Steel

Two years ago, India overtook the U.S. to become the third-largest steel producer in the world, but now finds itself a net importer of steel in 2015-16.

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To address this and other steel issues, the Indian government has drafted and recently released a “National Steel Policy” for 2017. The policy aims for production target of 300 million metric tons per year by 2030-31, up from the current 122 mtpy, a reduction in imports and also a hike in the current production of a crucial raw material, coking coal.

India’s steel ministry says the policy is an effort in steel circles in India to steer the industry to achieve its potential and a strategy to overcome various hurdle such as high input costs, lack of availability of raw materials, and to try to achieve the 300 mtpy target in an environmentally friendly manner so that the country can reach its correspoding global efficiency benchmarks.

A major disadvantage that the Indian steel sector faces is the limited availability of essential raw materials like coking coal, both in quantity and quality. Most steel producers have to depend on imports to overcome this impediment, mostly from neighboring China.

The National Steel Policy aims at achieving increased domestic availability of washed coking coal so as to reduce import dependence on coking coal by 50% by 2030-31. Under the plan, India is aiming for per capita steel consumption of 160 kilograms per person from the present 61 kg.

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India’s crude steel production in 2015-16 was 89.77 million metric tons. The country’s steel sector, the only silver lining in an otherwise bleak global steel economy last year, faced challenges. Heightened steel demand domestically in India could see it get there. In 2015, for example, India was the only large economy in the world where steel demand continued to grow positively at 5.3%, against negative growth in China at -5.4%.

The Steel Ministry is seeking comments on the policy draft from stakeholders and public.

The International Energy Agency recently upgraded its estimate for rising U.S. shale production this year, projecting output will increase by 500,000 barrels per day by the end of 2017, which will translate to an increase of 170,000 bpd averaged over the year.

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Benchmark crude prices subsequently fell in London. In the first week of January, U.S. crude production rose to 8.95 million bpd, the highest level since April. Oil-rig use expanded to 529 in the prior week, a 67% increase from the 2016 low of 316.

Japanese Steel Officially Worried About Trump

Japan’s steel industry is concerned over the risks of a U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and reform of the North American Free Trade Agreement by the incoming Trump administration, a Japanese industry official said on Friday.

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“We are worried about the risks of the Trump administration taking protectionism actions or policies,” Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, told a news conference.

Our January MMI report saw almost universal price pull backs in December, but that’s to be expected in a bull market with active investors.

The monthly MetalMiner IndX showed only moderate (less than 4%) price falls, even though they were visible across almost all the sub-indexes.

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The price prospects for most of the metals we track remain strong and we have already seen some renewed price increases since we initially published our sub-index reports starting on the first of the year.

The Chinese economy and the strong dollar continue to power the metals bull market… at least for now. Happy new metals year!

The Commerce Department made final determinations today in its anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations of carbon and alloy steel cut-to-length (CTL) plate from China.

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The department said in a statement that it has set a final dumping margin of 68.27% for Jiangyin Xingcheng Special Steel Works Co. Ltd., the only respondent in the case, “for the China-wide entity’s failure to cooperate.”

In the countervailing duties investigation, Commerce calculated a final subsidy rate of 251% for mandatory respondents Jiangyin Xingcheng Special Steel Works Co. Ltd., Hunan Valin Xiangtan Iron & Steel, and Viewer Development Co., Ltd., based on the application of adverse facts available. All other producers/exporters in China were also assigned a final subsidy rate of 251%.

Chinese Province Admits Making Up GDP Figures

China’s northeastern Liaoning province, which relies on steel production as its growth engine, had inflated its GDP figures from 2011 to 2014, said province governor Chen Qiufa on Jan. 17 in his annual work report, according to the state newspaper People’s Daily (link in Chinese). It is the first time the Chinese government has publicly admitted to faking official statistics at any level.

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Fiscal revenues were inflated by at least 20% during the period, and some other economic data were also made up, the People’s Daily said.

The price you pay for your steel pretty much depends on two things:

  1. Prices in China, since they set the floor for international steel prices.
  2. How much of a premium U.S. mills are able to justify over that price.

 

Graphic: Raul de Frutos/MetalMiner.

Prices in China are moved by supply and demand dynamics. We’ve explained in previous posts that overall, things are setting up for Chinese prices to continue to trend higher. While demand has been better than expected, China met its 2016 capacity cuts goal and further cuts are expected to take place this year as the country tackles its pollution issues.

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However, in this post we’ll focus on the premium that U.S. customers pay. This price spread between U.S. and international prices is also very important and could make your purchases more expensive in the coming months.

Spread between HRC US and HRC China. Source: MetalMiner IndX.

Spreads have fallen sharply over the past few months. The spread between U.S. and Chinese hot-rolled coil (HRC) prices is now $97/ton. To put this in context, consider that this spread was $276/ton just seven months ago. Read more

As the new year dawns, we turn our eyes toward the metal markets of 2017. Will the bull run of 2016 continue? What will be the standout performer of the metals we track? Will New Coke finally make a comeback as Even Newer Coke? Only to re-reintroduce Coke Classic in all its aluminum-encased glory? We have predictions. Lots of them.

Steel on Wheels

That’s right, the North American steel market is picking up steam and chugging toward expanded production and renewed profitability for many of the companies we track. Contributor James May said this week that flat products will enjoy higher demand while hot-rolled coil capacity will expand thanks to a combination of new capacity going online (Big River Steel‘s plant is set to open) and the trade policies of the incoming Trump Administration.

Iron Ore Overseas

China consumes over 70% of the world’s seaborne iron ore and a strong year for the Chinese economy bolstered the steelmaking raw material from from $40 per metric ton to $70/mt in global markets last year, an increase that helped re-energize the bottom lines of mining majors Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group.

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This week, Sohrab Darabshaw pointed out that that was cold comfort to smaller miners in India who are still hamstrung by high export taxes and can’t get their ore into China or other lucrative world markets. That could change soon, but MetalMiner Co-Founder Stuart Burns was even more cautious, reminding us that physical iron ore prices were influenced by a rampant futures market last year.

Source: Adobe Stock/Geargodz

“The interplay of the futures market, physical demand from steel mills, and seaborne iron ore supply has too many variables to predict 2017 and ’18 with any certainty,” he said.

Trumping Trade

While some of the markets are still murky, one thing we all agreed on this week was, once Donald Trump is installed as President of the United States, 2017 certainly won’t be boring when it comes to international trade. Read more

After more than four years of languishing, some hope’s been rekindled in India’s iron ore mining sector.

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Ore production jumped 22% between April and October, according to figures released by the government. Iron ore production stood at 100 million metric tons during the resurgence, against 81 mmt during the same April to October period a year ago. What’s brought even more cheer is the news that exports, too, jumped 9 times their previous level, to 9 mmt from last April to September, as compared to 1 mmt, the same period last year.

Export Taxes

With a steep price hike in global markets aided by protectionist measures for the domestic steel industry, will India see a resurgence in iron ore exports? Not so fast.

India has plentiful iron ore stockpiled but taxes are holding up exports. Source: Adobe Stock/nikitos77.

The protectionist measures imposed by India’s government previously included an export duty tax of 30% on high-grade iron ore. Many within the mining sector are of the opinion that the export tax must go, or at the very least be reduced, to boost exports. Read more

Average grain-oriented electrical steel surcharges fell for the third year in a row. 2016 average surcharges took the biggest hit because Allegheny Technologies stopped production of GOES. AK Steel did not implement a surcharge until July 2016.

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Our own GOES M3 MMI showed only small price movements from month to month. The index hit a low of 181 back in July and today shows a modest recovery to 192, a 5% gain.

GOES follows its own fundamentals (e.g. supply and demand) and does not always follow the price arc of other more common forms of steel such as cold-rolled coil or hot-rolled coil. In fact, some of the wider trade dynamics for those forms of steel had little to no impact on GOES.

Which brings us to a larger issue. Will President-elect Trump, who is arguably pro-steel and who has gone on record against China’s trade practices, implement any policies that will likely impact GOES markets?

To begin, the nature of trade between the two countries, the U.S. and China, appears more complicated than what can be seen by the naked eye. Raw material/commodity-like supply chains lack the complexities of supply chains found in industries such as electronics. Blanket tariffs are easy to issue and calculate for commodities that move from point A to point B. But electronics industry supply chains involve components, parts, sub-assemblies, final assembly, etc. across multiple countries and locations. A blanket tariff on electronics will harm China much more than other countries as the tariff would apply to the “final point of assembly.” This could create all sorts of electronics shortages and problems here in the U.S.

Why Are We Discussing Electronics Supply Chains?

Because it would be easier to get tougher on China for commodities such as steel. And though China has curbed excess capacity in recent years, we could see a scenario in which tough trade policies such as a tariffs could significantly limit Chinese imports, which currently make up about 10% of domestic steel demand according to a recent analysis by Stratfor.

China will retaliate but a scenario exists that China could account for far less steel imports into the U.S. than it currently does (China has cut excess capacity already). In terms of grain oriented electrical steel, however, China does not represent the bulk of GOES imports into the U.S., in fact, Japan, Russia and the U.K. are far bigger GOES exporters to the U.S.

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Therefore, any President Trump trade policy that goes into effect (no pun intended) will likely have a bigger impact on the broader steel markets and a far less significant impact on the U.S. GOES market.

Next month, we will examine the potential impact of NAFTA changes on GOES markets.

Grain-Oriented Electrical Steel M3 retook last month’s loss rising by more than 3%.

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By anyone’s reckoning, iron ore and coking coal had a stellar year in 2016. Driven by infrastructure investment and a robust construction market, Chinese imports of our iron ore could top 1 billion metric tons for the first time in 2016. Prices more than doubled in the space of 12 months and the supply-demand situation seemed to be largely in balance for much of the year.

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After topping $80 per mt in early December, prices eased back a little toward the end of the year prompting many to ask “have we seen the peak in iron ore prices?” Mills typically cut output during the quieter winter months when construction demand slows. Many steel mills have already curbed output due to chronic smog alerts across northern China.

Chinese Demand

Seasonally, it would not be unusual if iron ore prices remained subdued up to the Chinese New Year and then picked up in preparation for the peak production months of late spring and summer. But, while Chinese demand defied many expectations of a slowdown in 2016, the recent softening of both iron ore and coking coal raw material prices, and the price of some finished steel products over the last week or 10 days, has lent support to some analysts’ predictions that we could be seeing markedly lower Iron ore prices throughout this year and next. Read more

What will 2017 bring for the steel industry?

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

At the beginning of the year, it’s always fun to look forward and pick out some of the themes for the year. 2016 was certainly volatile as hot-rolled coil pricing went from $360 a ton to $600/ton, then back to the low $400s/ton before recovering to $600/ton. Phew! Read more