News in the Steel Industry:
ArcelorMittal offers EU concessions over Ilva
Luxembourg-based steelmaker ArcelorMittal has offered concessions in a bid to allay EU antitrust concerns over its planned takeover of Italian steel plant Ilva, a filing on the European Commission website showed on Thursday.
The world’s largest steelmaker submitted its proposal earlier on Thursday.
The EU competition authority, which did not provide details in line with its policy, extended the deadline for its decision to Nov. 13 from Oct. 26.
The Italian government has backed the deal between ArcelorMittal and Europe’s biggest capacity steel plant, which has a serious pollution issue.
Court Confirms Optima Specialty Steel’s Modified Plan of Reorganization
Optima Specialty Steel, Inc. (together with its subsidiaries, collectively the “Company”) today announced that the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware confirmed its Modified Plan of Reorganization (the “Plan”). The Plan confirmation clears the way for OSS to complete its financial restructuring and emerge from bankruptcy in the coming weeks. The Plan, sponsored by DDJ Capital Management, LLC (“DDJ”), received the support of all of the Company’s major creditor groups.
“We are extremely pleased with the results of today’s confirmation hearing and the Court’s action,“ said Michael Salamon, President of the Company. “The Court’s approval of our Plan paves the way for us to complete our financial restructuring and move forward with enhanced financial flexibility and stability. Our path through this critical step of the restructuring process would not have been possible without the support of our debtholders and creditors. I also want to extend our thanks to our customers, vendors, employees, and professional advisors who remained loyal and supportive throughout this process,” Salamon added.
Salamon continued, “Our restructuring will not alter our commitment to ethical business practices, operational excellence, and delivering world-class products and services our customers have come to expect from us. We are emerging well positioned for sustainable long term growth and looking forward to creating new and deeper relationships in the market under our new ownership.”
Jim Kime, Managing Director at DDJ, the investment manager to the Company’s largest creditor constituency, said: “We have been investors in the Company for many years and believe in the future of the Company, as reflected by our continued financial support of the Company as it emerges from bankruptcy. We look forward to working closely with the Company’s management to create a stronger, more sustainable enterprise delivering excellent products to its customers.”
Global steel demand growth to slow in 2018
Global steel demand growth is expected to slow to 1.6 percent next year, after strong growth in 2017 driven by demand from top consumer China, the World Steel Association (world-steel) said on Monday.
Demand will reach 1.648 billion tons next year, up from 1.622 billion tons this year, world-steel said. The 2017 figure corresponds to nominal growth of 7 percent and underlying growth of 2.8 percent.
“The risks to the global economy … have to some extent abated. We see the best balance of risks since the 2008 economic crisis,” world-steel said in a statement at its general assembly in Brussels.
However, it added: “In 2018 we expect growth to moderate, mainly due to slower growth in China.”
The steel industry, worth about $900 billion a year, is a gauge of the world’s economic health. Average global prices have climbed some 50 percent since the 12-year lows of December 2015, according to consultants MEPS.
China this year closed most of its outdated and in many cases illegal induction furnaces, a category not previously captured in official demand statistics, hence the one-off effect on nominal versus underlying demand.
World-steel expects demand in China to reach 765.7 million tons this year and next. The 2017 figure corresponds to nominal growth of 12.4 percent this year and underlying growth of 3 percent, world-steel said. Next year, however, China’s demand will be flat.
World-steel, which represents more than 160 steelmakers accounting for 85 percent of global production, had forecast in April that global demand would grow just 1.3 percent in 2017 and 0.9 percent in 2018.
“Progress in global steel markets this year to date has been encouraging. We have seen the cyclical upturn broadening and firming … ” said T.V. Narendran, chairman of the world-steel Economics Committee.
Future prospects are less encouraging, though, especially in the longer term.
“The lack of a strong growth engine to replace China and a long-term decline in steel intensity due to technological and environmental factors will continue to weigh on steel demand in the future,” world-steel said.
Demand in India, the world’s third-largest steel consumer and the industry’s best hope after China, is expected to grow just 4.4 percent this year and 5.7 percent next year, compared with an April forecast of 6.1 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively.
On the plus side, excess capacity is being reduced, thanks largely to China’s cuts, world-steel director general Edwin Basson said at the general assembly.
“There’s ample evidence that over a two-year space China will have closed capacity similar to total U.S. capacity and on top of that comes the induction furnace closures,” Basson said .
“There’s (still) enough capacity globally to satisfy demand for the next 20 years (but) we’re positive because the G20 (Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity) is looking at this and there’s good co-operation between all member countries.”
Official figures from China show it has cut nearly 100 million tons of legal steel capacity and 120 million tons of illegal induction furnace capacity since the start of last year.
POSCO Signs PosMAC Supply Agreement with An English Tube Manufacturer
On October 12 at the POSCO Center, POSCO signed a PosMAC supply agreement for pipes with Top Tubes, the English pipe manufacturer specializing in cold-rolling and plating.
The agreement ceremony was attended by 10 interested parties, including Adam Bradley, CEO of Top Tubes, Byeong-ryong Suh, Head of Construction Steel Materials Sales Group, Chae-il Lim, Head of Hot-Rolling 1 of POSCO Daewoo, and they discussed terms and conditions of business and cooperative plans and they will work together to seek PosMAC pipe markets in England in the future.
Top Tubes is an England-based company established in 1994. POSCO supplied PosMAC testing production goods to Top Tubes in 2012, and in 2013, achieved sales of PosMAC for the first time in Europe. In 2016, as the awareness of zinc-magnesium plating options was improving, Adam Bradley, CEO of Top Tubes visited Korea and discussed an extended application plan for PosMAC. POSCO has been making great efforts on expanding PosMAC sales by providing technical solutions: developing corrosion-resistant materials suited for the wet and salty climate conditions of England, and manufacturing optimal welding wires while securing corrosion resistance of pipe seam welding.
As a result, Top Tubes launched ‘MAGNAtube’, a premium pipe brand using PosMAC in June of this year. This is the first case where the overseas client established a secondary brand derived from using PosMAC. Top Tubes plans to expand its sales to promote PosMAC used as materials along with MAGNAtube to consumers so as to secure reliability of the product, and to use the PosMAC brand, the construction steel materials of next generation, which is excellent in corrosion resistance compared to plated steel and is less expensive than stainless steel.
Top Tubes, the English pipe manufacturer, launched MAGNAtube, the pipe brand using PosMAC in June of this year. Product promotion screen on the corporate website of Top Tubes(http://toptubes.co.uk/)
Adam Bradley, CEO of Top Tubes, said at the event, “We have the utmost confidence in the products by going through various verification processes of PosMAC. We also expect that MAGNAtube, the premium pipe using PosMAC, will prove to be a strategic product which will shape our future.”
POSCO plans to accelerate to expand access to the European market by continuing with a consistent cooperative relationship with Top Tubes, the first purchaser of PosMAC in Europe as well as the client who launched the first PosMAC-derived brand, such as providing technical solutions.
Iron ore price slump brings risk of downside overshoot
With spot Asian iron ore having fallen back below $60 a ton, the price of the steelmaking ingredient appears to be heading toward a level more in line with supply and demand fundamentals.
However, as usual the risk when a rally reverses as quickly as the current decline in iron ore is that prices overshoot to the downside.
The Asian spot price .IO62-CNO=MB fell to $59.65 a ton on Wednesday, the lowest level in 3-1/2 months and a drop of 25 percent since the recent peak of $79.65 in late August.
Iron ore is now well below the $78.87 it fetched at the end of 2016, and it is proving to be a volatile year, with two strong rallies being followed by sharp reversals.
Both the surge to the 2017-high of $94.86 a ton in late February and the August-peak were driven by optimism over robust steel output in China, which buys about two-thirds of global seaborne iron ore shipments.
The latest drop in iron ore prices has come as some of the optimism over Chinese steel production and demand fades, especially in the light of ongoing mill closures as part of efforts to improve air quality ahead of the major conference of the ruling Communist Party, which starts on Oct. 18.
While prices have been volatile, China’s import demand has been remarkably stable.
Imports for the first eight months of the year were 714 million tonnes, a gain of 6.7 percent from the same period last year, according to customs data.
While official numbers for September are yet to be released, vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Thomson Reuters suggest another steady month.
Seaborne iron ore imports were 87.2 million tonnes in September, slightly down from August’s 88.6 million, according to the data.
The vessel-tracking data and the customs numbers don’t tally exactly, given differences as to when cargoes are assessed as having been cleared. The ship data also doesn’t account for imports that arrive via rail or truck from countries such as Mongolia.
There is the risk that iron ore imports may be somewhat lower in the last quarter of this year, given the expected closure of steel mills and China’s ample port inventories, which rose to 133.8 million tonnes in the week to Oct. 6.
Inventories SH-TOT-IRONINV are lower than the record 141.4 million tonnes, reached in late June, but they are also well above the 114 million tonnes recorded at the end of 2016.
If iron ore demand is curtailed by curbs on steel production in the next few months, it should result in lower imports or a further build-up of port stocks, both of which should be bearish for prices.
China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection released a plan in August that outlined pollution abatement measures in 28 northern cities from October to March, and reports suggest that shutdowns of steel mills and other heavy industries such as aluminium smelting have already commenced.
The enforced curbs on steel raise the possibility that sentiment toward iron ore will be hit, driving the price below the $53.36 a tonne low so far this year, reached on June 13.
However, the futures curve of Singapore Exchange contracts , which are based on the Steel Index spot price, has been flattening as prices have declined since the recent August-peak.
The curve usually trades in backwardation, with front-month contracts commanding a premium over those dated further out.
The premium of the front-month contract over the six-month was $2.58 at the close on Wednesday, down from $3.71 on Aug. 21, the day prior to the start of the current slide in prices.
While not a huge shift in the structure of the curve, it does illustrate that the market probably believes the current reversal in prices is unlikely to become a rout.
There may be some justification in that thinking, although much will depend on the tone and substance of the upcoming policy meeting of China’s rulers.
If it appears likely that the authorities will keep the infrastructure and construction spending pump primed in 2018, iron ore will likely get a boost along with other industrial commodities.
Certainly, China’s steel industry is still relatively bullish, with the industry association expecting demand to rise 3-4 percent this year, and output to rise from 808 million tonnes in 2016 to 840 million this year.
If this optimism is retained going into 2018, it may make any drop in spot iron ore prices below $50 a tonne short-lived.
Global steel recovery at risk from capacity ramp-ups outside China
The global steel sector’s recovery from a glut-fuelled slump, driven by Chinese capacity cuts, is being put at risk by surplus capacity being built in the Middle East and Asia, sources and experts say.
Figures from China show it has cut nearly 100 million tons of legal steel capacity and 120 million tons of illegal low-grade capacity since last January, but industry analysis shows only marginal declines in overall capacity.
According to the latest estimate from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), global steel-making capacity stood at 2.36 billion tons in the first half of 2017, easing just 0.6 percent from 2.37 billion in 2016.
The figures are evolving and may not yet reflect the full extent of capacity reductions taking place, a source close to the OECD Steel Committee, which produced the estimates, said. But he also said the overall global overcapacity picture was worrisome.
“Excess capacity remains at alarmingly high levels,” OECD Steel Committee chair Lieven Top said late last month, following the release of the estimates at its bi-annual meeting.
According to the OECD steel capacity report on which the estimates were based, some 23 million tonnes of potential output additions are underway in the Middle East, primarily Iran. These should come on stream during 2017-2019, with another 7 million tonnes planned for possible start-up during the period.
The extra capacity is headed in part for the export market given that the World Steel Association (worldsteel) estimates demand in the Middle East will grow by a total of just 3.7 million tonnes this year and next.
Iran, which became a net steel exporter for the first time last year, says it aims to export 20-25 million tonnes of steel annually by 2025, equivalent to almost a third the amount of steel China is set to export this year.
“Frankly, any region that increases capacity poses a distinct risk to future steel pricing and profit,” Alistair Ramsay, research director at Metal Bulletin Research, said.
Experts say that to meet demand and sustain profits, the steel industry requires at most 400 million tonnes of spare capacity over and above the current 1.63 billion tonnes it produces each year. But with global production potential at 2.36 billion, the industry has some 730 million tonnes spare.
Despite this, the OECD report shows a total of nearly 40 million tonnes of capacity additions are underway and could come on stream in 2017-19, including the Middle East additions, and some additions in Asia.
The report also shows another 54.5 million tonnes of capacity is planned for possible start-up during the period, primarily in Asia, with some in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Ukraine.
The numbers are gross estimates that do not take into account capacity cuts going forward, the OECD source said, but they still sound a note of caution for further investment.
“We do not expect sufficient global demand growth to justify the extent of capacity additions cited (in the OECD report). However, certain individual investments can still make sense, if very low cost or where they are best placed to serve local markets,” CRU analyst Chris Houlden said.
Global steel prices have soared 50 percent since Jan 1, 2016, according to data from consultants MEPS.
Share prices of steel companies jumped 70 percent during the period, according to the Thomson Reuters Global Steel Index, with the sector seeing some high profile acquisitions like ArcelorMittal’s 1.8 billion euro ($2.1 billion) offer for Italy’s Ilva, Europe’s largest and most troubled steel plant.
CHINA BLAME GAME
Price rises have been driven by the Chinese capacity cuts, but these should wane going forward. The China Iron and Steel Association said the country had essentially completed its five-year target, set last year, to cut 100-150 million tonnes of excess capacity.
Much of the blame for the global steel sector crisis of 2015 has been directed at China – producer of half the world’s steel – with 121 duties in place globally on Chinese output as of end-June this year, a U.S. Department of Commerce report showed.
In the United States, President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to take a tough line on what he says is unfairly traded Chinese steel, even launching an investigation into whether steel imports pose a risk to U.S. national security.
”Politicians in the West and western steel producers love to blame China for overcapacity, which is fair to an extent; but Chinese mills have shouldered most of the burden of capacity reductions in the last two years,” Roger Bell, director of mining research at Hannam and Partners, said.
Kobe Steel says specification data falsified on aluminum, copper products
Japanese steel maker Kobe Steel said that its internal checks found that data was fabricated to falsely show that aluminum and copper products met customer specifications, according to a statement issued on Sunday.
About 4 percent of the aluminum and copper products that Kobe Steel shipped in the period from September 2016 to August 2017 were falsely labeled as meeting the specifications requested by customers, a company spokesman said. The products were shipped to about 200 companies, the spokesman added.
Kobe Steel said it has not found any instances where the products with the falsified data are causing safety problems, according to the statement. However, the company said it will take prompt and appropriate steps if there are any safety issues arising from those shipments.
The company does not know the impact on its earning at this point, the statement said.
Kobe is also looking at whether there was data fabrication before the period of the latest internal audit, the spokesman said.
Gerdau to sell Chilean unit to Matco, I&I for $154 mln
Gerdau SA has agreed to sell a Chilean long steel unit to local players Matco Armacero SA and Ingeniería & Inversiones SA for about $154 million, in a move aimed at helping the largest steelmaker in the Americas cut debt and boost profitability.
In a Wednesday securities filing, Gerdau said the unit has installed capacity of 520,000 tons and the deal is pending on antitrust approval in Chile.
Thyssen-Tata merger puts fate of UK’s top steel plant at risk amid dismal earnings
Plagued by poor earnings, Britain’s biggest steel plant, located in Port Talbot, is likely to be first in line for job and output cuts after the planned European merger of Thyssenkrupp (TKAG.DE) and Tata Steel (TISC.NS), industry sources told Reuters.
Germany’s Thyssenkrupp and India’s Tata Steel have signed a memorandum of understanding for a 50-50 joint venture which, if approved, would forge Europe’s No.2 steelmaker after ArcelorMittal (MT.AS), with sales of around 15 billion euros (13.26 billion pounds).
The merger was driven chiefly by a need to address chronic overcapacity in Europe’s steel market and should conclude late next year. The company will begin reviewing its combined production network from 2020 onwards.
This is expected by industry analysts to include further job cuts in addition to 4,000 already announced along with the deal, leaving open the question where the hammer will fall hardest.
Tata’s century-old steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales, employing some 4,000 people directly and up to 16,000 more indirectly in a region with few other major industries, is a prime target for cuts in the event of a steel market downturn after 2020, industry analysts said.
“They’ll only invest in the UK operations if they earn money,” said Rakesh Arora, managing director at Go-India Advisors in Mumbai, who has been following Tata for decades.
“It’s difficult to make a call, but one thing I can tell you for sure, earnings will not be higher than they are now because we’re at a cyclical peak in the steel cycle.”
According to brokerage Jefferies, Port Talbot will have core earnings (EBITDA) of 12 euros per tonne, a margin of 2 percent, in the first year of the merger.
This compares with 92.4 euros, or a margin of 14 percent, at IJmuiden, Tata Steel’s other main production site in the Netherlands. Thyssenkrupp’s key plant in Duisburg, Germany, will earn 85.4 euros per tonne, at a profit margin of 11 percent.
“It would logically make sense to cut capacity at lower margin sites, which I believe are mainly the Tata assets. Thyssenkrupp’s sites are amongst the best earners in Europe,” one of Thyssenkrupp’s top-20 shareholders said.
A Tata Steel spokesman said it was the clear intent of both shareholders “to continue with the current asset configuration at all upstream sites including Port Talbot”.
Thyssenkrupp declined to comment.
Concerns resurfaced about Port Talbot’s future after the UK government wrote to Tata Steel Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran, asking him to commit to relining Port Talbot’s blast furnace 5.
That process typically costs over 150 million pounds and gives the furnace about 20 additional years of life.
Chandrasekaran said this was Tata Steel’s intent should the funds be available, but he declined to commit.
“As you know, its (blast furnace 5) relining was not included in the memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year (with the unions),” he replied in correspondence posted on a UK government website.
A spokesman for UK union Community said: “Relining blast furnace 5 is something that in the next weeks and months we will continue to push for.”
Unlike Port Talbot’s blast furnace 5, Thyssenkrupp’s Duisburg furnaces will not need relining in the next five years, people familiar with the matter said, because all had been relined or started operations during the past decade.
A source close to Tata’s IJmuiden plant said one of its blast furnaces will require relining within the next 3-5 years. Experts, however, say the merged group is still more likely to invest in IJmuiden rather than Port Talbot in a downturn because the Dutch operation is more profitable.
“Thyssenkrupp flagged potential for additional savings beyond 2020 from upstream crude steelmaking and hot rolling capacity adjustments, which we believe are most likely at Port Talbot,” Jefferies analyst Seth Rosenfeld said.
According to a filing with UK government database Companies House, Tata Steel UK made an operating loss (EBIT) of 449 million pounds in the year ending March 2017. This included a 413 million pound one-off in relation to the British Steel Pension Scheme, which the group has since separated from.
Excluding exceptional items, the business made an operating profit of 106 million pounds, but only after European steel prices ST-MBEUDNHRC-MB rose 66 percent, raising doubts over whether earnings can be sustained during a downturn.
Tata Steel Europe as a whole, which includes Tata Steel UK, posted core profits (EBITDA) of 536 million pounds in the same year, suggesting its British business accounted for just a fraction.
A UK government spokeswoman said: “It’s too early to be speculating on the future direction of individual sites. Both Tata Steel and Thyssenkrupp have acknowledged the improved performance at Port Talbot over the past 18 months.”
Thyssenkrupp’s steel unit is on average more profitable than Tata EU assets – which have burnt about $1 billion (752.62 million pounds)of cash a year over the past decade – giving German unions more muscle to extract job and plant guarantees from management at the expense of Tata Steel jobs.
Salzgitter Group to construct third hot-dip galvanizing line
In its meeting yesterday, the Salzgitter AG Supervisory Board approved an investment in a third hot-dip galvanizing line at the Salzgitter site. For Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH (SZFG), this project represents the implementation of a key component in the group’s “Salzgitter AG 2021” strategy, namely a consistent focus on the premium product range.
With an annual capacity of 500,000 metric tons, the new hot-dip galvanizing line 3 will supplement the two existing SZFG lines and reinforce the market position particularly in high and ultra-high strength steels for the automotive industry. The unit is scheduled to be put into operation in the second half of 2020.
“The investment is a renewed commitment to steel production in Germany. This line will allow us to continue to expand Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH’s importance as a supplier to customers in Europe and worldwide making very high quality demands,” states Executive Board Chair Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heinz Jörg Fuhrmann.
ArcelorMittal plans $1 billion Mexico investment by 2020
ArcelorMittal , the world’s largest steelmaker, will invest $1 billion (0.75 billion pounds) in Mexico over the next three years, in part to boost its North American trade operations, the company said on Thursday.
Mexico is a key production platform for the company. During the first half of 2017 AreclorMittal produced nearly $12 billion of steel in North America while shipping about $11 billion from the three-country region linked by the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which is currently being renegotiated.
“I am delighted to announce a $1 billion investment in Mexico over the next three years so we can meet Mexican demand for steel products, which is growing rapidly,” the company’s chairman and chief executive, Lakshmi Mittal, said at an event in southern Chiapas state attended by President Enrique Pena Nieto.
The event launched the government’s new special economic zones in southern Mexico, the country’s poorest region, in a bid to attract infrastructure investment.
Indian steel magnate Mittal said that “starting immediately” ArcelorMittal will modernize assets at the Pacific coast port of Lazaro Cardenas, one of Mexico’s busiest commercial hubs, as well as “downstream operations” aimed at meeting Mexican consumer demand.
Lazaro Cardenas is home to ArcelorMittal’s primary steelmaking operations in Mexico.
The investment covers construction of a new hot strip mill, which upon completion in about three years will allow production of 2.5 million tonnes of flat rolled steel.
“Coils from the new hot strip mill will be supplied to domestic, non-auto, general industry customers,” the company said in a statement.
The spending will also boost ArcelorMittal’s Mexican mining operations and will “support ArcelorMittal’s NAFTA operations by providing high-quality semi-finished steel slabs,” the company added.
There was no further detail on how the investment will boost trade within the NAFTA block, and the company’s press office did not immediately return an after-hours call for comment.
ArcelorMittal operates six facilities at three ports in Mexico.
ArcelorMittal currently produces about 4 million tonnes per year, but after the investment is completed, annual production is seen growing by about a third to reach 5.3 million tonnes.
In addition to flat rolled steel, the company expects to produce about 1.8 million tonnes of long steel and 1 million tonnes of semi-finished slaps, according to the statement.
In 2007, ArcelorMittal bought a $1.4 billion steel plant at Lazaro Cardenas, alongside another plant it already owned at the port.
Separately on Thursday, Mexican steelmaker Ternium announced plans to build new facilities in Mexico and Colombia.
Ternium’s Mexican plans include a new hot rolling mill with an investment of $1.1 billion. The facility’s annual production capacity will be 3.7 million tonnes and it is scheduled to be operational by the second half of 2020, Ternium said in a statement.
The plant will produce products for the auto sector as well as other industries including construction, energy and home appliances.
Local steel output falls for second straight week
Great Lakes steel production fell to 684,000 tons last week, a drop of 1.5 percent and the second straight week of decline.
Steel mills in the Great Lakes region made 695,000 tons of metal the previous week, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Most of the steel made in the Great Lakes region is produced in Lake and Porter counties in Northwest Indiana.
So far this year, U.S. steelmakers have produced 66 million tons of steel, about 3.6 percent more than they did during the same period in 2016. Steel mills have been running at a capacity of 74.6 percent so far this year, up from 72.1 percent through the same time last year.
Domestic steelmakers used about 73.8 percent of their steelmaking capacity in the week that ended Sept. 23, down from 74.9 percent the previous week and significantly up from 68 percent at the same time a year earlier, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Some analysts say steelmaking capacity utilization of about 90 percent would be considered healthy for an industry that’s been beset by imports and mill idling’s in recent years, and at least some of the blast furnaces in Northwest Indiana’s big integrated mills operate at around that capacity.
Overall, U.S. national steel output fell by 25,000 tons last week to 1.72 million tons, a decrease of 1.43 percent, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Production in the Southern District, nearly always the country’s second-largest steel-producing region, which spans mini-mills across the South, rose to 614,000 tons last week, up from 599,000 tons the previous week.