No Cheer for World's Steelmakers as China Exports Surge 30%

Updated on
  • Monthly shipments return to nearly 10 million metric tons
  • Rebound comes amid `escalating crisis' in global steel

Steel exports from China rebounded in March to the highest level this year, underscoring the competitive threat facing global producers still reeling from last year’s record surge in shipments and slump in prices.

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Shipments expanded to 9.98 million metric tons, up 30 percent on-year and higher than the 8.11 million tons in February, according to data from the customs administration on Wednesday. The March figure takes exports for the quarter to 27.83 million tons, about 8 percent more than a year earlier. 

Facing a glut of metal at home, Chinese mills have boosted exports to unprecedented levels, triggering a crisis for steelmakers outside the largest producer. The resurgence in March, part of a broader rebound in China’s exports over the month, is more bad news for steelmakers from Australia to the U.K., where the battle against the deluge of Chinese metal has claimed high-profile victims including Sydney-based Arrium Ltd., and cast doubt on the future of Tata Steel Ltd.’s U.K. operations.

“China is continuing to take market share from overseas steel mills as China grapples with oversupply,” Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities (Asia) Ltd., said by phone from Hong Kong. “This will displease governments and steelmakers outside China. Even if China’s domestic demand is recovering, steel mills will want to diversify and if they can export, why not?”

The global steel market is staring at an escalating crisis caused largely by China, and the Asian nation’s plans to deal with it will probably only make matters worse, according to a report by Wiley Rein LLP, a Washington-based law firm representing U.S. steelmakers.

Export volumes will remain high as long-term demand in China is set to shrink, Li Xinchuang, president of China’s Metallurgical Planning Institute, said at a conference in Hong Kong last week. In 2015, shipments of steel jumped to 112 million tons, an all-time high that triggered trade action.

Rebar Price

Steel rebar rose as much as 3.9 percent to 2,435 yuan ($377) a ton on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, the highest price since June, before paring gains to close the morning session at 2,360 yuan. The price has advanced 32 percent in 2016 amid signs of improving local demand after dropping for five years.

Given the recent price surge, exports from China should decline again, according to Kevin Bai, a steel analyst at consultancy CRU Group. “Exports aren’t as attractive now and mills are keen to switch back to the domestic market,” he said by phone from Beijing.

China’s exports of unwrought aluminum and products, which like steel reached a record last year, also rebounded in March. They rose to 420,000 tons, 50 percent more than February and up 17 percent on-year. Still, for the quarter, exports dropped 11 percent to 1.08 million tons.