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Euro Steelmakers Defy Sluggish Market With Bold Price Hike

Via Metal Miner

Steelmakers in Northwestern Europe are seeking an increase of €20 ($20) per metric ton on hot rolled coil. Market sources told MetalMiner that the hike in steel prices comes despite subdued demand for the flat rolled product going into September.

"I think that they are trying to push up prices against input prices," one source said.

Mills are reportedly seeking €650-670 ($695-720) per metric ton EXW for HRC for November rolling and December delivery. This is up significantly from the €630-650 ($675-695) reported in late August. That said, the trader expressed concern that end users would not accept the increase. "There is just a lack of demand," they reported.

Benchmark, 63.5% Fe iron ore reached a high of $119.50 per metric ton CFR Tianjin on Sept. 6. According to information from the website Trading Economics, this figure is up almost 15% from the Aug. 6 low of $104.

Mills Ramping Up Production in Hope to Elevate Steel Prices

"Increasing expectations that Beijing will mandate steel output controls in the near future drove mills to ramp up production in the short term to undercut any controls, increasing demand for iron ore," the website stated.

Gas prices were also higher in August, mainly due to concerns over possible strike action by workers at three LNG providers in Australia. Meanwhile, Benchmark Dutch TTF gas was €39.90 ($43.47) per megawatt hour on Aug. 21. Trading Economics data showed this reflects a 44.8% rise from the €28.16 ($30.69) reported on July 21. However, that price has since backed off, reaching €34.56 ($37.01) on Sept. 8.

Indeed, workers at U.S. energy major Chevron's LNG project started strike action that same day. According to other reports, the poor demand has also prompted Liberty Steel Ostrava to shut down one of its three coking ovens.

Slowed European Construction Remains a Problem

Higher interest rates by central banks in key economies due to sharp inflation after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, continue to impact European construction activity. Indeed, construction within the 27-member European in is likely to decline 1.6% year on year. However, in June, the European Steel Association (Eurofer) also predicted the industry would see a modest upturn in 2024.

Hot rolled coil's applications include the construction sector. The flat-rolled product also serves as feedstock for the production of cold rolled coil and welded pipes, both of which the construction sector also consumes. This shows that the current HRC market remains a challenging one. Falling demand, volatile material prices, and supply chain shocks are all putting a strain on bottom lines. MetalMiner's September workshop "Tackle Falling Demand, Rising Material Prices and Supply Chain Shocks" will cover how to grapple with all of this.

Central Banks Could Impact Steel Prices, Influx from China

The European Central Bank (ECB) and the UK's Bank of England (BoE) have also indicated possible plans for one more rate hike before pausing.

The main refinancing operations rate at the ECB came to 4.25%. This was after the bank raised its rate for the ninth time since July 2022, when that rate was 0%. For comparison, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) has cut interest rates three times in 2023. The last rate cut was on Aug. 21, when the PBOC cut its one-year prime loan rate by 10 basis points to 3.45% from 3.5%.

As our source put it, "China's economy is sputtering." How exactly this will impact 2024 steel prices and other industrial metal prices will all be covered in the 2024 Annual Outlook.

Ratings agency Moody's also predicted China's GDP projection for 2023 to grow 5%. However, the organization cut its outlook for 2024 to 4% from 4.5%. The latest figures indicate that GDP growth in the world's second-largest economy for 2022 was 3%.

The slower growth in China's economy has created concerns that mills in that country could flood Southeast Asia or even Europe with their steel products. As the source noted, offers on material from Japan, Vietnam, and China are likely to be lower than €600 per metric ton CFR at European ports.

By Christopher Rivituso

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