Imports

According to a report, crude-steel output in China dropped 1.3% to 270.07 million metric tons in the first four months of 2015 as compared to the same period in 2014. The World Steel Association has forecast that China will end up using far less steel this year and maybe even the next. Which again means more supply and far less demand.

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The report quoted Alan Chirgwin, BHP Billiton iron ore marketing vice president, as saying steel supply was expected to rise by about 110 million metric tons this year, exceeding demand growth by around 40 mmt.

Yet this has not fazed Rio Tinto Group, for example, which recently announced it would continue with its plan to produce iron ore at full capacity despite the fall in prices. While BHP and Brazil’s Vale SA have, for now, stepped on the brakes vis-à-vis their medium-term plans, team Rio, on the other hand, thinks reducing production costs will help it hang on to its lead…and profits.

Betting on a Comeback

Rio Tinto sees China coming back with renewed vigor and driving global iron ore demand through 2030.

Where does that leave India? So far as iron ore or even steel consumption is concerned, China is miles ahead of India, even in the fatigued condition it finds itself today. India, as reported by MetalMiner, drew a blank for about two years due to a court-imposed ban on ore mining, which left its steel companies at the mercy of imports, something that they continue to rely on even today.

That had also affected its iron ore exports, especially from the ore-rich provinces of Goa and Odisha. India’s iron ore imports went up dramatically to a record 6.76 million tons in the first 7 months of the 2014-15 fiscal year. Once, the country was the third-largest supplier of iron ore to the world, but, because of the export duty and a national mining ban, it had turned into an importer.

Analysts predict India was likely to remain a net importer of iron ore in 2015-16 as well, no thanks to the continued drop in falling international rates. The only silver lining, claimed analysts, could be that due to the resumption in the domestic production of iron ore, the quantity of imports may not be as high as the last fiscal year.

Captive Market

India’s steel companies do not have captive mines, so they have to get their average 95 mmt a year of iron ore from elsewhere. With international price of ore hovering today at about $50 per mt for high-grade ore, it is too attractive a deal for Indian steel mills to be passed on. As reference points, last year, iron ore imports happened when rates had touched $90 per mt.

In all this, Australia, a country that sells about 80% of its ore to China, sits in a happy position. While it hopes that the recent cuts in interest rates will revive the Chinese economy, and thus its demand for iron ore and coking coke, it is also looking increasingly to India to pick up its stock. Last year, for example, as reported by MetalMiner Australia had approved Adani Group’s approximate $15.5-billion (AUS $16.5 billion) Carmichael coal project in Queensland that could yield up to 60 million mt of coal per year. That was just the beginning. For the Aussies, if the dragon’s appetite for iron ore and coking coal is satiated, the hungry tiger is always lurking in the background.

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When the Tiger and the Dragon dine together the world sits up and takes note.

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Signing business agreements worth $22 billion is a big deal so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China made big, bold headlines here. Some of India’s old, and some not so old (Adani, Bhusan Power and Steel), players in the steel and power sectors, were signatories to the 26 deals.

Steel and Energy Deals

The notable contracts included the one between India’s IL&FS Energy Development Co. and China Huaneng Group for a 4,000-megawatt thermal power project, and India’s Bhushan Power and Steel sealing a pact with China National Technical Import and Export Corporation for an integrated steel project in Indian province of Gujarat.

So here were two Asian, nee global, giants, breaking bread and talking business at the same table, sending analysts scurrying to their laptops to chalk out spreadsheets and draw pie charts in an effort to understand the impact of all this in the long term.

While business leaders of both nations, including Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma, spoke of long-term interests, such talk brought the arclight swinging back to the present and short-term situation currently prevailing in the Asian region, especially in iron ore and coking coke, two crucial ingredients in making steel.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that steel is the mainstay of Asia’s infrastructure, a fact that has had iron ore and coal miners — and even steel majors in China, India and as so far as Australia — jockeying for a major piece of new market share. With demand from Europe and the US lacking, suppliers in all three countries are walking a thinly veiled tight rope to ensure their survival.

Wither Demand

Once a destination of hope, the Chinese dragon, for now, has lost some of its hunger. Some say next-door neighbor India is where one can find fresh action. The jury’s honestly still out on that one, though. But the slowdown in China’s economy means less need for steel, in turn, lowering the demand for ore and coking coal. Leaving miners re-tweaking their business plans.

Last year, for example, the Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton Ltd. in Australia, and Vale SA of Brazil, to stem the tide, had stepped up low-cost output to pump up volumes, leading to a glut. Now, everybody’s mantra seems to be – cut production costs faster than the falling prices.

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ast week UGI Energy Services announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas production facility in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The facility will draw Marcellus Shale gas from UGI’s Auburn gathering system, then chill it to produce up to 120,000 gallons per day in liquid form. While we have regularly reported the slowdown in both new shale oil and LNG projects in the US this year — and the subsequent cutbacks in oil country tubular goods production — investments are still being made, in the US and overseas, in drilling.

Plants, Projects Planned

Bloomberg Business reported this week that Anadarko Petroleum Corp. selected a group of developers including Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. for a potential $15 billion LNG project in Mozambique.

CBI’s joint venture with Japan-based Chiyoda Corp. and Saipem SpA, based in Italy, will work on the onshore project that includes two LNG units with 6 million metric tons of capacity each, Anadarko said Monday. Construction plans also include two LNG storage tanks, each with a capacity of 180,000 cubic meters, condensate storage, a multi-berth marine jetty and associated utilities and infrastructure, according to Texas-based Anadarko, which says it will make a final investment decision by the end of the year.

Last week, the Department of Energy gave Cheniere Energy Inc. final approval for the nation’s fifth major export terminal at Corpus Christi in Texas, which will ship the fuel from 2018.

What’s Driving Infrastructure Investment?

While oil prices have bounced back from lows seen earlier this year, it’s certainly not the market that’s driving these investments. While high-cost projects, such as those in Canada’s oil sands, have been canceled by oil exploration companies, relatively inexpensive projects with a quicker path to payback, such as these LNG projects, are still being funded.

The payback is diverse and not confined to domestic home heating. LNG has been priced at a fraction of diesel prices for the last four years. Domestic trucking (18-wheelers and other heavy consumers of diesel) have yet to make a large-scale commitment to LNG, and most places where fuel is dispensed have yet to put in expensive infrastructure to handle the product, but there has been enough success for UGI to justify committing resources to its adoption.

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The Commerce Department determined that imports of steel nails from South Korea, Malaysia, Oman, Taiwan, and Vietnam have been sold in the US at dumping margins ranging from up to 11.80% for South Korea, 2.61% to 39.35% for Malaysia 9.10% for Oman, up to 2.24% for Taiwan, and a whopping 323.99% in Vietnam.

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The imports of steel nails from Korea, Malaysia, Oman, and Taiwan received “de minimis” countervailable subsidies resulting in final negative determinations that apply to those countries, respectively. Commerce determined that imports of steel nails from Vietnam received countervailable subsidies ranging from 288.56% to 313.97%.

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It may be the world’s largest steel producer, but Lakshmi Mittal-led ArcelorMittal saw a decline in its businesses in India in 2014 for two main reasons: weak demand and cheap imports.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The firm’s recently released annual report said ArcelorMittal and its subsidiaries rang in sales of $225 million from India. Once upon a time, in fact in 2010, ArcelorMittal’s Indian operations had netted $873 million, so that will give readers some perspective of the depth to which sales have plummeted.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that almost all of India’s major steel companies have stories similar to that of ArcelorMittal. Even the government-owned Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL), which had posted a net profit for the October-December quarter 8.6% higher than the same period last year, had a similar lament.

In its Q2 results statement, the company said the turnover was impacted due to “challenging market conditions” and high imports, among other reasons.

Rough SAILing

SAIL chairman C.S. Verma told the media here that the only way his company had circumvented these challenges was by bringing in initiatives to reduce energy consumption and optimize raw material utilization, as well as adopt state-of-the-art technologies.

It looks like these measures were not enough to save SAIL from Fitch Ratings. Fitch recently lowered the outlook for SAIL’s long-term foreign currency issuer default rating to negative. The crux of the matter lay in its commentary, where Fitch said continued weak steel demand growth in India, high steel imports or a further softening in global steel prices could derail SAIL’s efforts to modernize.

Same Story at Tata Steel

Another Indian steel behemoth, Tata Steel Ltd.’s Indian steel operations had a rough quarter again for almost the same reasons — sluggish demand, cheaper imports and higher raw material costs on account of mining stoppages. In the December quarter, Tata Steel’s consolidated sales declined over the preceding quarter by 6.1% on the back of a 3.1% decline in steel volume and weak steel price realizations. The only redeeming factor here was Tata’s European operations which turned in a substantial jump in profitability.

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ArcelorMittal, Inc., as reported by The Economic Times, suffered weak Indian domestic demand for steel as the rupee depreciated by more than 30% since 2010, which also made imports difficult. ArcelorMittal had to pay more import duties to get ore into its CEO’s native country (7.5%) as opposed to imports from Free Trade Agreement (FTA) countries, who paid just 0.8%, adding to the company’s financial burden.

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In February this year, Standard & Poors downgraded the company’s credit rating on lower than-expected profit though it maintained a stable outlook, saying ArcelorMittal would generate at least neutral cash flow and avoid meaningful debt increases over the next two years.

Weak Demand, Rising Imports

Most of India’s steel majors, such as ArcelorMittal, have, in recent times, been left trying to cope with weak demand and rising imports from China, Japan and South Korea.

Steel Authority of India Ltd.’s C.S. Verma, for example, has gone on record saying he is optimistic about a recovery in domestic demand in India, though that, to some extent, could be offset by a continued slump in export markets. Along with a few others, he feels steel prices, having plunged to a historic low, will only recover going forward.

A report released by Dun & Bradstreet earlier this week, reported sentiments generally in tune with the sentiments of executives such as Verma. While the outlook for mining and metals industry remained volatile globally, in India, though, the formation of a stable government had “reaffirmed corporate and consumer sentiment significantly,” the report said.

The latest Sector Outlook for Metals in India 2015 report by the agency said demand was likely to improve as fiscal policy was better geared toward an investment-led growth strategy. The government policy shift could provide an overall metal sector could benefit.

Government Help

India’s Modi government and the local governments are trying their best to improve the local situation. Indian Steel and Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced that the government had planned to set up four steel plants in the provinces of Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

Of the four, the one in Chhattisgarh is touted as the most important. SAIL and the National Mineral Development Corporation plan to create an ultra-mega steel plant there. It’s a multibillion-dollar greenfield project that, when complete, will have a 3 million metric-ton-per-year capacity. It is planned that both the company and the Chhattisgarh government will sign agreements for the project when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Chhattisgarh on May 9.

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The US steel industry is suffering because a barrage of imports has reached a record 34% of market share, steel executives said today at the American Iron and Steel Institute‘s press briefing in Chicago.

Nucor Corp. CEO John Ferriola said 4 million people whose livelihoods depend on the steel industry are at risk, but also that enforcing existing trade and anti-dumping laws consistently would make a wealth of difference for today’s producers.

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“The first step is enforcing existing law as written,” he said. “Legally and consistently enforcing the laws on the books would help immensely… The American worker is still the most efficient worker in the world. We have relatively inexpensive energy, we have the raw material available, we have the best market in the world. When you look at those natural advantages, it makes no sense we should be operating at 60-70% capacity while the rest of the world is overproducing.”

Chinese Dumping

“While many nations continue to engage in unfair trade practices, China is of particular concern,” Baske said. “Last year, China exported 101 million metric tons. A surge of 60% over the previous year and that increase continued at record levels in the first quarter of this year. Some estimates are as high as 468 million mt. Steel demand in China declined last year and is expected to decline this year, too, according to the World Steel Association. China also manipulates its currency to give its products an unfair advantage.”

Baske also noted the business decisions US steelmakers have had to make due to declining prices due to the import surge and they are still in a difficult position due to what the glut has done to prices on the London Metal Exchange.

“On Sept. 3, almost eight months ago, hot-rolled ran $676 a ton. Now it’s $440 a ton,” he said. “In any industry, a 35% to 36% price reduction in that period of time would put pressure on the business. Fair trade will correct it.”

WTO Relief

The executives also noted that while bringing anti-dumping cases with the US International Trade Commission and the World Trade Organization has been somewhat successful, the process has not always worked in the favor of US producers. Even cases that were won, such as last year’s rebar case against Turkey, have not had high enough tariffs to discourage dumping. Gibson said the standard in a safeguard case is higher than in a trade case and the AISI, and the industry as a whole, continue to evaluate all options under the law.

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MetalCrawler brings you warning of more domestic steel producer layoffs and China released new rare earth quotas.

More Layoffs Coming

U.S. Steel Corp. could slash 1,400 jobs as it continues to grapple with a difficult market.

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The Pittsburgh-based company notified workers last week, mostly at plants in Texas and Arkansas, that they could be out of a job as early as June 17, U.S. Steel spokeswoman Sarah Cassella said Monday.

The potential cuts include 579 employees in Lone Star Tubular Operations; 166 in Offshore Operations Houston; 255 at Wheeling Machine Pine Bluff in Arkansas; and 404 managers throughout its tubular operations.

China Sets Rare Earth Quotas

China’s Ministry of Industry & Information Technology recently released rare earth production quotas for 2015.

Rare earth oxide (REO) mining quotas were set at 52,500 metric tons while smelting and separating limits came in at 50,050 mt.

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The big news in metals this week was China’s economy growing at the slowest rate since 2009. If our bearish markets are to turn around this year, it would appear they’re going to have to do it without help from the world’s second-largest economy.

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But that’s not all that we learned from China this week. In many ways, China doesn’t really look like an economy growing at even 7%, with exports plunging in March, power generation dropping 3.7%, and a host of other indicators pointing to sluggish growth. This is bad because the most of the demand for our metals is based on China at least maintaining 7.5% economic growth. In today’s world economy, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

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India’s dependence on thermal coke from abroad is beginning to raise concern in international circles, though some exporting countries are happy to have the business.

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India sits on mountains of thermal coke, yet mainly due to bureaucracy, it has to depend on imports.

The day, it seems, is not far off when India will topple China as the World’s number one importer, if analysts were to be believed.

Coal, Coal, Everywhere But Nary a Chunk to Mine

The situation is, indeed, grim. It has made Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal remark at a public platform that it (importing thermal coke) is shameful. The minister told an audience after inaugurating a power project recently near Nagpur in central India that the government plans to almost double the government coal production by 2019-20. He added that importing coking coal, used for making steel, may be a necessity but thermal coal is at a surplus in the country, yet India is still being forced to import it. A Ministry of Coal report estimated coal reserves at about 300 billion metric tons, of which 125 billion mt were in the “proved” category.

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