austenitic and ferritic stainless steel slowed over the previous quarter in both Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, it has been reported that real demand is still not that strong and any significant price increases may not hold due to increased production and no significant activity in the remaining months of 2023.

On the international front, weak local demand in China continues to limit purchasing activity in Asia and may limit price increases being achieved as the Chinese


have tonnages to export to Australasia and Europe. Several Taiwanese stainless-steel producers increased prices for 300 series grades (304 and 316) for August 2023, blaming increased costs (mainly raw materials for stainless steel) and a significant increase in demand from abroad for the second half of 2023. These pricing increases are being led by a selected few of the larger Chinese stainless-steel mills and service centres. Base grade 304 has increased around USD 80 m/t and moly (316L Grade) by a similar amount. Buyers report that Chinese prices have risen particularly for hot rolled material. Prices in other Asian countries would likely follow that upward trend. Some analysts believe that more increases may flow through for Moly with FeMo now trading at around USD 59.50 per/kg. This is up from USD 50.0 per/kg over the previous month: thus 20%. Nickel is trading at around USD 21,000 m/t on the LME and is basically stable at this level.

Given the dumping duties still in place by the USA on Chinese stainless steel, SSB has recently reported that this limits the amount of material which can be exported from China to North America. Meanwhile, in Europe mills have become increasingly competitive as demand has been slower to accelerate than previously thought. Buyers are also placing smaller but more frequent orders with the European mills while attempting to rebalance their stocks. Inventories in the region are decreasing but at a much slower rate than anticipated. It has been reported that several stainless mills have altered their production schedules to cut output due to the lack of orders. However, delivery lead times for commodity grades in standard sizes are short in all regions. They have extended into September in Europe, mainly because of the european holiday season. Finally, some buyers have said that European prices are trading around USD 2800 m/t for 304 grades but as normal the molybdenum extra from Europe is lower than from Asia. There is a significant gap now for base grade 304 being offered into Australia from Europe when compared to Asia with the European offerings being around USD 300 m/t higher. 

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.