BIR World Mirror on Stainless Steel & Special Alloys: Outlook now challenging after consolidation phase
A concise summary of the BIR World Mirror on Stainless Steel & Special Alloys – Quarterly Report May 2023. Full version with detailed market reports available in the Members Only section of the BIR website.
Sales of stainless steel are becoming more challenging at the point when much of the world is heading towards its traditional summer market doldrums. The inevitable result has been an end to a brief period of consolidation and renewed downward pressure on prices, it is reported in the latest World Mirror publication produced by the BIR Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee.
Latest figures from worldstainless show that global stainless steel melt shop production declined 5.2% last year to 55.26 million tonnes. And production levels remained depressed in early 2023, according to Macquarie Research, with output levels not expected to recover until the second half of this year. So far in 2023, one of the few pluses for stainless steel producers has been falling energy prices.
In Asia, Taiwanese mills’ demand for scrap in April and May has been approximately 30% below normal levels owing to increased volumes of Indonesian hot coil and nickel pig iron imports. China had been importing some small quantities of stainless scrap over recent months but demand from Chinese mills has declined substantially since mid-April. The two largest stainless mills in India - which together account for over 50% of domestic production - have been slow in their scrap imports over the last three to four months. And Japanese demand for stainless scrap has remained weak, with an oversupply in the domestic market.
On the positive side in Asia, South Korea’s major stainless mill run by Posco has restarted smelting operations at all furnaces and re-entered the international market in the first and second quarters, albeit with below-average tonnages. Its demand is nevertheless expected to improve in the coming months.
Stainless steel demand has suffered in the USA, not least because inflation and rising interest rates have curtailed consumer spending on durable goods. However, US exports of stainless steel scrap surged 120% year on year during the first two months of 2023 to more than 73,000 tonnes thanks to improved demand from India, Taiwan, Mexico and Canada.
The stainless steel industry is experiencing a sharp slowdown in Europe. Following a respectable first quarter in which the major European mills recorded good results, a downward spiral of declining sales has led to a drop in production levels and in generation of new scrap. A high proportion of mills have implemented production shutdown periods.
From across in the Middle East, it is reported that the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Economy has extended its ban on ferrous scrap exports - including stainless steel - until September 21 2023.
Meanwhile, demand is exceeding pre-COVID levels for superalloy manufacturers, with all reporting increased sales; in some instances, orders are out as far as 2025. Aerospace is the main driver but other consuming sectors - such as oil & gas/power generation, medical, 3D printing and nuclear - are all performing well.
Amid all the activity in the supply chain, there has been an increase in the availability of superalloy scrap.
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With contributions from its members, BIR publishes periodical commodity reports under the label "BIR World Mirror". These detailed reports exist for Non-Ferrous Metals, Ferrous, Stainless Steel / Alloys, Paper, Plastics and Latin America and provide BIR members with up-to-date information on the respective commodity or market segment.
The report on Non-Ferrous Metals appears once every two months, whereas Ferrous, Stainless Steel, Paper and Plastics are published quarterly. Latin America is covered twice per year.