Forecasts made by the World Steel Association in its latest October Outlook paint a relatively rosy picture for the global steel industry — not least because it’s not all about China.
The outlook predicts that growth outside of China will be 2.6% this year and rise to 3% in 2018. China’s figures, by comparison, have been skewed by a statistical sleight of hand.
A Caveat in the Chinese Numbers
Chinese demand is forecast by the World Steel Association to grow by 12.5% in 2017. A large part of this, however, is due to the closure of Chinese induction furnaces this year, creating demand at state-owned conventional steelmakers. “Illegal” induction furnace numbers didn’t appear in the statistics, but legal, state-owned conventional steelmakers figures do.
A true figure for the underlying growth is more like 3%, with next year expected to be flat as stimulus measures fade and the economy continues to rebalance away from infrastructure investment and toward consumption.
The good news from the report is that the World Steel Association expects growth in both developed and emerging markets to be widely distributed and broadly positive.
The European Union is expected to see demand grow at 2.5% this year, while the other major trading blocs, such as NAFTA, should grow by 4.9% and the ASEAN region by 4.8%. Demand growth in India, the world’s No. 3 producer, continues to outstrip that of Japan, the world’s No. 2 producer. The WSA expects growth in India this year to be 4.3% compared to 2.9% for Japan. A bullish economic Times of India article suggests India is on track to overtake Japan as the world’s second-largest global steel producer within this decade.
Demand growth across the Americas has been solid this year, with the U.S. putting in a substantial 4.8% number and contributing over 69% of the NAFTA region’s 139 million tons.
China remains the world’s largest producer by a country mile — so growth, or not, here in 2018 will likely determine the overall direction of the global steel market.
Much will depend on how demand unfolds as the economy continues to cool and possibly face disruption this winter from enforced environmental closures.
After a Strong 2017 for Steel Producers, What’s Next?
Broadly, though, this year has been a good one for steel producers.
Crude steel capacity utilization jumped 2.8% to 73.5% last month, which is not fantastic but is heading in the right direction.
With the prospects of significant short-term cuts in China’s production capacity this winter, producers elsewhere must be hoping prices can rise in 2018. Much will depend on continued growth and discipline among producers.
It will be an interesting next six months.