China ends 2020 with stronger steel exports

Chinese finished steel exports continued to tick higher in December, while imports dwindled further, preliminary Customs data show. 2020 saw China’s steel trade surplus shrink sharply, but 2021 could see another reversal, Kallanish notes.

In December, China exported 4.85 million tonnes of finished steel, up 3.5% year-on-year and 10.2% month-on-month. That brought China’s exports over full-year 2020 to 53.671mt, down -16.5% y-o-y.

China’s exports in 2020 shrank sharply from a peak over March-April as it became apparent that markets inside China were much stronger than those outside. 2021, however, is expected to see a slight reversal. The rest of the world is expected to see demand recover while Chinese demand has topped out. As a result, in the latest China Steel Intelligence report, Kallanish expects Chinese steel exports to recover to around 70mt this year.

China’s finished steel imports in December totalled 1.375mt, down from 1.854mt in November and 1.483mt a year earlier. The figure does not include semi-finished products. Over the full year China imported 20.233mt of finished steel, 64.4% higher y-o-y. Including semi-finished steel, however, the number is expected to be far higher. Over January-November 2020, China imported a total of 36.4mt of semi-finished and finished steel products, up 178.8% y-o-y.

Imports spiked over the summer as China’s stimulus measure drove demand to record highs and international prices fell below Chinese domestic prices. In 2021, however, Kallanish expects China to import around 20mt of steel in total, down -48.7% y-o-y. This is in part because of the increased relative strength of overseas markets. It will also be impacted by the import of ferrous scrap, which has been allowed since 1 January and will replace the need to import some semis.