Trade Risks Intensify Even As Steel Demand Growth Flattens

The EU steel market began 2018 on a relatively strong footing, supported by the ongoing economic recovery and because of improved business conditions in steel-using sectors. However, imports continued to increase from already high levels in 2017. Over the forecast period 2018-2019 steel demand is expected to flatten as the growth of final steel use slows down to a more sustainable rate of expansion. The recent rise in protectionist trade measures is deepening uncertainty and could result in the market situation diverging from the base-case scenario.

“The latest data confirms the severe impact the US Section 232 tariffs are having by deflecting imports into the EU – with surges across almost all product lines”, said Axel Eggert, Director General of the European Steel Association (EUROFER). “This surge is occurring at the same time as growth predictions are being revised onto flatter trajectories. We cannot risk the ongoing recovery being put at stake– and welcome the recent EU safeguard in its efforts to stabilise the sector”.
 
EU steel market overview
 
EU28 apparent steel consumption rose by 3% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2018. Robust real steel consumption and the seasonal restocking in this period explain this growth.
 
Domestic deliveries to the EU market rose by 2.1% year-on-year to 37 million tonnes in the first quarter. Third country imports rose by 9.8% to 10 million tonnes compared to the already elevated import level registered in the same period of 2017. As a result, imports reached the highest quarterly level since the third quarter of 2007. This confirms that the volume effects of anti- dumping measures imposed by the European Commission over the course of 2017 faded out rapidly due to other third country suppliers filling the gap left by the countries which had duties applied to them.
 
The EU market witnessed a seasonal inventory build-up in the distribution chain and at the end-user stage, which is common in the first quarter of the year. The extent of the increase in steel stocks was lower than in the same period of 2017, which suggests a rather high stock rotation and robust levels of distribution chain sales.
 
EU steel demand prospects are in principle rather positive. Current expectations for the economic and business climate support the expectation of continued growth in apparent steel consumption in 2018 and 2019. However, international steel trade fundamentals have become highly uncertain and more difficult to foresee. The sharp rise in imports of specific steel product from some third countries confirms that steel trade distortions remain a threat, which could be exacerbated by trade deflection resulting from the Section 232 tariffs applied by the Trump administration.
 
EU steel-using sectors
 
In the first quarter of 2018 all steel-using sectors in the EU – except steel tube manufacturing – registered an increase in production activity. At the country level, almost all reporting countries reported higher activity levels, with some of them – Sweden, Austria and Poland – registering double-digit growth in total production activity. Main exception was Germany owing to the negative impact of a contraction in tube output.
Production activity in EU steel-using sectors is forecast to grow by 2.8% in 2018 and by 1.9% in 2019.
 
The outlook for the production trend in the EU steel-using sectors for 2018 and 2019 is favourable overall. Economic conditions look set to remain supportive to growth; domestic demand will be the key driver of growth over this period. However, the recent rise in protectionism is fuelling uncertainty and could result in important growth factors, such as business confidence and investment, deviating from the expected scenarios.
Output in EU steel-using sectors is forecast to grow by 3.1% in 2018 and by 1.9% in 2019.
 
EU economic context
 
In the first quarter of 2018 economic growth in the EU slowed down to 0.4% quarter-on-quarter, compared with 0.7% growth in the final quarter of 2017. The growth moderation was to a large extent the result of a weaker net trade performance as EU exporters began to experience the negative impact of the slowing global economy and the strength of the euro versus other major currencies.
 
Confidence levels stabilising after the first quarter correction remains consistent with solid – albeit flattening growth – in the future. However, EU economic growth this year and next will be driven mainly by domestic demand. The contribution of net exports to economic growth in the EU looks set to diminish because of trade tensions between the US and its trade counterparts flaring up, which could have a potentially negative impact on global economic growth and international trade. This could also negatively impact the investment outlook.
 
EUROFER forecasts EU GDP growth of 2.1% in 2018 and of 1.8% in 2019.
 
ABOUT THE EUROPEAN STEEL ASSOCIATION (EUROFER)
 
EUROFER AISBL is located in Brussels and was founded in 1976. It represents the entirety of steel production in the European Union. EUROFER members are steel companies and national steel federations throughout the EU. The major steel companies and national steel federations in Switzerland and Turkey are associate members.
 
ABOUT THE EUROPEAN STEEL INDUSTRY
 
The European steel industry is a world leader in innovation and environmental sustainability. It has a turnover of around €170 billion and directly employs 320,000 highly-skilled people, producing on average 160 million tonnes of steel per year. More than 500 steel production sites across 22 EU Member States provide direct and indirect employment to millions more European citizens. Closely integrated with Europe’s manufacturing and construction industries, steel is the backbone for development, growth and employment in Europe.
 
Steel is the most versatile industrial material in the world. The thousands of different grades and types of steel developed by the industry make the modern world possible. Steel is 100% recyclable and therefore is a fundamental part of the circular economy. As a basic engineering material, steel is also an essential factor in the development and deployment of innovative, CO2-mitigating technologies, improving resource efficiency and fostering sustainable development in Europe. 

Date : 24.09.2018