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Monday, December 02, 2013

Steel Prices are likely to remain subdued in the coming months
November 30, 2013: Steel prices are likely to remain muted in the coming months as a supply glut resulting from a massive increase in output from China continues to exert pressure on prices of the metal globally. Chinese steel mills have been ramping up cheap exports amid sluggish economic conditions and overcapacity.

This forced other suppliers in international markets to rein in their rates, sending the steel market into a tailspin that seems to have bottomed out, although it is not certain whether a recovery is possible in the near-term. Benchmark steel prices in China have lost 5.4 per cent in 2013 so far and the metal is currently being quoted at $611.8 a tonne in the China spot market, according to Bloomberg data.

This is lower than their three-year average of $656.4 a tonne and down 16.7 per cent from 2011 levels.

PRESSURE

The turbulence in international markets has a bearing on Indian steelmakers’ fortunes too, with the industry already struggling to remain competitive amid sharp depreciation of the rupee. The output of domestic steel players is projected to grow at an annual 6.3 per cent to reach 104 million tonnes by 2017 from 78.6 million tonnes in 2012, according to research agency Business Monitor International (BMI).

The additional output would come on the back of a huge rise in demand spurred by the Government’s ambitious $1-trillion spending plan on infrastructure in the 12th Plan (2012-17). But depressed prices could skew the estimates.

In addition, input side issues could upset the applecart for the Indian steel industry. In particular, the iron ore mining ban in Goa and Kerala has forced steelmakers to increase reliance on expensive imports to meet their requirements. In 2012, India imported 2.8 mt of iron ore, which was a 114 per cent increase in comparison to the previous year.

INCREASED COST

Besides this, weakness in the rupee has increased the import bill of many companies on coking coal, in view of the paucity of this resource within the country.

Companies such as JSW Steel, RINL and Essar Steel will be the worst-affected by the increased cost of procuring coking coal. The difficult conditions are reflected in steel company SAIL’s price list for various products, which has remained unchanged since March 1, with pass-through of higher input costs made impossible in the face of cheaper imports.

SAIL is offering HR coil at Rs 38,500 a tonne ($613.8 at an exchange rate of Rs 62.72 a dollar), according to its latest rate list, but China is offering HR coil for export at just $522.5 a tonne, according to Metal Bulletin data. And while SAIL’s cold-rolled coil is quoted at Rs 44,450 a tonne ($708.6), China is offering it at $612 a tonne.

SOME GOOD NEWS

The situation has motivated the Government to impose a countervailing duty and a separate special countervailing duty over-and-above the import duty on steel to protect the domestic industry from a flood of cheap imports.

The benefits of the falling rupee could, however, prove advantageous for select manufacturers of steel. This provides an impetus for exports of their produce overseas. Global steel use is expected to grow 3.1 per cent this year to 1.47 billion tonnes and 3.3 per cent to 1.52 billion tonnes in 2014, compared with just 2 per cent growth in 2012, according to the latest forecast by the World Steel Association.

This opens up markets for Indian steelmakers to export their output. In India, demand is projected to rise from 84.5 mt in 2013 to 112.8 mt in 2017. But again, the large volumes being pushed into the market by neighbouring China will limit any upside from additional overseas shipments. China produces as much steel as the rest of the world combined and is well-positioned to flood global markets with the product.

Steel demand in China is projected to have grown 6 per cent in 2013, compared with just 0.7 per cent in the rest of the world, driven by the government’s aggressive infrastructure spending. But 2014 may well be a different story, given even China has begun to feel the effects of a global slowdown.

In the long-term though, steel prices are seen moving upward, particularly in the light of China’s recently announced “60-point action plan” to tackle pollution.

The action plan will have a bearing on global steel prices, given one of its salient features is slashing steel production capacity to 80 mt by 2017.

arvind.jayaram@thehindu.co.in

Courtesy: The Hindu Business Line