According to MEPS, despite relatively healthy demand, US flat product transaction values have continued to slip over the last month, mainly as a result of cheaper raw materials and import pressure. High prices in North America have attracted a great deal of interest from steelmakers elsewhere in the world. Imports are at historically high levels. Domestic mill delivery lead times have shortened. Service centres report that sales have already slowed as we head into December. Their inventories are adequate to high. However, they are anticipating robust demand in 2015, with many projects about to come on stream.
There has been some softening in the Canadian market for seasonal reasons. Mill delivery lead times are reducing. Import volumes are on the rise. There has been some marginal price erosion but producers are trying hard to resist further downward movements. Recent mill price rise announcements are viewed as a tactic to keep transaction numbers stable.
Chinese manufacturing growth continues to slow, leading to weaker domestic steel demand at the same time as supply increases and the producers’ raw material costs tumble. Market players are pessimistic about the future direction of steel prices. Overseas sales volumes hit record highs in October. However, increasing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures against Chinese steel products could hinder future developments, as could the speculation regarding the removal of VAT rebates on exports.
The Japanese economy slipped back into recession in the third quarter. September statistics show that steel orders dropped by 2.8 percent, year-on-year. Exports are weak. Domestic demand was relatively stable. Flat product values were all revised downwards in November, reflecting fierce import competition, especially from China and South Korea. Tokyo Steel has decided to keep official list prices for December deliveries unchanged from the previous month. The company cited an imbalance in supply and demand. Inventories stood at a thirteen year high at the end of September. Moreover, the rapidly declining yen is making imported raw materials more expensive for the producer.
Steel output continues to climb in South Korea as more new capacity comes on stream. Local estimates suggest that annual production will reach a record high by the end of the year. However, domestic mills continue to struggle with significant import pressure and slowing economic growth. Chinese and Japanese steelmakers are gaining market share. Local mills continue to reduce transaction values in an effort to compete.
The overall Taiwanese economic outlook is said to be moderately optimistic. However, major integrated steelmaker, CSC, has decided to cut domestic list prices for the January/February 2015 period by an average of 1.7 percent, compared with figures for December contracts. Demand in the home market has weakened as downstream mills and finished goods manufacturers are facing increased competition in export markets as the Japanese yen and South Korean won devalue against the US dollar. Moreover, iron ore costs are declining.
Polish activity has improved slightly but service centres are expecting it to slow in December for seasonal reasons. The mills have failed to lift prices in euro terms but exchange rate fluctuations have pushed up selling figures when measured in zlotys. Czech/Slovak prices have hardly changed on a euro basis. Economic forecasts have recently been revised in the Czech Republic and, although there are some optimistic signals, overall expectations are a little lower than previously estimated.
West European flat product prices remain under negative pressure due to domestic oversupply, weakening raw material costs and flat demand caused by poor macro-economic conditions in several nations. Third country imports are unattractive as local offers are at similar prices, with shorter delivery lead times.