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Steel Demand Is Taking A Beating As China Lockdowns Persist

  • Steel prices are falling as lockdowns in China weigh on demand.
  • According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Chinese steel output dropped more than 6% year over year in March.
  • China’s property sector also remains a point of concern.

The ascent for U.S. steel prices faltered as HRC, CRC, and HDG prices began to fall in early May. Plate prices also took a big dip.  

All in all, the Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell by 8.9% from April to May.

Iron Ore Slumps to 4-Month Low on Demand Concerns

Iron ore prices fell to a 4-month low on mounting demand concerns due to China’s ongoing lockdowns. Meanwhile, iron ore fines fell to $131.90 on May 10, the lowest since Jan 31 and a 12.6% decline since the close of March. 

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Chinese steel output dropped more than 6% year over year in March. On top of lockdowns and restrictions due to COVID outbreaks, Chinese steel production faced several other curbs in recent months. Among them were Olympics-related cuts, which expired in March, and China’s specific intentions to reduce crude steel production in 2022.

Related: Six Years Late And 250% Over Budget: Georgia’s Newest Nuclear Plant

China’s property sector also remains a point of concern. Property developer Sunac missed a recent bond payment in early May, becoming the latest property developer to fall into default. According to the company, “liquidity issues” played a significant role in their missing payment. Additionally, sales were “significantly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.” Indeed, there was a 65% drop in sales from March to April. Before Sunac’s default, Zhenro Properties attributed its own default in April to the “unforeseen scale and duration” of lockdowns in Shanghai.

Whirlpool Trims Sales Forecast as Steel Prices Dip

Domestically, Whirlpool started to see a slowdown in demand, which caused it to narrow projected sales for 2022. Following an 8.2% year-over-year drop in sales during the first quarter, the North American appliance sector stated it would remain level during 2022. This is a major change from its previous forecast of 3% growth. Industry wide, North American volumes fell 4% year over year during the first quarter, although they nonetheless stand 24% above 2019 levels.

While some see Whirlpool’s slowdown as a warning of what’s to come, U.S. demand through March appeared strong. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, new orders for manufactured durable goods saw 0.8% growth in March. Consumer spending likewise rose 1.1%. Both of these factors serve as strong economic health indicators. Manufacturing, in particular, makes up roughly 12% of the U.S. economy.

Arcelormittal Expects Up to 1% Drop In Global Steel Demand in 2022

ArcelorMittal SA recently lowered its estimates for global steel demand. The world’s second-largest steelmaker now expects demand to fall up to 1% in 2022. They cite the war in Ukraine and China’s zero-COVID policy, which are slowing the global economic recovery and increasing inflationary pressures. This is a big change from their forecast of 1% growth prior to the Russian invasion.

The European Steel Association (Eurofer) also narrowed its outlook for EU steel consumption in 2022. Thus far, Europe has experienced the brunt of the economic impact from the war in Ukraine. Alongside supply chain disruptions and a “worsening energy crisis,” Eurofer now expects consumption to fall 1.9% in 2022. All this after consumption rebounded by 15.2% in 2021. However, the organization remains optimistic for 2023, projecting an overall 5.1% increase.

By AG Metal Miner

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