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Global steel demand to enter low growth period: worldsteel

Brasilia — Global steel demand is continuing to grow in the short term against a backdrop of great uncertainty as only a mild deceleration in global growth is now expected, World Steel Association Chairman Andre Gerdau Johannpeter told the Brazilian Steel Institute's annual congress Wednesday in Brasilia.

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However, in the long term, global steel demand is moving into a low-growth zone as new megatrends shape the industry, Johannpeter warned.

"Steel demand is at another inflection point which may be followed by a prolonged period of low growth," said Johannpeter, also a board director of Brazil-based steelmaker Gerdau Group. "Steel demand is facing new challenges: the deceleration of population growth and aging populations in developing economies, rising income inequality threatening growth and the middle-class base."

Environmental concerns are also affecting the global steel sector, with sustainable development now "the crucial concept," he said.

Global steel demand remains concentrated in China, which uses almost 50% of global steel production, but the market for steel in China is expected to grow just 1% this year to 843.3 million mt, while its steel production rate is expected to reach 930 million mt, up nearly 2%, Johannpeter said. In 2020, China's steel demand is expected to fall to 834.9 million mt, he added.

Politically driven uncertainties point to downside risks outside China: while steel demand from developed economies is moderating, emerging nations have a positive but mixed demand outlook, he said. In this scenario, India is expected this year to overtake the US to become the world's second biggest user of steel but will still remain far below Chinese levels. Worldsteel forecasts Indian steel consumption at 110 million mt in 2020, followed by the US on 101 million mt and Japan on 64 million mt.

Global steel production capacity was put at 2.235 billion mt in 2018, with consumption at 1.840 billion mt and overcapacity of 395 million mt, which remains the subject of international discussions and negotiations, the worldsteel executive said. The location of this overcapacity was: 154 million mt in China; 81 million mt in the Commonwealth of Independent States; 80 million mt in Asia (outside China); 47 million mt in Europe; 26 million mt in Central and South America; 13 million mt in Oceania and the Middle East and North Africa; and minus 6 million mt in NAFTA.

GOVERNMENTS SHOULD HELP ELIMINATE 'INEQUITIES'

While the use of steel, which is highly recyclable, may enable CO2 mitigation in other sectors, inequities introduced regionally by carbon pricing mechanisms could jeopardize fair competition within the steel sector, and it is in this area that government participation is needed, according to Johannpeter.

"Governments should promote and encourage a circular economy approach," the worldsteel chairman said. "Progress in breakthrough technology development in steelmaking and its implementation must be maintained or accelerated, requiring the financial burden to be shared."

The steel sector should be able to take "a great leap forward when it manages to reduce emissions via technology," he said.

-- Diana Kinch, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Dart, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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