Stainless steel business activity is, generally, at a low level, in Europe. With alloy surcharges falling in December and set to rise in January, some speculative purchasing may have been expected, this month. In fact, sales volumes have been disappointing and, in some countries, coil basis values have slipped.
While low oil prices have boosted consumer spending, they have had a seriously negative effect on exploration investment, particularly in the UK and Norway.
European mills are likely to seek basis price increases in the first quarter of 2015, if not in January. Producers and traders are hopeful of increased tonnages next year but there is a widely held belief that volumes will be similar to those in 2014.
Impending antidumping measures are limiting European demand for coil from Taiwan and China. This has combined with the strong US dollar to make the United States a more attractive market to Asian producers.
The US economy is strengthening. There is growing stainless steel sales activity and longer delivery lead times, especially for cold rolled coil. However, there has been no positive movement in coil basis values, even as the alloy surcharge has slipped.
Asia continues to record slowing growth and has a substantial surplus in stainless steelmaking capacity. Producers have supported prices by limiting their output, in recent months. Business activity is expected to remain at a relatively low level until after the Lunar New Year holidays.
Nickel values are forecast to rise, moderately, in 2015. China’s output of nickel pig iron is set to decrease as its stockpiles of Indonesian laterite ore become depleted. Inventories are currently estimated at about 7 million tonnes and material is being consumed at around one million tonnes per month. This will be exacerbated, in the short term, by a slowing of the supply of ore from the Philippines, due to seasonal weather conditions.
In the longer term, global supply and demand for nickel are predicted to be in balance in 2015, with increasing year-on-year deficits thereafter, as output from new nickel production facilities fails to match the growth in demand.