IREPAS in Rome: Participants agree prices are close to the bottom

The 73rd meeting of IREPAS (International Rebar Exporters and Producers Association) was held in Rome, Italy on October 4-6, 2015. There were 84 producer representatives among the 284 registered delegates from 35 different countries. There were also 30 registrations representing 22 different raw material suppliers.

IREPAS chairman Kim Marti stated during his opening address that the main challenges the long products industry is facing are overcapacity and declining prices.

He said that in the next few months China may see a decline in steel exports because some private sector Chinese mills are experiencing financial problems. Mr. Marti stressed that steel is a cyclical business and that this could mark the turning point of the cycle. Regarding declining prices, he commented, “We are closer to the bottom.”

According to Mr. Marti, current economic conditions create both winners and losers. “On the losers’ side, we see emerging economies such as Russia and Brazil experiencing a slowdown, while developed economies such as the US and the EU are seeing an acceleration of growth,” Mr. Marti said. He went on to say that the EU economic sentiment index rose to 105.6 in September this year, the highest since August 2011, which indicates that the EU is overcoming its financial problems.

The IREPAS chairman also pointed out that Chinese economy is changing from being investment-led to being a robust, consistent economy which is based on domestic consumption, adding that he believes business has a bright future in China.

On the last day of the conference, producers of long steel products and steel billet, as well as traders and raw material suppliers, shared the conclusions reached at their special committee meetings regarding the current situation in the markets with the general participants at the event.

Raw Material Suppliers: Scrap prices have not bottomed out yet

The chairman of the raw material suppliers committee Jens Björkman from Stena Metal, said that the raw material markets were supply-driven, with a negative spiral seen in the scrap markets. He indicated that demand for scrap has followed a negative trend in the past few months, especially in Asia, pushing supply elsewhere and crowding the market.

Mr. Björkman pointed out that capacity utilization of steel mills has declined and this has affected scrap pricing since supplies have fewer destinations. He went on to say that intra-EU scrap demand was fairly steady, though it has slowed down in the past few months. On the other hand, in the EU scrap pricing was quite strong but declined during the summer period.

The raw material suppliers committee chairman said that prices have not bottomed out yet, adding that the decline in scrap prices in the US and EU is a result of lower scrap demand from Turkish mills. Mr. Björkman also said that lower prices will likely cause a reduction in scrap collection in the short term. Meanwhile, scrap supply from the Black Sea region, which is one of the main sources for some steel mills in Turkey, has dried up considerably.

Commenting on scrap usage predictions, Björkman said that scrap demand is expected to be fairly good but may be distributed over larger areas, and may not be concentrated as it was in previous years.

Traders discuss trade barriers and price trends

F.D. Baysal from Seba International, the chairman of the traders committee, said that some traders believe that there exists room for a small further price reduction, while the general consensus is that prices are at the bottom or pretty close to it.

Regarding the current situation in the US, the traders committee chairman stated that the committee members discussed whether mills are ready to produce new grades according to new ASTM standards. Mr. Baysal said that they also talked about the CARES’ (Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steels) suggestion that trading companies should be CARES-approved as well and whether this was another way of imposing a trade barrier. He pointed out that the traders did not subscribe to the suggestion. Commenting on another trade barrier, antidumping cases, Baysal said that not only the cases themselves but also the annual reviews create risks as well.

In answer to a question about whether the major iron ore producers’ increasing supply volumes constitute market vandalism, Mr. Baysal said he did not think it was market vandalism, but rather a strategy. “My belief is that when the smaller guys are out, the major producers can control the prices better. If the market turns against them, it might hurt them but I think it is a smart strategy. Once the smaller ones are out, it will be really hard for them to come back,” he concluded.

Steel producers: Global rebar demand is generally stable

The chairman of the steel producers committee and also the chairman of IREPAS Kim Marti said that there have been two significant changes in the market: Turkey has become a net importer of billets from being a net exporter and billet exports from China have increased significantly. He added that when sanctions are fully lifted Iran will probably enter the billet market, but it is not clear when.

Mr. Marti stated that the producers committee believes that the CIS and China will remain major billet exporters, though their export volumes will not indicate significant changes. Commenting on rebar demand, he said that global demand is generally stable, with markets showing differences depending on the region.

According to the IREPAS producers committee chairman, long products demand in Brazil has been negatively affected by the slowing down of the economy, also effecting the market in South America negatively, while in North America rebar demand stands at reasonable levels. Mr. Marti stated that the EU is still benefiting from lower oil prices, while demand from the construction industry in the region is recovering at the same time. Meanwhile, southern Europe is recovering, but production volumes are still low.

The committee chairman said that Turkey is the world’s second biggest rebar exporter after China, adding, however, that the export markets are shrinking in the Middle East because of political turmoil. On the other hand, the CIS markets are expected to stabilize in 2016 and exports will continue.

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