IREPAS in Monaco: The current crisis is a once-in-a-generation event

The 87th meeting of IREPAS (the International Rebar Exporters and Producers Association) was held in Monaco, on October 9-11, 2022, in conjunction with the SteelOrbis Fall ’22 Conference. There were 108 producer representatives from 40 different companies among the 407 registered delegates from a total of 48 different countries. There were also 69 registrations representing 43 different raw material suppliers.

At the opening of the conference, Murat Cebecioglu, chairman of IREPAS, emphasized that the situation in the global long steel products market is deteriorating as we have entered a rising-cost business cycle, adding that the situation is dramatic and huge uncertainty lies ahead.

The IREPAS chairman said the current crisis is a once-in-a-generation event with mills and consumers facing an unprecedented increase in energy prices, particularly in the EU, but also almost everywhere else. In addition to the energy crisis, there is also a logistics crisis, he said, adding that production cuts are expected soon, which will balance the drop in demand caused by higher interest rates and costs, as well as by shortages of many items.

On the last day of the conference, producers of long steel products, 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 at IREPAS: Lower scrap demand prevails in market, except in South Asia

Jens Björkman, the chairman of the raw material suppliers committee, summarized the committee meeting findings stating that energy prices, especially in the EU, were the main topic of the conference. He added that during summer and autumn all-time record high levels were recorded for natural gas and electricity prices. The committee chairman indicated that interest rates have been hiked to tame inflation, pushing the US dollar to an all-time high against other currencies.

Commenting on scrap demand, Mr. Björkman said that US scrap demand had slowed down and that mills there are running at slightly lower capacities, pressuring scrap and iron ore prices, adding that supply of new production scrap which was previously in good shape has been slower. Also, for China, he noted that, despite a significant stimulus, demand for steel and raw materials has been weakening, with the outlook remaining negative. Scrap demand is significantly lower in some parts of the EU, and this has been offset by Southeast Asian demand where energy problems are not so severe. Also, logistics are another issue for the EU market given the all-time low water levels on the Rhine River, as Europe’s river system is an important part of the EU’s scrap exports.

According to the chairman of the IREPAS raw material suppliers committee, the demand situation in Turkey, which has also been struggling with high energy prices, is under pressure from alternatives to scrap such as semi-finished products, which it has been possible to get at lower price levels. Mr. Björkman explained that Turkey is not only buying Russian billet, but also ex-Asia billet, and that the pressure coming from cheaper billet is affecting Turkish mills’ ability to buy scrap. He added that, thanks to the alternative destinations for scrap such as some Asian countries, the pressure on prices in the market which Turkey was able to exert has been mitigated, though these alternative destinations are not likely to become permanent markets, and so Turkey will maintain its role in setting a benchmark in the international scrap market.

Regarding the possibility of a ban on scrap exports by the EU, Björkman said that it is becoming a likelihood and that any potential ban seemed to be targeting non-OECD countries at first, but now OECD countries seem likely to be included as well. The European Parliament will vote on a ban on November 17 and it could come into force in 2026. He added that the scrap tonnage recycled in the EU is too large; even if a few million tons will likely remain in the EU, the rest will need to find other markets.

Traders at IREPAS: Trade routes are changing due to both war and energy crisis

F. D. Baysal, chairman of the traders committee, commented on the changing trade routes for Russian steel after the start of the war in Ukraine, indicating that Russian steel is mostly going to China, Egypt, Taiwan and Turkey, and “to our surprise 3.5 million mt of Russian slab is still going to the EU, to the mills that are Russian-owned”, he added. He went on to talk about energy prices, another topic of heated discussion throughout the conference, pointing out that the EU is affected the most, but even within the EU not every country is affected to the same extent.

According to Mr. Baysal, in Germany the cost of energy stands at $470/MWh, while it is at $200/MWh in Spain, which is similar to Turkey. Although energy prices have risen worldwide, there are countries with serious advantages like the US, an exporter of gas, GCC countries, and also China, since they are getting Russian gas, as he reminded participants.

The committee chairman said that the traders committee does not expect a lot of changes in the EU policy regarding steel import quotas for Turkey, “I don’t think EU mills will allow that,” he added. Mr. Baysal indicated that some suppliers such as North African countries and the UAE are now exporting to the EU and will eventually gain some market share in the region. He stated that the markets for Turkey are limited, Turkish supplies are mainly taken by countries that are not as much affected by the energy crisis like China or India. Apart from this, access to the US market is limited due to Section 232 and to the EU because of the quota.

Regarding steel imports into the US, Baysal said he does not expect a huge increase in imports, as there is not a strong increase in demand, while he added that there are countries that are exempt from Section 232 like Mexico, Canada and the EU, though  EU has a disadvantage in terms of energy.

Answering a question on semi-finished steel imports from Southeast Asia to Turkey and Europe, the traders committee chairman said that he does not think it is going to be permanent, as, when energy costs go back to normal, the EU will buy from its traditional sources. However, he admitted that North African countries such as Egypt and Algeria or GCC countries such as the UAE will gain some market share in the EU and may be able to hold on to it.

Producers at IREPAS: Energy prices and inflation put pressure on production

Murat Cebecioglu, the chairman of IREPAS and of the IREPAS producers committee, informed the participants about the situation in certain countries, stating that many countries have been negatively affected by inflation rates, energy prices and declining steel production, while the US market remains stable, with its imports going down, an increase expected in its rebar consumption amid new infrastructure projects, and more capacity coming from domestic micro mills. He also noted that, in some other countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, the situation seems a bit better with some infrastructure projects planned.

Commenting on declining steel production, Mr. Cebecioglu said production cuts are already seen which will probably balance the drop in demand, though huge uncertainty remains for the next few quarters, also fueled by some political issues, adding that doing business will be extremely difficult not only in the EU, but elsewhere also.

He went on to say that for Turkey energy costs are the main issue causing a reduction in production and uncertainty is not helping mills to make long-term plans.Regarding Turkey’s sales prospects, “Right after the start of the war, Turkey was able to sell huge quantities to the EU, but now the EU has found other sources that are not included in its quota system,” the committee chairman noted. He underlined that, today, with Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia selling to the EU with CFR prices which are lower than Turkey’s FOB prices, “there is no way Turkey can compete”.

Answering a question regarding the disturbance caused in the markets by Russian supplies, Cebecioglu commented that, from 2024, Russian slab and billet will be banned in the EU and Canada’s announcement that it will sanction any imported steel produced from Russian material causes hesitation to use Russian material. He added that Russian exports are disturbing prices in many markets and producers globally are suffering, with only limited markets remaining for sales opportunities.

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