China steel demand slumping at ‘unprecedented speed’, says industry body

Medium-sized and large mills incurred losses of 28.1 billion yuan in the first nine months of this year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 3:42pm

If anyone doubted the magnitude of the crisis facing the world’s largest steel industry, listening to Zhu Jimin would put them right, fast.

Demand is collapsing along with prices, banks are tightening lending and losses are stacking up, the deputy head of the China Iron & Steel Association said on Wednesday.

“Production cuts are slower than the contraction in demand, therefore oversupply is worsening,” Zhu said at a quarterly briefing in Beijing by the main producers’ group. “Although China has cut interest rates many times recently, steel mills said their funding costs have actually gone up.”

China’s mills – which produce about half of worldwide output – are battling against oversupply and sinking prices as local consumption shrinks for the first time in a generation amid a property-led slowdown. The fallout from the steelmakers’ struggles is hurting iron ore prices and boosting trade tensions as mills seek to sell their surplus overseas. Shanghai Baosteel forecast last week that China’s steel production might eventually shrink by 20 per cent, matching the experience seen in the United States and elsewhere.

China’s steel demand evaporated at unprecedented speed as the nation’s economic growth slowed
Zhu Jimin

“China’s steel demand evaporated at unprecedented speed as the nation’s economic growth slowed,” Zhu said. “As demand quickly contracted, steel mills are lowering prices in competition to get contracts.”

Medium-sized and large mills incurred losses of 28.1 billion yuan (HK$34.2 billion) in the first nine months of this year, according to a statement from CISA. Steel demand in China shrank 8.7 per cent year on year last month, it said.

Signs of corporate difficulties are mounting. Producer Angang Steel warned this month it expects to swing to a loss in the third quarter on lower product prices and foreign-exchange losses. The company’s Hong Kong stock has lost more than half its value this year. Last week, Sinosteel, a state-owned steel trader, failed to pay interest due on bonds maturing in 2017.

China’s crude steel output fell 2.1 per cent to 608.9 million tonnes in the first nine months of this year, while outbound shipments jumped 27 per cent to 83.1 million tonnes, according to official figures.

China’s mills face some of their worst conditions ever and the vast majority are losing money, Citigroup said last month. The outlook is the worst ever amid unprecedented losses, Macquarie said this month.

China’s steel production may contract by a fifth should the country’s path follow the Europe, the US and Japan, Shanghai Baosteel chairman Xu Lejiang said in Shanghai last week. The company is China’s second-largest mill by output.

“Financing remains an acute problem as banks strictly restricted lending to the steel sector,” Zhu said. “Many mills found their loans difficult to extend or were asked to pay higher interest.”