JFE Halves Profit Forecast as Chinese Steel Demand Falters

  • Joins Posco and Angang Steel in counting cost of supply glut
  • JFE expects fourth-quarter loss and asset writedowns

JFE Holdings Inc., Japan’s second-biggest steelmaker, cut its full-year profit forecast for the second time in three months, warning that declining overseas demand, particularly in China, had weakened prices more than expected.

For the year to March, the Tokyo-based company said it now expects net income of 25 billion yen ($207 million), according to a statement Friday. JFE also warned at a briefing in Tokyo it would swing to a loss in the fourth quarter as it absorbs asset writedowns, including on its Namisa iron ore venture in Brazil, and cuts to the value of its inventory.

Mills worldwide are contending with a global glut of the metal as China, the top supplier, exports its surplus in the face of contracting domestic demand. While China’s government has pledged capacity cuts and output has begun to shrink, its steel exports in 2015 still topped 100 million metric tons for the first time. That’s more than Japan, the No. 2 producer, churns out in a year.

China’s deluge has sparked trade tensions and hammered rivals across the globe. South Korea’s Posco reported its smallest ever annual profit on Thursday, while Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., JFE’s bigger domestic rival, cut its full-year earnings forecast in October by almost a third. Nippon Steel reports nine-month earnings Monday.

“Overseas steel prices are falling more than anticipated due to widening oversupply as demand abroad, especially China, continued to decline,” JFE’s Executive Vice President Okada said at the briefing. “The size of China’s output cuts trail its slowdown in domestic consumption. The country’s record steel exports are having a significant effect.”

Angang Steel

China’s own mills are also getting crushed. Angang Steel Co. Ltd., the fourth-biggest by production, said Friday it expects to swing to a loss of about 4.38 billion yuan ($666 million) for 2015, citing falling prices and a squeeze on margins. It made a net profit of 928 million yuan in 2014.

The steel market’s collapse is turning the tide in China, which last year churned out less metal for the first time since 1981, according to a statement Friday from the China Iron & Steel Association. Crude steel output shrank 2.3 percent to 803.8 million tons as the economy expanded at its slowest pace since 1990.

In the nine months to December, JFE posted net income of 37.3 billion yen, a near two-thirds decline from a year ago. It didn’t break out its third quarter, but according to a Bloomberg calculation, net income for the period was about 7.4 billion yen. The company also cut its operating profit forecast for the year by a quarter to 90 billion yen, and its sales forecast by 6.6 percent.

Japan Iron and Steel Federation Chairman Koji Kakigi, who also heads JFE’s steel unit, warned last month that the country’s exports could drop more than expected this year, even as domestic demand remains buoyant. In the last fiscal year, nearly half of JFE and Nippon’s steel production was shipped overseas.

JFE forecasts that product prices this quarter will average 62,000 yen a ton, down from the preceding quarter’s 65,100 yen and a year-ago level of 77,300 yen, according to its statement. Its stock closed 3.8 percent higher in Tokyo before its earnings release.

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