European stainless steel sector faces reality of a slow recovery

1st July 2020

Hopes of a quick recovery, in the European stainless steel market, have faded. Demand remains a concern, even in those countries where successful efforts have been made to control the virus. Throughout the supply chain, businesses continue to operate at levels much lower than those experienced prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many European market participants reported a modest increase in orders, in June. However, it is expected that activity levels will remain at a similar, subdued, level during July and August, when the market is traditionally quiet. Many businesses will take the opportunity to realign their stocks with current levels of demand – especially, those involved in the automotive or aerospace supply chains.

European stainless steel prices are likely to remain under downward pressure, during the summer. Despite the low transaction values witnessed in the market, this month, steel producers are struggling to entice buyers into making forward order bookings. Many are choosing, instead, to buy from existing market stocks, which, in some cases, can be procured at figures lower than mill replacement pricing.

Buyers continue to purchase only for their immediate needs. Distributors are restricting their inventory levels. Cash flow is a major concern for the sector. European steelmakers contend that the EC safeguard quota adjustments fail to reflect the reduced level of demand in the market, and that import competition will remain a downside risk, for them.

Market participants are optimistic that the pace of the revival will pick up, subject to there being no second wave of infection, after the summer. Consequently, a gradual uptick in activity and pricing is anticipated, from September onwards.

However, this is an unprecedented time for the stainless steel sector and recovery is going to be a slow process. Many expect that demand will improve next year but accept that it may be 2022 before tonnages return to near those recorded in 2019.

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