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Japan's chrome-moly steel demand robust despite slow car output: sources

Tokyo — Demand for chrome-molybdenum alloy steel sheets, used for automotive components, has been robust in Japan despite major automakers cutting domestic production in the second quarter, market sources said Wednesday.

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"Demand [of chrome-moly alloy steel] has been firm since the start of the year, it has been continuing for almost six months," said one ferroalloy trader.

Ferroalloy trade and supplier sources attributed strong Japanese exports of chrome-molybdenum alloy steel sheets, used for mufflers and other components, to Asian countries, as demand booster, despite some Japanese automakers cutting down output in the April-June quarter from the previous quarter.

Domestic production at Japan's largest automaker Toyota Motor May is around 12,500 vehicles/day in May, dipping from 13,000-13,500 vehicles/day in January-March period, said one auto components maker source.

S&P Global Platts could not confirm the near-term output plan with Toyota Motor, as the automaker does not usually comment on the current or the future output levels.

"Toyota's output plan for June-July is 12,500 vehicles/day, and will probably remain at this level for August-September," said the source.

"Steelmakers supplying alloy steel to Toyota Motor however, have been at full rate and has been keeping themselves very busy, thanks to export demand," said the trader.

Japan's specialty steel exports, excluding stainless steel and construction steel, were 1.6 million mt over January-March, up 4% year on year, according to customs data. Further export breakdown by steel type could not be obtained.

Strong chrome-moly alloy steel production has lead to an increase in spot demand for moly oxide and ferrochrome, traders said.

"Some customers who have long-term moly contracts may have used up their options to increase volumes, and are coming to the spot market. Spot high-carbon ferrochrome inquiries have increased as well," said the trader.

One specialty steelmaker was said to have bought over 10,000 mt of high-carbon ferrochrome, possibly of South African origin, through a spot tender two weeks ago, according to a second Japanese trader.

There is a possibility of a large spot moly tender for over 40 mt in the coming weeks, said a third Japanese trader.

Strong Japanese spot ferroalloy demand, however, has not contributed to higher moly or chrome prices as global markets elsewhere, notably China, stay dull, sources added.

--Mayumi Watanabe,
--Edited by Irene Tang,