IREPAS in Barcelona: Challenging times for global longs industry

The 88th meeting of IREPAS (the International Rebar Exporters and Producers Association) was held in Barcelona, on May 7-9, 2023, in conjunction with the SteelOrbis Spring ’23 Conference. There were 157 producer representatives from 58 different companies among the 553 registered delegates from a total of 55 different countries. There were also 81 registrations representing 43 different raw material suppliers.

At the opening of the conference, Murat Cebecioglu, chairman of IREPAS, emphasized that the global long products market has recently been suffering from declining imports and exports and a lack of supply-demand balance.

The IREPAS chairman said the reduced production levels in 2022 have been carried over into 2023 and are able to satisfy actual consumption, which has resulted in an aversion to imported steel due to the lack of certainty, leading to a decline in the scope of international business.

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: Output cuts in EU to bring down scrap prices

Jens Björkman, the chairman of the raw material suppliers committee, summarized the committee meeting findings stating that the past few months have been challenging for the global steel market due to drastic price drops, higher energy prices and weak global demand.

Mr. Björkman pointed out that the energy crisis in the EU has eased, going back to pre-war levels and standing at a 10-year average, though high interest rates still remain a challenge. He said that there is a likelihood of production cuts ahead of the summer, which would bring down scrap prices and orders in the EU.

Regarding the potential consequences of the European Parliament’s recent revision of its Waste Shipment Regulation, Mr. Björkman stated that scrap shipments to non-OECD countries will be a major challenge, fortunately Turkey – which is a major destination for scrap supply – will not be affected. In addition, the committee chairman noted that within a five-year timeframe the EU will consume most of the scrap generated in the region itself since its steel production will shift to electric arc furnaces within the scope of green steel targets.

Aside from multiple challenges, Turkey is facing muted trade activities ahead of the approaching elections amid production cuts and weak demand for finished steel products, the committee chairman stated. He went on to say that once the election period is over Turkey is likely to see some pick-up in domestic business, though the demand in the local market will not be sufficient and so Turkey will have to try to export again. Regarding Turkey’s scrap demand, the committee chairman said that “a slower normal demand” is expected in the coming months.

Traders at IREPAS: Rough times for long steel industry         

Wilhelm Alff, chairman of the traders committee, said that the steel industry, especially the Turkish long steel industry, is going through very rough times amid weak domestic markets, high energy costs, a lot of trade cases, and new competition in the form of new players in the market such as Iran, India, China, the Middle East and Africa. Commenting on the Turkish market situation, the committee chairman said that areas which were previously reachable for Turkish long steel products are now getting less and less so, due to greater competition. He also drew attention to the fact that, as of March 31, Turkey had only used less than five percent of its EU rebar import quota, because of the reduction in EU steel demand and the increasing number of new mills in the region, for instance, the competitive offers from Oman and Egypt. He went on to say that, with the current market prices in the EU, which have been on a drastic downtrend since October last year and are at levels almost equal to import prices, buyers prefer domestic sourcing rather than waiting for late arrivals. The traders committee predicted that the EU quota situation will continue like this for at least another quarter.

Looking at China, Mr. Alff said that China’s tightening of its controls on overcapacity is likely to have a significant effect on market dynamics, resulting in decreased steel output which will support prices in turn. However, he added that this will also depend on how strictly these controls are implemented. The committee chairman stated that the anticipated demand in China failed to materialize after the New Year holidays and so it may be possible to see competitively-priced Chinese steel sold in the export markets. However, the extent to which this will happen depends on the level of demand in China and in the global market. He said that, if Chinese steel demand continues to be weaker than expected, Chinese suppliers may turn to the export markets, while China may face some obstacles due to trade measures.

Regarding the possible outcomes of the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism, Alff said that the approval of this mechanism is a significant move and it could face resistance from exporting countries such as China and India as they may consider these measures as unfair practice. He added that these countries may also respond with tariffs on European goods, which could lead to trade frictions. The committee chairman said that the eventual carbon border tax is likely to increase the cost of imported goods that have a heavy carbon footprint, which will result in difficulties for some countries as regards competing in the EU.

Producers at IREPAS: Falling energy costs and scrap prices may create opportunities   

Murat Cebecioğlu, chairman of IREPAS and also chairman of the producers committee, pointed out that the steel industry has been experiencing challenging times amid inflation and rising interest rates, which pose a big problem for investors in making decisions about their investments. He also said that supply and demand are not balanced and that exports and imports are declining everywhere, while adding that capacity utilization rates are way below usual levels. All these factors put pressure on the market, he noted. However, he also pointed to some positive factors, saying that energy costs and scrap prices are coming down.

Commenting on Turkey, the committee chairman said that the country has lost its major traditional export markets and its leading position, adding that the countries to which Turkey used to export, like Egypt, the GCC and Indonesia, have become exporters themselves. Another obstacle facing Turkish exports are trade cases. It is difficult to sell to the US, Canada and the EU and it is impossible to sell to Singapore and Hong Kong. He stated that, with falling energy costs and scrap prices, Turkey may have the chance to do business again. Regarding the steel demand expected in Turkey’s southern region following the devastating earthquakes in February, Mr. Cebecioğlu said that the unfortunate disaster will create demand, not only for the steel industry, but also for downstream segments as well. However, he pointed out that the demand will be spread over years, adding that it is not going to come all at once like people have been saying.

Turning to China, Cebecioğlu said that the Chinese market has not picked up after the New Year holidays, while he indicated that Chinese traders are very aggressive and very much active in the export markets. The IREPAS chairman underlined that China affects all market players because of its big capacity and that the Chinese are exporting to every corner of the world, so “if they stick to reducing production, this might help”.

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