Executives doubt EU stainless market recovery: BIR

A recovery in the European stainless steel market is yet to come. Some analysts forecast a two-digit on-year increase in stainless steel apparent consumption this year, says Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee chairman Joost van Kleef, of Oryx Stainless in the Netherlands.

“This year started stronger than expected, supported by a further seasonal uptick in stainless steel demand as well as historically low imports and import penetration levels. European crude stainless production, however, has been impacted by strikes, with one of the larger producers even being affected since February. Despite this, overall mill demand for stainless scrap was robust during the first quarter,” van Kleef states in the latest BIR mirror sent to Kallanish.

European scrap availability was tight in Q1. In January-February, the EU recorded an increase of more than 50% in net imports of stainless scrap from third countries when compared to the same period in 2023.

European stainless coil supply reduced considerably in Q1 owing to strikes that have halved finished flat products output, says Ruggero Ricco, chief executive of Italy’s Nichel Leghe. While Outokumpu stopped production for a few weeks, Spain’s Acerinox continues to face worker disputes. This has enabled Aperam and Acciai Speciali Terni (AST) to achieve full order books for the coming months.

“It is not possible to say with certainty whether scrap and coil price increases can continue once all four producers return to normal,” Ricco states. He adds that in June and July, the European market may be flooded by imported finished product from Asia.

There has been a slight uptick so far in Q2 of scrap and coil prices. However, despite scrap sellers’ push for increases, driven by shortages and the recent LME nickel hikes, the value of scrap has not risen by as much as it should have. This is also because of the weakness in long steelmakers’ sales and continuous use of nickel pig iron, Ricco concludes.

Scrap prices for grade 304 and 316 are ticking up in Italy this month but flattening in other EU countries such as France. Demand from long steelmakers in Europe remains weak, a northern European long producer confirms. 304 grade is being sold at between €1,440-1,490/tonne ($1,554-1,608) delivered depending on each EU country, Kallanish notes.

Natalia Capra France