Short Range Outlook : June 2021

Boom continues in the global longs market, how long will it last?

There is still a shortage of steel everywhere in the global long steel products market. Demand remains high in the sheltered markets. On the other hand, there is pressure from the Chinese government to reduce steel prices. It is hard to imagine that this will lead to anything but more supply shortages.

If we look back at the previous price booms in the global market, circumstances were different. There were almost no volumes for traders to trade in 1987 as everything had been sold. In 2008, prices hit the highest levels ever, but the correlations between the different products made production-cost sense. The volumes were there and available, while buyers just paid the price. Today, volumes are in short supply and consumers pay the requested prices. While obviously we are in new territory, it may be noted that the 2008 boom ended with strongly falling prices. Last month, steel production was up by 23 percent. This trend will continue and, as a result, there may be some price correction in the last quarter of the current year.

Buyers in EU have their hands tied, have no option but to accept new higher prices

Reinforcing bar prices in the EU market have reached a 13-year high and the demand there is still strong. Prices of deformed bars are not bound to scrap prices anymore. Some mills have long lead times and those who have material in stock are focusing more on prompt deliveries of smaller volumes, which increases the pressure on the buying side. Due to the lack of import options, buyers have no option but to swallow the new prices in order to fulfil their commitments to their customers in the construction industry. The impact of the EU safeguard measures on steel imports can be seen very clearly taking into consideration that 30 percent of the deformed bars consumed in Germany and the Benelux countries had been imported before the safeguard measures were introduced, whereas the share of imported steel is now down to only about five percent.

Strong demand and scarce supply still prevails in US market

Demand in the US is strong in spite of the high prices in the market. At present, the problem is on the supply side. Most mills are sold for one to two months forward and have less availability of any prompt shipments. Naturally, prices are as high as ever and look like continuing in this way throughout the third quarter. Some mills are adding additional capacities and labour shifts, and so the supply side is expected to be in check in the fourth quarter. However, prices may continue at such levels throughout 2021. Imports are difficult as most buyers do not wish to commit at these historically high prices for three to six months forward. Shipping prices are also as high as before, with much more uncertainty regarding arrival or delivery dates. With all this, domestic mills have a considerable advantage over import sales.

China’s almost complete absence from exports is a big plus for the global market

During the last two weeks of May, many thought that China would have lower prices. However, the prices of Chinese steel are going up again along with iron ore prices. After China removed steel export rebates in the last quarter, its’ reduced capacity for export has become a big plus globally. The world market will be in better equilibrium as China is almost completely out of the export market now. In this situation, any downward trend such as expected by some in the fourth quarter will certainly be much softer. The mills that have no alternative to the Chinese market will have to reduce their prices. There have been some cheap sales from Iran and India. The other countries will weather this short storm. Otherwise, there is not much competition in the market but rather more struggling for availability depending on the product.

Scrap demand continues to increase, expected to remain strong

In the meantime, demand for ferrous scrap continues to increase as steel production strengthens. Supply chains remain extremely tight in many geographies as inventories are low and finished product demand remains high. Well-booked steel mills at high prices will also mean strong demand for raw materials through the next quarter. Another major positive for the market is that global raw material prices have seemed to be levelling off at the recent high prices, which brings some stability for future sales. The attempt by China to push raw material prices down has not succeeded.

Freight rates elevated, another increase may be imminent

Freight rates are elevated as a result of the general demand conditions in the global economy. Container ports are becoming more congested and so another increase in freight rates is imminent.

Hopes increase for more normal conditions in post-Covid period

Steel demand in general remains elevated and we are quickly entering a post-Covid period of open societies, travel, and a return to more normal consumption patterns. Limitations on daily life will hopefully be over by the end of the summer, which will be the main factor supporting demand.

Very positive outlook for US and EU amid vaccinations and public spending

Overall demand is strong due to public spending. Vaccinations have been carried out very rapidly before the summer in the US and the EU and so these regions are returning to their pre-Covid days slowly. New infrastructure and construction projects are being approved in Europe and the US. Regional and domestic demand in Europe and the US are stronger than normal. The Russian market also remains very strong.

Market outlook is satisfactory if not outstanding

The current status of the market can be described as generally stable with some short-term fluctuations possible. The outlook is certainly satisfactory if it cannot be described as outstanding. Going forward, competition will probably only be seen in Asia with some see-saw fluctuations, but it seems the overall market will remain “perfect to proceed”.

Cheap money policy and infrastructure spending in US to give market a boost

Although the four percent inflation increase in the US has created some concerns, the current cheap money policy is expected to continue. It does not seem that infrastructure spending will be delayed this time around. Interest costs for the government and private sectors are at a record low and infrastructure spending is more necessary after another 13 years of neglect. This should support construction-related consumption and pricing. With the arrival of extra demand after we return outdoors, the market should still enjoy good business even next year.




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