Uncertainty Destabilises Steel Trade in the Emerging Markets

27th February 2020

Flat product prices increased in Brazil, Russia and India, this month. In contrast, reductions were noted in China, amid the coronavirus outbreak. Uncertainty continues to unsettle steel purchasing activity in the emerging markets. Steel distributors remain cautious about the longevity of the mill price hikes.


Buying sentiment, in Brazil, is downbeat. Local traders have questioned the sustainability of the current transaction values – citing that price support is limited amid low enquiry rates. Speculation is rife that domestic steelmakers will push for price increases, in March.


Russian steel producers had mixed success in implementing price hikes, for March and April deliveries. Service centres are wary of building stock levels. Activity in the construction sector is weaker than forecast. Traditionally, the construction season commences in mid-April. Exporters are observing the global reaction to the return of their Chinese competitors.


Indian steelmakers remain optimistic regarding growth prospects for domestic steel consumption. However, service centres and traders are worried about the upturn in the pricing positions being adopted by their domestic suppliers. The majority of these firms assert that the latest initiative is unsustainable and does not reflect real market conditions. Profit margins are thin. Third country import offers are, currently, unattractive to Indian buyers.


Sentiment is deteriorating, in the Chinese market. Downstream demand is slow after the extension to the New Year holidays. Supply chains are broken, and unlikely to be repaired in the interim. Manufacturers and steel traders are uncertain when the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions on transportation and worker movement will end. Meanwhile, Chinese steelmakers are now attempting to sell finished steel material to overseas markets.


Downstream demand for finished steel products is tepid, in Ukraine. Steel traders highlight that current transaction values reflect the price demands of their suppliers, rather than domestic market fundamentals. The local association of metal producers, Metallurgprom, reports that finished steel production, in January 2020, totalled 1.629 million tonnes.


Price volatility persists in the Turkish steel market. Producers, operating electric arc furnaces, are adjusting their selling figures, on a daily basis. The situation is being exacerbated by “unpredictable” scrap costs. Meanwhile, bearish steel distributors plan to keep stocks to a minimum and only procure on a requirement basis. Exporters have expressed concerns regarding their ability to sell in overseas markets.


Purchasing volumes, in the United Arab Emirates, are forecast to be stable, in the next trading period. Service centres are reluctant to confirm forward orders. Indian and GCC suppliers are attempting to solidify their market share. Export opportunities are limited outside the GCC region.

South Africa

Business confidence is eroding, in South Africa. Underlying demand is lacklustre. Buyers remain unwilling to commit to significant tonnages. Construction activity is flat, with minimal signs of growth. Service centres are facing tight profit margins and working capital problems.


Mexican service centres are reviewing their inventories and are very cautious about order placement. Speculation is rife that local steelmakers will push for increased prices, in March. Mill delivery lead times have lengthened. Offshore selling figures are uncompetitive, at present.

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Developing Markets Steel Review

The MEPS Developing Markets Steel Review is an informative and concise monthly guide to carbon steel prices in important emerging markets around the world.

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