European Steel Prices Approaching Bottom of The Current Cycle
by Hans Diederichs
Procurement activity, resale values and sentiment remain weak, in the European strip mill products market, in November. Slow economic growth, global trade conflicts and political difficulties have added to the air of pessimism. A lack of orders, from the auto sector, in particular, continues to have a significant negative effect on overall demand. Basis values are under downward pressure. Domestic delivery lead times are short, allowing customers either to postpone buying decisions, or to purchase only small quantities.
On a brighter note, price offers from third country suppliers began to rise. For the moment, Ilva is not accepting new orders, because of the withdrawal of ArcelorMittal from the deal with the Italian government to take over the company. If this situation persists, it should help to tighten supply throughout Europe, adding to the capacity cuts already in place at other steelmakers. Moreover, a number of buyers believe that prices are reaching the bottom for this cycle. Consequently, a degree of inventory replenishment may get underway, following a prolonged destocking phase.
The German market for strip mill products is quiet. Business levels are low. Basis prices continue to fall. Steelmakers are lacking orders due to the significantly reduced activity in the auto industry. Machinery manufacture is also under pressure. Producers continue to offer discounts in order to try to generate sales and compete against imports. Service centre inventories are gradually declining but remain in excess, compared with today’s low demand.
End-user activity has, generally, remained quite good, in France, except for the slowdown now taking place in the auto sector. Demand from the rest of industry is reasonable. However, customers are aware that they can obtain good discounts, with quick deliveries. Prices continued to decrease, in November, but some stabilisation is now noted. Despite production cuts, several steelmakers are still struggling to fill their order books. Competitive offers from overseas suppliers remain plentiful.
In Italy, mills are attempting to lift strip mill product prices, citing the recent ownership problem at Ilva, which is expected to lead to much tighter supply. For the moment, availability is ample. Demand remains very weak, with producers still prepared to lower their offers in order to secure orders. Delivery lead times remain relatively short. Pressure from third country imports eased recently. Indian suppliers are less active. Turkish quotations increased in price, albeit only slightly, due to a pickup in activity in their home market. Distributors report further negative pressure on their resale values.
In the UK, many service centres report a lack of demand. Those supplying the auto sector are most badly hit. Credit insurers are wary due to the recent insolvencies at several large distributors. Consequently, credit limits have tightened. However, a number of stockholders report good business in September/October, in terms of volumes and margins. Nevertheless, mill prices are moving down, quite rapidly, for deliveries in January 2020. Imports are particularly attractive, since the pound sterling strengthened. Material is available from India, Brazil, South Korea and Turkey. Inventories are still being run down.
In Belgium, steel demand remains weak. Stock levels are high. End-users only buy for their short-term needs. Steelmakers are chasing orders and cutting output. Negative price pressure persists. Market sentiment needs to improve before any revival takes place. Large service centres are also keen to make sales, in order to improve turnover and reduce inventories before the year-end. Intense competition in the distribution sector led to further discounting.
After October’s rapid deterioration in strip mill product prices, the negative trend persisted into November, in Spain. Customers continue to purchase only for their immediate needs, even though many buyers believe selling values have now reached the bottom for this cycle. Service centres report that sales volumes in the general market are acceptable. Construction demand is stable. Demand from the auto sector is likely to continue to fall in 2020, although the drop will be far less dramatic than in recent times. At the service centres, resale margins remain very low.
Source: MEPS Graphic: Fotolia