Steel
Port Talbot steel plant

Source: Adobe Stock/Petert2

Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel saw its market value reduced by 27% from investors following a surprising first quarter loss.

According to a recent report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, U.S. Steel also announced plans to spend more than $1 billion in upgrades to plants in Mon Valley and beyond.

Want a short- and medium-term buying outlook for aluminum, copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel and several forms of steel? Subscribe to our monthly buying outlook reports!

“This is not a quarter-to-quarter play,” David Burritt, president and chief operating officer, told investors, concerning investment in the mills. “We’re in this for the long haul. It takes more than a little bit of courage to take this action right now.”

Analysts are encouraged by the investment, but they are also concerned the time frame for the project will prevent U.S. Steel from taking advantage of the surging demand in steel that many are expecting on the heels of President Donald Trump’s promises to support the steel industry.

Chinese Demand for Steel Growing?

Our own Raul de Frutos recently wrote about the current industrial metals bull market and whether or not he still sees an upside. Pertaining to steel specifically, de Frutos wrote that China’s government recently announced plans to build a new urban metropolis from the ground up, which would significantly boost the demand for steel and other metals.

De Frutos wrote: “This growth translates into solid demand for industrial metals at the same time as China applies stricter anti-pollution rules and supply-side reforms designed to cut capacity in energy-intensive sectors like steel and aluminum. Overall, while we continue to see strength in Chinese markets, we are not ready to call peak in this industrial metals bull market.”

How will steel and base metals fare in 2017? You can find a more in-depth copper price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. For a short- and long-term buying strategy with specific price thresholds:

India’s steel story continues to shine. The country’s consumption of finished steel goods is expected to grow by 6.1% in 2017 compared with 2016.

According to the World Steel Association (WSA), India’s steel product demand could reach 88.6 million tons in 2017, up from 83.5 million tons in 2016. WSA was also quite positive on India’s steel demand in 2018, projecting a growth of 7.1% to 94.9 million tons.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Steel consumption in India’s neighboring country China, however, would remain flat in 2017. The WSA estimated a 2% slump in demand for 2018.

The Indian Steel Association, too, has said publicly that the country was well on its way to becoming the second largest consumer of steel, beating the United States to the second spot.

The WSA said in its report that the U.S. was expected to continue to lead the growth in the developed work in 2017-18, based on strong fundamentals, newly announced measures related to fiscal stimuli, and rising infrastructure spending. It has estimated that steel demand in the U.S. will grow by 3% in 2017 to 94.3 million tons and then by 2.9% in 2018 to 97.1 million tons.

Free Download: The April 2017 MMI Report

In India, in a further fillip to steel production, the government was contemplating making the use of Indian steel compulsory in all government or public sector funded projects. This would raise the per-capita consumption from 61 kilograms (134.5 pounds) to 160 kilograms (353 pounds) and increase production from 120 million ton to 300 million ton by 2030. The indication of this was recently given by Union Minister for Steel Chaudhary Birender Singh.

After reviewing the performance of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), the minister told reporters that “stringent measures” like imposing anti-dumping duty and minimum import price (MIP) had led to imports falling by 39% and exports increasing by 57%.

He added that the India’s national policy on steel would be unveiled soon, after receiving approval of the Union Cabinet.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

The move to make use of “Make in India” steel mandatory by government bodies comes in the wake of the central government’s commitment to support the domestic steel sector, which has been incurring losses during the last couple of years due to excess production and dumping of steel products from China into India.

Incidentally, India was aiming for a steel production capacity of 300 million tons by 2030, while the current capacity is 120 million tons and production was 90 million tons.

This week, President Donald Trump and the Department of Commerce used executive orders, new anti-dumping investigations, memoranda invoking national security concerns and other executive branch tools to get tough on foreign steel imports.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Although Trump or Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross never overtly stated it, the target is clearly China and the global steel overcapacity that it’s the main culprit in creating. China’s steel exports hit a record 112.4 million metric tons in 2015, then dropped slightly to 108.49 mmt last year, as Chinese mills have been chastened by threats of a trade dispute.

Fre trade

The Trump administration is using every tool in the box on steel overcapacity. Source: Adobe Stock/Argus.

To date, the Global Forum on Steel Overcapacity hasn’t caused overcapacity to come down very much. Can a section 232 investigation or other U.S.-only actions change that? The U.S. steel industry certainly seems to think so. Or it’s at least saying, “why not try?”

Steelmaker executives such as U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi and SSAB Americas President Chuck Schmitt flanked Trump and Ross at the memorandum-signing ceremony calling for the Section 232 investigation yesterday. The praise was universal from steel producers as one might expect, too. Still, Trump’s latest salvo on trade will renew concerns that China may retaliate.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said today the country needed to ascertain the direction of any U.S. investigation before it could make a judgment. There’s also the fact that Trump now claims that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are the best of friends.

Chinese steel executives also repeated their mantra that overcapacity is not just China’s problem and it needs global coordination to resolve it, but also said it would be tough to rein in the sector.

“The Chinese government will not set export limits for the steel mills and could not keep track of every mill,” Li Xinchuang, vice chairman of the China Iron and Steel Association, told Reuters.

What may be more effective is rising steel prices in China and what looks more and more like a very real crackdown on pollution and dirty air in China. An early-year surge in Chinese steel prices has lifted the prices of its export products and China has lost its competitiveness with other markets. With coking coal prices increasing, Chinese steel prices could increase even more, which our Lead Forecasting Analyst, Raul de Frutos, pointed out this week.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

On a personal note, this will be my last MetalMiner week-in-review. I have thoroughly enjoyed informing all of you wonderful readers and site users about the latest developments in metals markets these last three years. Thank you for taking advantage of our services. It has been an honor.

 

UPDATED 11:47 AM with Comments from President Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the American Iron & Steel Institute.

President Donald Trump will sign a directive asking for a speedy probe into whether imports of foreign-made steel are hurting U.S. national security, two administration officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Trump signed the memorandum related to section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 at the White House with leaders of some domestic steel companies, such as U.S. Steel‘s CEO Mario Longhi and SSAB Americas President Chuck Schmitt in attendance. The law allows the president to impose restrictions on imports for reasons of national security. The order would only task the Commerce Department with starting a probe into the imports and if they, indeed, harm national security. Reuters reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already tasked Commerce personnel with starting the probe.

Trump said Ross and Commerce would be back “very, very soon” with recommendations about how to protect the American steel industry. He also repeated campaign trail criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement and said that farmers in Wisconsin are also suffering from cheap imports of dairy products from Canada.

“Times of crisis call for extraordinary measures. Massive global steel overcapacity has resulted in record levels of dumped and subsidized foreign steel coming into the U.S. and the loss of nearly 14,000 steel jobs,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest trade organization of North American steel producers. “The Administration launching this investigation is an impactful way to help address the serious threat posed by these unfair foreign trade practices, and we applaud this bold action.”

According to Ross, the investigation was “self-initiated” by Commerce and will consider “the domestic production (of steel) needed for the projected national defense requirement” and if domestic industries can meet that requirement. It will also look at “the impact of foreign competition on specific domestic industries and the impact of displacement of domestic product because of foreign imports.”

There are national security implications from imports of steel alloys that are used in products such as the armor plating of ships and require a lot of expertise to create and produce.

The Department of Commerce started investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Belarus, Italy, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, and companion countervailing duty investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Italy and Turkey. The investigations cover hot-rolled products of carbon and alloy steel.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The alleged dumping margins range from 18.89% (Italy) to 756.93% (Russia) and both of the alleged countervailing subsidies are above de minimis (less than 2%). The U.S. International Trade Commission is scheduled to make its preliminary injury determinations on or before May 12, 2017.

The petitioners are Gerdau Ameristeel US Inc. in Florida, Nucor Corporation based in North Carolina, Keystone Consolidated Industries of Texas, and Charter Steel in Wisconsin.

President Donald Trump (R-N.Y.) is set to sign an executive order this afternoon ordering enforcement and review of the H-1B visa program, popular in the technology industry, on a visit to the headquarters of Snap-On Inc., a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., according to senior administration officials.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

He will also use what the White House called the “Buy American and Hire American” order to seek changes in government procurement that would boost purchases of American products in federal contracts, with one aim being to help U.S. steelmakers.

The moves show Trump once again using his power to issue executive orders to try to fulfill promises he made last year in his election campaign, in this case to reform U.S. immigration policies and encourage purchases of American products.

“Strong Buy America domestic procurement preferences for federally funded infrastructure projects are vital to the health of the domestic steel industry, and have helped create manufacturing jobs and build American infrastructure,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, the largest trade group for North American steel manufacturers. “The foundation of a strong Buy America program is the longstanding requirement that all iron and steel-making processes occur in the U.S. for a product to be Buy America compliant — from the actual steel production to the finishing processes. This ‘melted and poured’ standard has been successfully applied since 1983 and must continue to be the standard used in federal Buy America rules for steel procurement. We applaud President Trump for affirming his commitment to full and effective enforcement of our Buy America laws, and to addressing the issue of unfairly dumped and subsidized steel, in signing this Executive Order today.”

Coking coal has more than doubled in a matter of days as a cyclone caused disruptions to Australia’s coal exports. The impact was significant and several miners had to declare force majeure on their coal deliveries.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

It is estimated that shipments accounting for 50% of the global coking coal supply will be delayed and that Australia will need at least two months to regularize its coking coal exports after the natural disaster.

Australian coking coal’s free-on-board price in US dollars per metric ton. Source:mining.com.

Coking coal prices rose sharply in the second half of last year when China reduced allowable work days at the country’s coal mines, which reduced output and tightened the global coking coal market. These events added fuel to rising steel prices in China. But a slump in coking coal prices since December added pressure to steel prices, especially in China since the country strongly depends on the commodity to make steel.

Can Higher Coking Coal Prices Give a New Boost to Chinese Steel Prices?

The Chinese cold-rolled coil price. Source: MetalMiner IndX.

A recent CNBC article states that Australia is the world’s biggest coking coal exporter and therefore, China’s largest supplier. The recent disruptions are forcing China to look for alternative supplies such as Russia, Mongolia or Indonesia. In addition, China won’t import more coking from North Korea as a punishment to recent North Korean missile tests.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Higher coking coal prices translate into higher input costs, particularly in China. Chinese steel prices set the floor for international steel prices, a topic that we discussed recently. Steel buyers should monitor the recent surge in coking coal prices closely since steelmakers will potentially pass on the increase to consumers, giving a boost to weakening steel prices in China.

Global steel prices tend to find a floor based on the price of Chinese steel. If Chinese prices fall, domestic U.S. prices also tend to fall. However, grain-oriented electrical steel continues to beat to its own drum, often not aligned with underlying steel prices.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

March is no exception.

Although U.S. domestic steel prices continued to rise in March, the GOES M3 price fell and fell rather significantly dropping by nearly 7%.

GOES MMI

Meanwhile, according to a couple of recent TEX Reports, GOES prices from Baosteel increased by $38/metric ton in April after increases of $168/mt from January through March. Baosteel acts as the price leader and according to a recent report, and will likely stand pat until or unless others also increase their prices. Those “others” may have a near-term opportunity to do so as a large tender from Bharat Heavy Electricals for 20,000 mt will bring in the global GOES producer community. As China tends to set the “market floor” for global steel prices, the TEX Report suggests that this tender will serve as the global price floor for GOES for the balance of 2017.

Supporting the rising price theory, TEX Report also suggests that prices have risen by $200-300 per mt in the Middle East and India.

Ironically, prices for steel rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange have declined by 5% according to a recent MetalMiner story on the back of declining coking coal (4%) and declining coke prices (5%), as well as falling iron ore futures. Some, including MetalMiner, believe the price declines are due to speculators unwinding bullish bets.

Chinese HRC

Source: MetalMiner Forecasting

Regardless, Chinese prices for hot-rolled coil are falling and though GOES prices often diverge from underlying steel market trends, upward price movements may be elusive.

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |

China will offer the Trump administration better market access for financial sector investments and U.S. beef exports to help avert a trade war, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing officials familiar with the matter.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

China is prepared to raise the investment ceiling in the Bilateral Investment treaty and is also willing to end the ban on U.S. beef imports, the newspaper also reported.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Friday that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to a new 100-day plan for trade talks on Friday.

Steel Shipments Down in February, But Up Year-Over-Year

The American Iron and Steel Institute recently said that for the month of February 2017, U.S. steel mills shipped 7,232,341 net tons, a 6.2% decrease from the 7,708,416 nt shipped in the previous month, and a 2.4% increase from the 7,059,442 nt shipped in February 2016. Shipments year-to-date in 2017 are 14,940,757 nt, a 6% increase vs. 2016 shipments of 14,090,749 nt for two months.

A comparison of February shipments to the previous month of January shows the following changes:  hot rolled sheets, down 3%, hot-dipped galvanized sheets and strip, down 6% and cold-rolled sheets, down 8%.

The signals the U.S. is sending in the steel sector really worry Germany, so said Brigitte Zypries, German Economy Minister, according to Reuters in a recent article.

Benchmark Your Current Steel Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

This isn’t the first time the European Union has had a trade spat with the U.S. over steel but it is unusual for one party or the other to take the case to the World Trade Organization, claiming “accounting tricks” and “protectionism” designed to give domestic producers an “unfair competitive advantage.”

The E.U.’s position is this issue should have been addressed through bilateral negotiations giving them the opportunity to show Germany, French and Austrian steel producers are not dumping steel and are not being subsidized, but President Trump signed executive orders last Friday aimed at identifying abuses causing the huge U.S. trade deficit, and Germany is deemed one of the worst culprits.

Port Talbot steel plant

British Steel and its Port Talbot plant could be the next company in line for carbon and alloy steel plate tariffs from the U.S. Source: Adobe Stock/Petert2

However, by issuing a final finding that European and Asian producers dumped certain carbon and alloy steel cut-to-length plate in the U.S. market, the Department of Commerce says it is allowed to impose duties ranging from 3.62 to 148%, but the E.U. claims the decision has been determined on the basis of dodgy accounting estimates and the correct place to discuss them is at the negotiating table or via the WTO, not by applying duties which will then take months to address and impact trade for a year or more, essentially shutting European mills out of the U.S. market. Read more