Stainless Steel

Nickel hit a six-year low yesterday as Greece’s debt crisis obliterated confidence in global growth.

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The London Metal Exchange’s Index of six industrial metals is heading for a fourth-straight quarterly loss, the longest such streak since 2001. Greece’s standoff with its creditors is adding to economic concerns amid a slowdown in China.

Stainless_Chart_June-2015_FNL

Nickel for three-month delivery retreated 4.9% to settle at $11,835 a metric ton at 5:51 p.m. on the LME, the biggest drop since Sept. 9. The price touched $11,730, the lowest since May 2009. The metal has lost 22% of its value this year.

Daily LME data showed nickel stocks rose 870 mt to 459,018 mt, halting a falling trend seen since the start of June and again sowing doubts that the market is poised to tighten significantly.

The Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) approved three new nickel brands – including OAO Norilsk Nickel – today for delivery against its contracts as persistently high stockpiles and risk aversion over Greece weighed on the market.

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Architecture billings increased in May, while Morgan Stanley changed its forecast for nickel prices to a more bearish outlook.

ABI Back in Positive Territory

Led by growing demand for new schools, hospitals, cultural facilities and municipal buildings, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) increased in May following its second monthly drop this year. As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine to 12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the May ABI score was 51.9, up from a mark of 48.8 in April. This score reflects an increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

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“As has been the case for the past several years, while the design and construction industry has been in a recovery phase, we continue to receive mixed signals on business conditions in the marketplace,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “Generally, the business climate is favorable, but there are still construction sectors and regions of the country that are struggling, producing the occasional backslide in the midst of what seems to be growing momentum for the entire industry.”

Morgan Stanley Bearish on Nickel

Morgan Stanley slashed its nickel price forecasts for the second half of the year Tuesday as demand from stainless steel producers continues to be undermined by a deteriorating outlook for global growth. The bank cut its third quarter 2015 nickel price forecast by 12% to $13,228 a metric ton; and its fourth quarter outlook by 10% to $13,448 a metric ton.

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Outokumpu has a competitive advantage that it hasn’t capitalized on and given the state of the stainless market we, quite frankly, can’t understand why.

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Outokumpu appears to be the only mill in North America that produces cold-rolled stainless steel 72 inches wide. But we’re not sure if anybody really knows that.

Coming from the mills, I believe each mill should focus on their competitive advantages, and Outokumpu is the only North American mill producing 72-inch-wide stainless. The US market for 72-inch-wide material has been historically served by imports from Outokumpu, Aperam and Tisco.

The Marketing Path is Well Paved

Outokumpu need not reinvent a marketing strategy to sell 72-inch-wide products. They only need to look at one of their direct competitors, North American Stainless.

In fact, Outokumpu ought to adopt the NAS strategy for 60-inch wide. Let’s flash back in time to about 25 years ago. Nobody used 60-inch-wide material. 60-inch wide was sold at a premium above 48-inch wide. It made sense for NAS to sell 60-inch wide at the same price, or even a cheaper price, as it optimized the full width of its rolling mills. Once the price difference went by the wayside, there were no penalties for buying wider material. Guess what? The market took off. Outokumpu should be deploying the same strategy.

It’s a Big, Wide Market

The market for 72-inch wide remains untapped. As I visited customers while working for a service center, I became interested in how many had wide lasers or other processing equipment. Other markets such as carbon steel and aluminum use wide material. Other markets such as carbon steel and aluminum use wide material. I saw that many customers had invested in new wider equipment. My hypothesis: I don’t think many buying organizations really know that 72-inch wide material is produced domestically.

That domestic capability ought to attract the attention of large cold-rolled stainless steel buying organizations.

Instead of stainless mills fighting for the same piece of pie, they need to focus on their respective competitive advantages. Outokumpu ought to be filling one of its three cold-rolling mills with 72-inch-wide orders. We just haven’t seen much promotion of this capability. The same holds true for Allegheny Technologies. Although Allegheny’s hot-rolling mill can go to 78.74-inch-wide, none of their cold-rolling processes are built around it. So, the best they can offer is to be an alternative for 60-inch wide, which in itself is not a bad thing. From a buyer’s perspective, competition is always good.

What This Means for Buyers

Wider is definitely better when it comes to welding. Wider widths help to reduce the number of welds needed. The last time we checked, welders were in short supply.

It’s pretty simple, Outokumpu: get rid of that premium and start making it attractive for people to buy your products. We’re pretty sure that will help fill that mill!

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Since we remain ever vigilant on DumpWatch here at the Metalminer week-in-review, we couldn’t help but be proud of India, US steelmakers and even the EU who grew a spine and said “no mas” to illegal dumping of steel from several nations, principally China. The petitioning nations’ steel industries deserve mad props for standing up for their markets.

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China, you see, threw down the gauntlet two weeks ago when Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang said the rise in steel exports from his country was due to higher global demand and was a natural result of Chinese steel products having “strong export competitiveness.”

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“Export competitive” steel rod just looking for a new home somewhere other than China.

Ya Down With OPM (Other People’s Markets)?

Producing steel for overseas consumption to meet demand would be one thing but, as the American Iron & Steel Institute has long protested, China’s steel companies are subsidized at the state and national levels meaning they can often undercut prices in countries they export to by charging cost or even less than the cost of production thanks to the subsidies and what some say is a purposely devalued currency.

So, by calling Chinese steel “export competitive” Danyang was, essentially, saying “bring it” to all of the nations whose shores China exports its rebar, H-beams and coil products to. So, when six producers with major US operations —including Nucor Corp., ArcelorMittal USA, Steel Dynamics and U.S. Steel. — brought an anti-dumping action against China and four other nations this week over corrosion-resistant steel, they were saying, in international trade terms, “oh it’s already been brung, China!”

You Just Got Served

The US case, however, is the least of Chinese steel companies such as Baosteel‘s worries, as final rulings by the Commerce Department and US International Trade Commission aren’t expected until mid-2016. India has fast-tracked its beef with China’s dumpers and is already collecting duties. And they didn’t stop there. Malaysia and South Korea get their own duties when they try to bring that wack, cheap stainless steel into India.

Anti-dumping tariffs ranging between $180 and $316 per metric ton for industrial-grades of stainless steel have been imposed and are being collected at India’s borders as we speak. Not only are the duties already imposed, but N.C. Mathur, president of the Indian Stainless Steel Development Association (ISSDA) also said they were “long overdue.”

Oh, snap.

Right now, India is just collecting duties on hot-rolled coil products from the three countries but Mathur added that they might add cold-rolled tariffs, too, if the dumpers don’t step off. Okay, so he didn’t say “step off,” but the message was very clear as the tariffs were set for five years.

Keepin’ Electrical Steel Real

Prior to this week of anti-dumping actions, the European Union got in on the action by imposing duties of 28.7% from Chinese companies, including Baosteel and Wuhan Iron and Steel Corp over imports of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) and of 22.8% from South Korean producers such as POSCO. Even US producers such as AK Steel got hit with 22% tariffs. Once again proving that dumping steel in somebody else’s backyard ain’t nothin’ to mess around wit’.

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MM-IndX_TRENDS_Chart_June-2015_FNLRemember that bounce we saw in most of the metal prices we track last month? Annnnd it’s gone.

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The bearish environment our metals are up against resumed this month as the strong dollar erased nearly all of the gains from May. There were some positive outliers, though, with construction showing growth just as the summer building season begins in the US and the Global Precious Metals MMI was able to hold onto its May gains.

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India’s BJP-led government, more precisely its finance ministry, recently announced that it would impose, for a period of five years, anti-dumping duties ranging between $180 and $316 per metric ton for some industrial-grades of stainless steel imported from China, Malaysia and South Korea. The idea, obviously, is to stop the tide of surging steel imports.

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Subsidized imports, or “dumping,” of steel into a country by producers from other nations can be a vexing issue. Steelmakers from the US, India and Europe have been facing mounting pressure from cheap imports.

US Anti-Dumping Accusations

Earlier this month, for example, MetalMiner reported that six steelmakers with major US operations had filed a trade complaint seeking punitive tariffs for alleged unfair pricing of imported steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan.

The move by the Indian government came after persistent efforts by steel producers to place tariffs on the foreign products for nearly two years. The cheap imports, claimed the Indian steel industry, were damaging its business prospects.

India consumes about one million mt of industrial steel stainless steel, of which, around 40% is imported, largely from China.

Indian Tariffs

The anti-dumping tax obviously was welcomed by domestic steelmakers. N.C. Mathur, president of the Indian Stainless Steel Development Association (ISSDA) was quoted in a news report as saying the move was long overdue. According to Mathur, the duty has been imposed on hot-rolled flat products stainless steel with all its variants originating from China at $309 per mt, $316 per mt from Malaysia and from Korea at $180 per mt. He added the move would give a respite to the domestic industry.

The ISSDA also complained to the government about of abuse of the India–Malaysia comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA). Stainless cold-rolled flat products from Malaysia are being imported to India through a preferential tariff benefit, the association had claimed in its statement. ISSDA demanded that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia, investigate the cold-rolled imports.

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The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

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The imposition of anti-dumping duties by the Indian government should encourage US authorities who have been asked to enforce a similar move. The suit filed by six US companies concerns corrosion-resistant steel, a type of coated steel used in automobile and construction industries. The US has been witnessing an unprecedented flood of imports in the last one year or so.

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As reported by MetalMiner last month, the US steel industry is suffering because the imports hit a record 34% of market share, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

The US slapped duties on imports of steel used in the energy industry from South Korea and five other countries last year but, evidently, those tariffs did not have the desired effect. The AISI in its press briefing last month, asked the US Government to first enforce existing trade laws which would be an immense help to the steel industry.

In India, steel imports had increased to 0.91 million metric tons this May, an increase of 58% as compared to the same month’s figure last year. As compared to April 2015, the import rate was up by about 20 mt, according to a report by the Ministry of Steel.

Many analysts said the Indian stainless steel industry started resembling a sick industry, as cheap imports were leading to a situation of under-utilization of installed capacities. The local industry hopes the anti-dumping duties will send out a clear signal to those sending in cheap imports, and lead to a resurgence in India’s steel sector.

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The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

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409 is often considered “the barely stainless steel,” or affectionately the most humble of the stainless steels. Stainless steel must have a minimum of 10.5% chromium to be stainless steel. 409 Contains a minimum of 10.5% chromium, thus the moniker barely stainless steel.

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In addition to minimal chromium content, 409 stainless has three additional properties that make it an attractive product for substitution: it is the lowest cost stainless, it has good oxidation resistance and excellent formability.

Middleweight Corrosion Fighter

According to AK Steel, 409 gets specified where oxidation and corrosion requirements go beyond carbon steel and some coated steels. North American Stainless suggests, “it is not as resistant to corrosion or high-temperature oxidation as the higher-alloyed stainless steels (430 or 304), but it is still far superior to mild steel and low alloy corrosion resisting steels and most coated mild steels.”

And not to ignore the other main US producer of 409, Allegheny Technologies explained its usage in automotive mufflers, “The good fabricability of this alloy, combined with its basic corrosion resistance and economy have significantly broadened the utility of ATI 409HPtm stainless.”

As most MetalMiner readers know, alloy substitutions in stainless steel have typically occurred when an alloying element such as nickel has increased in price. When nickel becomes volatile, manufacturers have sought options with less nickel or no nickel that have sufficient properties to make the final product without compromising quality. Both 304 and 316L are readily available and could be considered the path of least resistance in terms of specifying stainless steel; however, in some cases, these alloys may exceed the necessary properties for the final application.

Most consider 304 or 316L the “old standby” grades, but that thinking contains a few misconceptions. For example, stainless is stainless because it has at least 10.5% chromium (some would say 11% chromium), not because it contains nickel. Stainless can be both magnetic and non-magnetic. In commercial food service equipment — NSF specifies, for food zones, stainless needs to have a minimum chromium content of 16% and has nothing to do with whether or not it is magnetic.

Compliance Alloy

In the early 2000s, product substitution meant a new push to inform the manufacturer that type 430 has 16% chromium and is, thus, NSF 51-compliant. In many cases, a transition occurred in which buying organizations switched from 304 to lower nickel-bearing grades such as 301 or 201 before the switch to 430 occurred. In cases in which 430 could not be substituted for 301 or 201, the next wave of substitution came from higher-chromium ferritic grades such as 439 or 441. Both alloys were developed for the automotive market in which weldability and formability were necessary along with added corrosion resistance from the basic 409 automotive grade.

In residential appliances, the major manufacturers became reticent to move to magnetic stainless grades due to a perception that magnetic equated to not “real” stainless steel.

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Although stainless steel demand is expected to grow moderately this year, service centers are flush with inventory which is putting pressure on US mills.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Combined with successive months of declines in nickel prices, service centers are only purchasing what is absolutely necessary. Both domestic mills and Asian mills have robust North American inventories, a stark contrast from a year ago when lead times went beyond the standard 6-8 weeks, causing service centers to seek alternative sources.

Technical Issues Hurting Mills

Another exacerbating factor in last year’s supply was Outokumpu’s technical issues with its cold-rolling mills and a lack of alternative domestic supply led service centers to seek other sources. With lead times extended, the domestic mills were able to pass through several base price increases in 2014.

With higher US base prices and the strength of the US dollar, Asian imports did not subside. Asian producers need other markets for their surplus material as Chinese demand is weak and both Europe and India have taken anti-dumping actions against China.

End market demand is strong for automotive,​ residential​ appliance and food service/food processing equipment. The only market that appears to be suffering is energy which is due to the low price of oil. Stainless demand is decent according to many sources and stainless base prices will remain under pressure.

Inventory Backlog

The North American market​ ​is ​saturated with inventory​ ​so​ lowering the base price will not spur on demand. Until service centers reduce their inventory backlogs and nickel prices start to improve, service centers will not buy, regardless of price. Service centers need to focus on getting their inventories in check before they resume anything resembling regular buying patterns. ​​Unfortunately, the mills are under pressure to book capacity which oftentimes leads to acts of desperation.

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Today in MetalCrawler, losses widened at a major stainless steel manufacturer, an aluminum giant gets a new CEO and two design and construction software companies team up for better workflows for HVAC designers and installers.

AK Steel Loss Widens

AK Steel Holding Corp. said its first-quarter loss widened from a year earlier on a big write-down related to its investment in iron-ore pellet joint venture Magnetation LLC.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Average selling prices fell 8.9% from a year earlier, while shipments increased 39%, with a boost from an acquisition and strong demand from the automotive sector.

Ohio-based AK Steel in March predicted that shipments of carbon and stainless steel to the automotive market would remain strong because of market demand. However, the company warned that it expected its shipments to decline 14% from the fourth quarter to roughly 1.7 million tons on weakness in the carbon steel spot market, which AK Steel attributed to rising imports.

Martens Leaves Novelis

Novelis Inc., the US’ largest aluminum recycling and rolling company, has announced the departure of Philip Martens as the company’s president and CEO. Replacing Martens as president on an interim basis is Steve Fisher. Novelis says it has begun a search for a permanent CEO.

Martens, a former Ford Motor Co. executive, joined Novelis in 2009. During his tenure with Novelis the company shifted its focus toward servicing the automobile industry.

Vulcan Works With AECOsim for Ductwork

Geo-positioning and construction software manufacturer Trimble recently started supporting new construction modeling workflows with enhanced integration between Bentley Systems‘ AECOsim Building Designer software and Trimble’s Vulcan sheet metal cutting software for the HVAC market. The new workflow integration enables design models to be shared easily, securely and accurately. The move expands the companies’ ongoing collaboration around “Construction Modeling” and enhanced information mobility.

Vulcan is a sheet metal cutting software product for HVAC contractors, design/build firms and duct manufacturers, who rely on the software to increase shop productivity, plan duct design and installation and reduce waste.

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