Short Range Outlook : February 2023

Unpredictability persists in global longs market, recession fears may have been exaggerated

The global long steel products market is still characterized by unpredictability. China’s impact on the global markets is still an open question and this contributes to the unpredictability for the second quarter. It seems that customers heard too much talk of recession last year and were convinced that all construction would stop in 2023. Actually, it looks like Europe managed to avoid recession in 2022 and even in January Germany showed economic growth. Core inflation is going down and the situation looks much better than expected in Europe and the US.

European market still extremely quiet after the holiday period

The European market is extremely quiet since all clients have just come back from the holidays. Mills are not able find customers as they had all bought their requirements by the end of November in order not to be taken by surprise in the new year. New private housing projects in Germany have almost fallen to zero. The high costs of products combined with 8-10 percent inflation and consequent higher mortgage rates in addition to the lack of workers have made calculations unpredictable for investors. Moreover, the government has reduced funding for social housing despite its declared goal of building 400,000 apartments every year. Last year, they reached approximately 50 percent of that goal and for this year the expectation is even significantly less. On the other hand, public and industrial projects are still fine, but increasing costs, bureaucracy and appeals against every new big project of whatever nature as well as the lack of labour force delays for almost every one of them.

Overcapacity in EU cut and bend sector, price rises difficult, imports coming from N. Africa

Overcapacity prevails in the cut and bend industry in the EU. But instead of slimming down, market players bid for every deal even if they speculate on a price drop of €100/mt. The behaviour of a few players is pulling the whole market down and still leaves no room for producers to increase prices. There are imports of wire rods coming to Europe, but instead of Asia they are now arriving from North African countries like Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia. The volumes are enough to keep the market prices suppressed. At the same time, however, the EU import quotas are in general not approaching anything like maximum utilization.

Situation in North America quickly becomes positive

The situation in North America has become positive very quickly and business in the US market is stable. Most of the sales are closed by domestic mills, due to the very competitive prices offered, and also as almost all new infrastructure projects have a “Buy America” clause. Steel mills have had an uptick in orders at somewhat higher prices, which have mostly been driven by scrap price increases. Turkish buying ahead of the January buy-week helped drive up scrap prices in the US. US ports are still congested, making imports even more cumbersome. Whether real hard consumption will also provide support is an open question. The mills in the US are saying that infrastructure consumption increases are yet to come, starting in the second half of the year.  Imports are priced at levels which do not support a switch from domestic products to imports, while lead times are also “normal” for domestic materials.

Question mark remains over demand in Latin America amid political instability

Elsewhere in the Americas, in general the good news is fewer aggressive offers from Southeast Asia for all products. Meanwhile, there is still a big question mark over demand in Latin America due to the political instability in several countries in the region. Some traditionally non-exporting countries in Latin America have started to look to the international market in the past few months.

All Turkish mills are struggling to export

Currently, all mills in Turkey are struggling to export. Strong competition from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia and Indonesia and offers heard from GCC countries are making it very difficult for Turkish mills to export. Of course, on top of all that, protectionist measures such as quotas, Section 232, normal values and AD/CVD rates make exports almost impossible. Increased energy costs and higher scrap prices are also putting pressure on prices and make it difficult for Turkey to compete.

Devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria also hit steel sector in Iskenderun

Devastating earthquakes hit southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6. The fire which damaged Iskenderun port will hamper trade from the region. Following the natural disaster, market players will have to wait and see, but in the very short term mills in the Iskenderun area are not receiving energy for their production activities.

Raw material and scrap prices rise after New Year holiday, demand rebounds strongly

Raw material costs are very high and scrap prices rose unexpectedly after the New Year holiday. Another important factor is that scrap prices in Russia went up and for the first time in a long while Russian mills are not aggressive in exports. January indeed saw a strong demand rebound for raw materials. This was led primarily by China, which dramatically removed its remaining Covid restrictions and also stimulated its economy.

Stronger production rates in January as recession seems to have been avoided

While the markets had been optimizing for recession with low inventories and lower production rates towards the end of last year, January saw stronger production rates as an energy-induced recession seemed to have been avoided. Energy prices fell as well as logistics costs. Buying activity was much stronger as inventories were depleted and had to be reprogrammed for stronger production rates. Both of these factors on top of decent demand levels contributed to rebounding raw material prices. Europe looks much better than previously expected. Also, energy in storage is at high levels, while the weather has been fairly mild.

Temporary absence of Chinese export offers amid local market improvement

China is back from its New Year holidays, and so there is some activity. The small signs of an improvement in the Chinese market have led to a temporary absence of its offers from the international market. Furthermore, energy and logistics costs have declined a little, providing some relief to many players in the market.

German and European domestic prices equal to or lower than import prices

In Europe, German domestic and other European prices are lower or equal to import prices. Imports are almost at a standstill as can be seen from the utilization of quotas. As there are almost no imports, this leaves room for domestic mills to raise their prices as soon as seasonal demand picks up.

Competition again becomes more regional

Following the aggressive presence of Asian countries in export markets at the end of 2022, it is reasonable to say that competition has once again become more regional. However, there is still strong competition for Turkish producers as there are not many places where they can sell their products.

Current status of market still unstable and fluctuating

The current status of the market is still unstable and fluctuating. No one can predict the level of raw material and energy costs going forward this year. Plans may change instantly.

EU’s CBAM to start to have an impact later this year

Another aspect which importers in to the EU market must face shortly is the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). Although there is still some time before it will be a real cost factor, the bureaucratic hurdles will start in October this year.

Market outlook remains unpredictable and challenging

Under the above circumstances, the outlook for the global steel long products market is unpredictable and challenging, though everything points out to a market turn any time soon, at least in the EU.




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