Short Range Outlook : December 2019

Tight margins and cautious sentiment in global longs market despite output cuts at BFs

There is still no clarity and no sign of economic recovery around the globe. Nevertheless, European and US production cuts at blast furnaces for extended periods have given much needed relief to the rest of the steel industry. The global long steel products market is picking up due to the production cuts, as anticipated. However, there may not be a considerable improvement in terms of the profit margins of steel producers. Current sales prices in Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America still provide inadequate margins for producers. Today, the main problem for steel producers is demand as customers are reluctant to increase their inventories due to lack of confidence in overall sentiment. The current state of the worldwide economy makes clients extremely cautious as regards every procurement or any larger restocking.

Regionalization continues, international playing field gets smaller

On the other hand, the global market is smaller than it used to be because of protectionist measures. As regionalization continues, the playing field is getting smaller for some suppliers who have been hit by high dumping margins. As such, there is no balance between supply and demand and therefore prices in the international markets are still poor.

Unhealthy situation with higher scrap prices not backed by long product demand

The other reason for the recent price increase is the increasing price of scrap, which is not healthy at all if it is not backed up by product demand. Availability in the supply chain has become thinner as manufacturing has strengthened and most regions have been positively surprised over scrap demand. The rebound in November along with production cuts at blast furnaces against the backdrop of the depressed flat steel market has boosted demand at scrap-based electric arc furnaces and thus has also raised demand for ferrous scrap.

Uncertainties may increase  

The elections in the UK in December may bring even more uncertainty depending on the outcome, while a simple tweet can also change things in a heartbeat.

EU producers squeezed by absence of North African outlet, but buffered by lack of imports

Stock levels in the EU are normal to low, and buyers are waiting for some more clarity to order to restock again. The lack of North Africa as a market is putting EU producers under pressure to find places to dispose material. As a result, the EU is becoming very competitive. On the other hand, the lack of imports into the EU market should give EU mills the chance to adjust their prices in line with increased scrap prices. Restocking may start during January and February if the scrap prices keep their vigorous levels.

China remains a force to be reckoned with, especially in Asia

China is now the major world influencer of prices of iron ore, coke, HBI, basic pig iron, slab and billet. China may still not be the major influencer in the markets for hot rolled steel sheets in coils, plates, reinforcing bars and wire rods outside of Asia, but it is certainly dominant in the Asian market. The rest of the world will have to come to terms with that fact in the current market.

China’s domestic focus and semis imports create opportunities

Thanks to good steel consumption in China, Chinese suppliers are not interested in increasing exports. As the prices of Chinese suppliers increase thanks to good demand in their domestic market, other exporters see opportunities to take over. Moreover, Chinese buying of semi-finished steel due to the winter season caps on carbon emissions has been adding steam to regions around China.

Some positive signs  

Destocking and less work in progress inventory in the US are leading to higher transaction prices, despite the political doom and gloom. Warm winter conditions along with low interest rates and liquidity in the global marketplace are among the other positive signs for the market.

Levels of competition still very high

The level of competition in the market is still very high. There is stiff competition for volumes region-wise. Nowadays, there are adequate volumes only in China. Certainly more capacity has to be idled to bring demand and supply into balance and to increase margins in the marketplace.

Scrap inventories depleted in many regions and need replenishing

As for ferrous scrap, the market seems to be playing catch up as inventories in many regions are depleted and need replenishing.

Market outlook to remain relatively stable for first quarter of new year

The market is generally stable in the last quarter of the year and the outlook for the first quarter of the new year is also relatively stable even though conditions are still challenging. As for scrap, the winter market seems to be fairly tight throughout.



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