Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shake-out of ferrochrome industry overdue
[EditorThe demand for ferro alloys is driven by steel production, which in turn depends on growth from the infrastructure, housing, automobile and consumer durable industries. The ferro-alloy industry is at cross-roads now, with the new NDA government coming in New Delhi. I have already recommended Rohit Ferro Tech Ltd (Rs.9.63) pivoted on the source based information that the company's Captive Power Plant of 67.5 MW and 33 MVA Furnace are about to start operation within a very short time]
October 27, 2014: India's ferroalloys producers have built capacity of 5.25 million tonnes (mt), including 3.2 mt of manganese alloys and 1.75 mt of chrome alloys, anticipating much faster growth in domestic production of carbon, alloys and stainless steel than is actually the case. As a result, every segment of the ferroalloys sector has considerable idle capacity. The sector's attempt to beat overcapacity blues through exports has seen limited success in the face of oversupply of ferroalloys in the global market, thanks largely to Chinese dumping.

Ferromanganese is used for desulphurisation and strengthening of carbon steel, while ferrochrome imparts non-corrosive properties to stainless steel.

Bansidhar Panda, chairman of Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys (IMFA), says "the chromium sector is at a crossroads, buffeted by rising costs, stagnant prices" and China's overbearing presence in both ferrochrome and stainless steel sectors. Overcapacity is hitting non-integrated producers here, without ownership of chrome and manganese ore mines and captive power plants, the hardest. Such units in the chromium segment are never sure of securing the required supplies of chromite from the Odisha government-owned Odisha Mining Corporation. Grid power is expensive, as it is highly irregular. For ferroalloys plants without captive power, the electricity bill alone accounts for about 35 per cent of the overall production cost. Therefore, it isn't surprising that standalone units, which have to buy chromite and electricity, are in dire straits. Only a few, with toll smelting assignments from mines-owning ferroalloys groups, are able to keep their heads above water.

A shake-out of the sector is overdue. Integrated manufacturers still left with appetite for expansion will have a chance to buy furnaces and other equipment of closed units and those on the verge of closure at bargain prices. Ferroalloys Corporation (FACOR) says "acquisition" will remain one of the options for capacity growth.

But what is leading Tata Steel to build large new ferrochrome capacity when the sector is reeling under overcapacity in every ferroalloys segment? According to Odisha government officials, Tata Steel's new ferrochrome facilities are to be housed at Gopalpur, where it has large tracts of land. In 1995, the company acquired the land to build a steel plant, which didn't happen because of water scarcity and local agitation. Not only will Tata Steel make ferrochrome and roll steel at Gopalpur, it is also to play the role of an anchor in securing investments from southeast and Far Eastern countries in a variety of sectors. That the company has flagged off investment in two industries will inspire others in the multi-product Gopalpur special economic zone (SEZ). The presence of a soon-to-become all-season port nearby will underpin the SEZ's success. The capacity of the deep-sea port, capable of handling of up to 125,000-tonne vessels, is being raised from 3.5 mt to five to mt.

Being the most ideally integrated ferroalloys producer in India, with access to rich deposits of all required minerals, Tata Steel is in a vantage position to risk investment in new ferrochrome capacity. Not only does the group's large production of steel provide a major outlet for in-house production of ferrochrome and ferromanganese, it has "maximised profits by judicious allocation of ferroalloys products to profitable geographies". An important tenet of Tata Steel's ferroalloys marketing strategy is entering into long-term supply contracts with foreign steelmakers. The signing of a long-term contract with Nucor of the US for sale of ferrochrome will be followed by the attempts to get buyers in Japan and South Korea to increase sales tonnage.

Some other producers, including IMFA and FACOR, have also taken recourse to this route for long-term offtake assurance in the case of ferrochrome in a global market awash with Chinese material. Going a step further, IMFA is running a ferrochrome joint venture in Odisha, in partnership with Posco of South Korea. In all such supply arrangements, ferrochrome prices are revised periodically. Sustainability of the domestic sector, however, demands internal use of ferrochrome grows at a rapid pace. Much will depend on how quickly Indian per capita consumption of stainless steel, now 2.1 kg, approaches the world average of five kg. Continuing large imports from China are standing in the way of local stainless steel producers making better use of their capacity.

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