Steel

London Metal Exchange

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Steel is the world’s second-largest commodity after crude oil. It is 15 times the size of all other metals markets combined in terms of metric tons. Furthermore, it is worth twice their value.

Yet, until recently, it was an industry that saw little use for a futures market. That is primarily because major steel participants enjoyed stable long-term prices for the materials they needed.

Price material volatility

Prices for iron ore and coking coal, two of the essential raw materials for steel production, have become far more volatile in recent years. That volatility has sent price shocks rippling through the supply chain. In turn, it has created volatility in finished steel prices that consumers are desperate to contain.

Enter the major futures exchanges. For over 200 years, the London Metal Exchange (LME) has provided the trade – producers, traders and consumers – the opportunity to hedge their risk across a growing range of base metals.

However, only recently have exchanges such as the LME, the U.S.’s CME and the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) in China introduced products allowing the trade to hedge raw material and finished steel price risk.

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) increased by 16.5% this month, as steel prices showed strength in December.

January 2021 Raw Steels MMI chart

U.S. steel events

The American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association, the United Steelworkers union, the Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports and the American Institute of Steel Construction sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to keep the 25% national security tariffs on steel imports that were imposed in 2018.

The industry groups emphasized that the tariffs are essential “to ensure the viability of the domestic steel industry in the face of this massive and growing excess steel capacity.”

“Removing or weakening of these measures before major steel producing countries eliminate their overcapacity — and the subsidies and other trade-distorting policies that have fueled the steel crisis — will only invite a new surge in imports with devastating effects to domestic steel producers and their workers,” the letter continued.

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steel tariff

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This morning in metals news: several industry groups urged President-elect Joe Biden to continue existing steel tariffs and quotas; Germany’s OGE and Thyssenkrupp and Norwegian energy company Equinor are collaborating to mitigate emissions; and Norsk Hydro and Nuvosil are working on aluminum and silicon recycling technology.

Industry groups urge Biden to keep steel tariffs

President Donald Trump in 2018 used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to impose steel tariffs of 25%.

The steel tariffs remain in place, as does the 10% tariff on aluminum.

President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office next week. As such, many have wondered how the former vice president’s trade policy will differ from Trump’s approach.

In a joint letter, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), the United Steelworkers union (USW), The Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports (CPTI) and American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) urged Biden to keep the steel tariffs in place.

“Continuation of the [steel] tariffs and quotas is essential to ensuring the viability of the domestic steel industry in the face of this massive and growing excess steel capacity,” the statement reads.

The letter adds that removing or weakening the measures will invite a “new surge” in imports.

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OGE, Thyssenkrupp, Equinor work together to curb Duisburg emissions

According to Reuters, German firms OGE and Thyssenkrupp and Norwegian energy company Equinor will work together to curb emissions from Thyssenkrupp’s plant in Duisburg, Germany.

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Turkey flag

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While Turkey’s finished steel products enjoy local demand, lower costs and the country’s location between Europe and Asia have also made steel exports from there attractive, market watchers told MetalMiner.

Turkey’s trade in steel exports came to 9.4 million mt in the first seven months of 2020. The total is down 12.1% year over year from 10.7 million mt, a report from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) indicated.

Domestic steel trade rose 10.8% to 7.2 million mt in the first seven months of 2020, compared with 6.5 million mt over the same time in 2019, TurkStat noted.

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Demand for steel from Turkey

Besides North America and Europe, Turkish steel has also seen demand from emerging economic areas, such as the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the same source said.

Turkey is also among the world’s few steelmaking majors to see gains in crude steel production over 2020. This came despite the economic slowdowns the COVID-19 pandemic caused.

Total crude production by Turkish mills in November rose 11.6% year over year to 3.22 million mt. The total marked an increase from almost 2.9 million mt, the World Steel Association (worldsteel) reported Dec. 22.

The first 11 months of 2020 saw those mills produce over 32.4 million mt. The total reflected a 4.9% rise compared with the same time frame in 2019, worldsteel noted.

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China story steel production

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Continuing our look back at the best of 2020, today we’ll take one last review of the top steel posts of the year here on MetalMiner.

As with metals as a whole, steel prices experienced a rocky 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic slammed metals demand overall, including steel demand. The automotive industry idled production at the end of Q1 and into Q2, severely denting demand.

However, eventually automakers restarted lines and demand returned. As the year has progressed, steel prices have continued to rise and show no signs of slowing down in the near term. The U.S. HRC price, for example, is up a whopping 28.61% over the last month.

With that, let’s take a look back at the most-viewed steel stories of the year.

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Best of 2020: top steel posts

  1. Coronavirus likely to impact steel, iron ore demand in 2020

  2. This Morning in Metals: U.S. steel prices rise

  3. India’s steel sector struggled in 2019 — but what does 2020 hold?

  4. Trump expands Section 232 tariffs on steel, aluminum derivatives

  5. China’s steel industry likely to see cutbacks as stocks rise amid coronavirus crisis

  6. Raw Steels MMI: Index increases by 9%

  7. Raw Steels MMI: U.S. steel prices make gains, aided by auto sector

  8. Stainless MMI: Stainless steel surcharges rise for fourth straight month

  9. Chinese construction steel prices dip amid cluster of new coronavirus cases

  10. Raw Steels MMI: U.S. price increases push three-point index gain

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There has been quite a bit of analyst chatter about the likely impact of China’s return to the steel scrap market next year.

In 2019, the authorities essentially banned steel scrap imports. The move came, in part, because many of the grades were classified as waste. However, of late the rumor is China will be moving to reclassify ferrous scrap as a recyclable resource and could lift the import ban (probably in Q1 2021).

Cut-to-length adders. Width and gauge adders. Coatings. Feel confident in knowing what you should be paying for metal with MetalMiner should-cost models.

Steel scrap imports plunge

According to Platts, China has 184 million tons of EAF steelmaking capacity at the end of 2020. Furthermore, the country will likely have 197 million tons by end of 2021.

The totals are up from 175 million ton at the end of 2019, when scrap imports had plunged to just 180,000 tons due to the ban.

Domestic steel scrap production has been on the rise, generating some 240 million tons in 2019. As such, the 2014-18 average annual imports figure can be seen as minuscule by comparison.

But while they may be small, they are not insignificant.

Normally, imports rise and fall relative to the premium arbitrage of domestic prices over world prices. Currently, domestic steel scrap prices in China are said to be about $60/mt or Yuan 400/mt over Southeast Asian seaborne scrap prices on like-for-like grades (when freight and taxes are included).

Should imports be relaxed, there is, therefore, the potential to suck in considerable imports.

Platts suggests this would not top the record 13.7 million tons imported in 2009. Some, however, disagree, saying it could reach 20 million tons.

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Not so long ago on a fall night here in Chicago, I had the opportunity to meet up with a couple of folks from a steel producer. 

What they told me then sounded a little scary — they suggested the “A” word — but not nearly as scary as current market conditions suggest. 

In metals markets, the “A” word does not contain three letters. 

It does, however, connote something far worse for many metal buying organizations: allocation!

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Dreaded allocation

Allocation markets cause sleepless nights for procurement professionals because, without material, lines get shut down and businesses fail to operate profitably. 

Undoubtedly, the dreaded “A” word is upon us, particularly for steel markets.

Back in May of this year, toward the end of the last COVID-19 “surge,” MetalMiner contemplated what could happen to steel prices once demand came back onstream.

MetalMiner saw two scenarios: a gradual increase in demand followed by panic buying or a rather dramatic increase in demand led by the automotive industry, combined with slow mill restarts and historically low starting inventory levels held by service centers. 

We assumed the first scenario, but obviously the second ensued.

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Steel production

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Keeping future demands in mind, Nippon Steel Corp. has decided to focus more on markets like the United States and India.

At the same time, it is reducing focus on Japan for the medium term.

The aim, according to a top-level executive of the Japanese steel company, is to capitalize on overseas profit which. At present, uptake in the global automobiles sector is largely driving that profit.

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Nippon looks overseas

News agency Reuters quoted Nippon Steel’s Executive Vice President Katsuhiro Miyamoto as saying they were looking at increasing the production capacity overseas, where demand is expected to go up.

Incidentally, Nippon, Japan’s biggest steelmaker and ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, had jointly bought India’s bankrupt Essar Steel, which has an annual capacity of 9.6 million tons.

Miyamoto also told the news agency during his interview that Nippon Steel was actively contemplating a plan to construct an electric furnace at its U.S. joint venture with ArcelorMittal in Calvert, Alabama. It will have a furnace of 1.5 MT of annual output capacity as a first step.

ArcelorMittal announced in September this year it would sell most of its U.S. assets to Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. The sale did not include the Calvert facility.

As for new venture ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India, he said there are plans to increase capacity to between 12 million and 15 million tons in the future.

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steel imports

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This morning in metals news: the American Iron and Steel Association (AISI) reported on November import data, including the month’s finished steel import market share; China’s Baosteel is working on a new project; and Norsk Hydro has signed two MoUs for renewable power projects in Brazil.

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AISI: steel import market share at 18% in November

AISI reported the U.S.’s finished steel import market share in November at 18%, matching the import market share rate for the year.

Import permit applications for the month totaled 1.41 million net tons. The total marked a 17.2% decrease compared to the previous month.

China’s Baosteel starts new project

According to Reuters, China’s Baosteel has started production on a high-grade non-oriented silicon steel project.

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auto sale

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The Automotive Monthly Metals Index (MMI) gained 9.6% for this month’s index value, as U.S. auto sales continue to show resilience.

December 2020 Automotive MMI chart

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U.S. auto sales

General Motors switched from monthly to quarterly sales reporting in 2018; Ford followed suit in early 2019.

However, despite the industry trending toward quarterly reporting, Ford has apparently had a change of heart.

The automaker last month announced it would return to quarterly reporting. Ford reported November U.S. sales of 149,931 vehicles, down 20.9% year over year.

Ford truck sales fell 20.9%, while SUV and car sales fell 16.4% and 39.1%, respectively.

Among other monthly reporters, Honda reported November sales fell 23.4% year over year. Honda car sales fell 26.9% and truck sales fell 21%.

Hyundai sales fell 9% year over year in November.

“We were able to maintain our industry-beating sales momentum despite quirks in the reporting calendar and added COVID-19 challenges,” said Randy Parker, vice president of national sales at Hyundai Motor America.

U.S. auto sales forecast to nearly match 2019 levels in November

According to the most recent automotive forecast released by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, new-vehicle retail sales were forecast to drop 0.7% in November when accounting for changes in selling days.

Meanwhile, for total U.S. auto sales, the forecast included a 3.5% decrease when adjusted for selling days.

“November 2020 is a prime example of why accounting for selling day differences is important in measuring comparable sales performance,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “After two consecutive months of year-over-year retail sales gains, a quirk in the November sales calendar will result in new-vehicle retail sales appearing to fall 12%. This year, November has three fewer selling days and one less selling weekend compared with 2019. When these calendar quirks are accounted for, new-vehicle retail sales are expected to almost match 2019 levels.”

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