In recent months EAF producers have struggled against the falling cost of BOS produced steel.
The decline in iron ore prices has been severe and well documented. Since the start of 2014, the price of the raw material has collapsed by 53% as of the end of May. The price of steel scrap has also been declining but at a much slower rate than iron ore, with the scrap price down around 23% during the same period. This seems to be having a detrimental effect on EAF steelmakers who find themselves at a disadvantage to the low cost BOS steelmakers based in countries such as China and Russia. We will have a closer look at two countries whose steel industry is dominated by EAF steelmakers, Turkey and Italy.
In the first five months of the year, crude steel production in Turkey, whose EAF industry accounts for about 70% of total steelmaking, fell by 6%. This is not entirely a reflection of falling demand, however, as imports during the same period increased by 29%. Imports of finished steel products were up 22%, driven by a three-fold increase in imports from China and a 32% growth in imports from Russia. The two countries are now by far the largest suppliers to Turkey with a combined annualised tonnage of over 3 million tonnes. It is also interesting to note that Brazil, from a minimal tonnage last year, has supplied over 100K tonnes in the first five months of the year. It is no coincidence that China, Russia and Brazil are all large BOS producers (68%, 93%, and 77% respectively) whose costs are driven by iron ore prices.
As well as the large increase in finished steel imports, we have also seen a 43% growth in the import of semi-finished steel products, with imports of semis from Russia more than doubling to over 1 million tonnes in the first five months of the year and imports from Brazil and China coming from no-where to record tonnages of 184K tonnes and 111K tonnes respectively. It seems, then, that as well as seeing higher imports of finished steel, Turkish steelmakers have been substituting their own steelmaking with semi-finished products from lower cost producers. This conclusion seems to be backed up by the 12% fall in imports of steel scrap.
The situation in Italy, whose EAF industry makes up around 73% of total production and is the EU’s largest consumer of scrap, is similar to that of Turkey. In the first five months of the year, crude steel production in the country has fallen by an incredible 10% when compared to 2014 with imports of scrap down 11%, whereas imports of finished steel are up 18% and imports of semi-finished steel increased by 20%. Once again, this growth in imports was driven by China which more than doubled supply to the country in the first five months of the year and represents an astonishing annualised tonnage of 2 million tonnes. The other large increase seen during the period was from Iran with a four-fold growth in imports to nearly 300K tonnes.
As with Turkey we have also seen an increase in the import of semis with the 20% increase being driven by imports from Russia. As the fundamentals for EAF steelmaking become less competitive, we should see the price of scrap come down further as demand falls. Although since May the scrap price has reduced by a further 12% reduction, this has been more than matched by a 15% further decline in the price of iron ore, however. It looks as though EAF steelmakers are likely to find trading difficult for the foreseeable future.