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The European tube and flat stainless steel market is struggling with low prices despite orders from distributors having picked up slightly in recent days, according to service centres and re-rollers.
The market for stainless flat and tube products is still feeling the consequences of the global health crisis and weak demand from enduse sectors. With stocks very high in most European countries, destocking and uncertainty are still hampering sales. Some European flat stainless steelmakers continue to produce at full capacity and are adopting very aggressive commercial strategies.
“Unless Aperam and Outokumpu implement some stoppages to cut overcapacity, demand for stainless in Europe will not resume,” a coil buyer believes. Other mills in Europe, however, have reduced output by some -40% in the past weeks. Producers are still facing poor order levels and short delivery times.
Eastern European countries are currently driving demand in Europe, together with Scandinavia. Germany is particularly sluggish. The country is facing massive destocking and poor orders from service centres and distributors, sources indicate.
French activity is slowly picking up, while Italian stainless flats and tubes consumption has fallen by an average of -25% year-on-year in the second quarter. Prices for both tubes and re-rolled flat products have lost €50/tonne on average in June and more falls are expected.
Stainless hot rolled coil in Europe is at €1,650/t ($1,866) delivered on average this month. Cold rolled coil is at €1,780-1,800/t delivered on average, down some €30/t ($33.8/t) month-on-month, sources suggest.
Russia decreased imports of stainless steel in June, according to national special steel association USSA. Imports amounted to 23,009 tonnes, down -10.7% on-month.
In May they were 32,640t, up by 9.4% on-year but down -10.9% on-month (see Kallanish passim).
June imports of stainless hot rolled flat steel decreased by -21% on-year and of cold rolled steel by -7.4%. But overall imports of stainless steel increased by 4.8%. “The objective situation in the Russian market forces importers to adjust their plans,” USSA says. This is reasonable given the demand decrease in the domestic market and the rise in steel prices in foreign markets, the association observes.
Earlier, USSA said that April and May will most likely be the last months when importers are able to maintain their procurement volumes at high levels before the Covid-19 pandemic impact strikes (see Kallanish passim). The main reasons for the anticipated trade decline are the strengthening of the Russian rouble, a decline in demand and a high level of stocks.
Acerinox signs financing for VDM Metals acquisition
Spain-headquartered stainless steel producer Acerinox has secured an €80 million ($92.6m) loan from BBVA bank with a maturity of five years to finance the acquisition of Germany’s VDM Metals.
The latter is specialised in specialty alloys production. The acquisition, which received the green light from European authorities in February, is valued at €532m.
“Spain’s stainless steel industry makes its debut in sustainable finance with the signed agreement,” Acerinox says. “Acerinox thus becomes the first Spanish company in the industry to link its finance costs to its sustainability commitment.” The financing is sustainable since the cost of the loan is linked to the evolution of emissions intensity – direct and indirect – per tonne of steel produced and the frequency of occupational accidents. The two indicators will be reviewed annually, Acerinox observes.
VDM is one of the largest European producers of specialty alloys and a large global supplier of high-performance products, used mainly in the aerospace, oil and gas, nuclear, chemical and automotive industries. The company has seven production plants located in Germany and the US, supported by four service centres.
Global cold rolled stainless steel production is estimated to have fallen by -12% on-year in the first half of 2020, with every country experiencing a decline in output.
Average utilisation rate is estimated to have decreased from 76% to 63%, with a resulting increase of 2.8 million tonnes in overcapacity. Due to the stainless consumption drop in all major regions resulting from Covid-19 and demand weakness, coupled with new capacity in China and Indonesia, global utilisation rates should remain in this range in 2020, says French stainless producer Aperam.
Utilisation is expected to remain relatively low until at least 2022, assuming China does not address its overcapacity issue and there is no recovery in global demand. European producers are expected to remain under pressure as imports remain at a high level in a contracting market. Moreover, further capacity is coming online in 2020, in particular from Indonesia, Aperam says.
All Aperam’s non-essential and discretionary expenses have been frozen while capital expenditures have been reviewed down to reach about €100 million ($117m) in 2020. Half of this amount is for the new cold rolling and annealing and pickling lines in Genk.
Aperam started well into the year 2020 with a first quarter marked by a seasonal volume recovery and the exhaustion of some import quotas increasing demand for domestically-produced material. Prices remained flat. Towards the end of Q1 the company started to face significant Covid-19-related effects which continued over Q2.
Ebitda was €70m in Q1 and €49m in Q2. In H1 it was €119m versus €176m in H1 2019. Total sales in H1 stood at €1,867m compared to €2,268m in H1 2019. Steel shipments stood at 814,000t compared to 966,000t in H1 2019. Average selling prices were at €2,231/tonne compared to €2,272/t in the same period the previous year.
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Acerinox second-quarter production lowers on-year
Efforts to reduce operating costs and the incorporation of VDM Metals allowed the group to neutralise the effect of Covid-19 and limit the drop in firsthalf Ebitda to -4% on-year, Acerinox observes.
Acerinox produced 417,000 tonnes of crude steel in Q2, down -26.8% y-o-y and -30.3% lower than in Q1. H1 crude steel output reached 1.01 million tonnes, down -15% on-year.
Hot rolled stainless steel production amounted to 353,000t in Q2, down -31.7% compared to Q1 and -31.3% on-year. H1 hot rolled output fell -17% y-o-y to 870,000t.
Outokumpu turns to loss, foresees lower third-quarter deliveries
Outokumpu expects stainless steel deliveries to decrease -10% on-quarter in the third quarter due to seasonally low demand in Europe and the continued Covid-19 pandemic impact. The firm has accelerated its Long Products segment strategic review under new management.
The European stainless steel market remains challenging as a result of continuing import and price pressure, the steelmaker says. The planned maintenance work at the ferrochrome mill in Tornio, Finland is expected to have approximately €15 million ($17.7m) negative impact on the Q3 result.
Outokumpu’s consolidated Q2 deliveries fell -10% on-year and -11% on-quarter to 523,000 tonnes. Sales were down -17% on-year and -12% on-quarter to €1.4 billion ($1.66 billion), while net result was a €37m loss versus a €6m profit in Q2 2019 and €22m profitin Q1 2020.
In business area Americas, deliveries were down -20% on-quarter due to continued distributor destocking and the pandemic.
Business area Europe’s result was burdened by lower deliveries, continued price pressure and high import penetration. As a response to lower demand, production has been adjusted with temporary shutdowns and shorter working hours in all operating countries.
Europe segment adjusted Ebitda slumped -59% on-year in Q2 to €30m but Americas segment adjusted Ebitda turned to positive €3m from negative €8m a year earlier.
In the Long Products segment, deliveries dropped -38% on-year to 40,000t, sales were down -36% to €119m and adjusted Ebitda fell to negative €4m from positive €6m a year earlier.
In the Ferrochrome segment, meanwhile, production fell -5% on-year to 123,000t, sales dropped -25% to €95m and adjusted Ebitda fell -23% to €24m.
In the first half of 2020 consolidated deliveries fell -8% on-year to 1.11 million tonnes, with sales down -11% to €3.04 billion. However, net loss halved to €15m.
A recovery in the European stainless steel market to levels prior to the Covid-19 pandemic will take significantly longer than many anticipate, says Joost van Kleef, commercial director of stainless scrap merchant group Oryx Stainless.
Although demand for stainless steel has recovered from its lowest levels in March and April, overall European demand is not expected to exceed 70% of pre-pandemic levels. Some leading market analysts forecast that a return to pre-pandemic levels will not occur until 2023, van Kleef writes in the latest Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) stainless steel mirror.
“The stainless steel market was weak for most of the recent years, but it looked like it would pick up this year,” Oryx chief financial officer Roland Mauss tells us. “China seemed to achieve a turnaround – but then Covid-19 came.” He notes that the stainless market has meanwhile started to recover, especially in Asia. Availability of stainless scrap has improved, too, and is basically in line with demand, “…so that the price level won’t change too much,” he adds.
For Europe, import penetration will remain a challenge, van Kleef notes in his article. “The latest development within Taiwan should be seen as a warning sign,” he says, referring to the closure of furnaces in favour of importing stainless slab from Indonesia. Van Kleef criticises the deeper environmental impact of using Indonesian-produced slab rather than melting scrap.
The European Commission has opened an expiry review into existing anti-dumping measures on imports of Chinese and Taiwanese stainless cold rolled coil, it is learned from an official statement.
The review was opened following a complaint lodged by Eurofer earlier in May and is expected to be concluded by the end of 2021. In the meantime, the existing AD duties of between 6.8% and 25.3% – depending on the supplier – will remain in place. The review could result in the duties being maintained for five more years.
“The applicant [Eurofer] has provided evidence that, should measures be allowed to lapse, the current import level of the product under review from the countries concerned to the Union is likely to increase significantly due to the existence of unused
capacity in the countries concerned and the attractiveness of the Union market,” the Commission says. “In addition, in the absence of measures, export prices of the countries concerned would be at a level low enough to further injure the Union industry.”
Outokumpu ponders new field of activity
Stainless steel group Outokumpu is testing the waters for new activities that may involve powder metallurgy and could be located in Germany.
German press reports suggest that the company might be building a new production facility at its strip mill in Krefeld, and that it is currently looking for a partner for such a project.
A spokesperson of the company states that there are not many details to share yet, due to the status of the project.
“In line with our efforts to develop our operations and products, Outokumpu is continuously monitoring the markets for new business opportunities such as metal powder,” she says.
She confirms that the company is discussing a possible partnership with one of the market key players in this segment. As the planning process is still on-going, it won’t comment on further details at this point.
Outokumpu enters powder metallurgy with new plant
Outokumpu has selected SMS Group to supply an atomisation plant for the production of high-quality stainless steel powder used in additive manufacturing. The plant will be located at Outokumpu’s German plant in Krefeld, Kallanish hears from the technology supplier.
The atomisation plant – scheduled to become operational in early 2022 – will be designed for an annual production of up to 330 tonnes/year of stainless steel powder. It will consist of an induction melter, the atomiser, two cyclones and filter elements. It will be designed for the complete process to take place in an inert atmosphere.
The atomisation plant will be designed to atomise powders of stainless steels, maraging steels, special steels, superalloys, nickelbased alloys, cobalt-chromium alloys and alloys on copper basis, SMS notes. Lumpy material, such as metal scrap, virgin metal and master alloys, or non-specified powder can be used as feedstock.
This is the first facility SMS is going to supply under a subscription contract, which it says will pave the way for a long-term cooperation between the two partners. Subscription is a business model under which the plant-builder will remain the owner, while Outokumpu, as operator of the plant, will pay SMS pro rata for the quantity of stainless steel powder produced.