UK bases MEPS said that transaction prices for most steel products increased in September in northern Europe. Producers have restricted their output since the onset of the international financial crisis, while stockiest and end users have reduced their inventories to a minimum. Delivery lead times have increased as the steel makers' reduced capacities have become full.
MEPS added that "Now, as customers return to more regular purchasing to maintain their stock levels, the supply situation for many items has become tight and producers have been able to command higher selling values. This is particularly true in the case of galvanized sheet and coil, where the more complex production process means it will take longer to return volume to the supply chain. Long products prices have also been inflated by increased scrap costs supported, as is often the case, by demand from Turkish mills."
According to MEPS, many of the major producers in Europe have seen the opportunity, with order tonnages and prices increasing, to reinstate some of their production capacity. Several blast furnaces have been re lit in recent months and at least half a dozen more are planned to restart before the end of 2009.
Meanwhile, a situation of oversupply has developed in the massive Chinese market. Russian producers rely heavily on this outlet for their material and are likely to seek alternative customers in northern and Western Europe.
MEPS said that while the demand on European mills has certainly increased, it is driven by a re balancing of inventories within the supply chain, rather than by any upturn in end user consumption. Government measures have not, so far, led to significant improvements in construction activity and the unproductive winter period in that sector in the Nordic countries will be upon us all too soon. Oil prices have not been sustained at a sufficient level to encourage extra investment in that field. The relative recovery in car production is likely to be slowed by the ending of some state car scrappage schemes. The reported increased economic growth recently reported in a few countries will take time to filter through to consumer spending.
Steel production in Europe through most of 2009 has been cut back more than the reduction in real demand. Without doubt, the market can stand an increase in output while inventories are replenished and this would not prevent further price hikes in the short term. However, there is a concern that supply may escalate too quickly and we already have reports of buyers holding back in anticipation of lower values before the end of this year.