India’s Q1 steel exports rise 26% on year as EU demand grows

India’s finished steel exports for January to March rose by 26% year on year to about 2.47 million mt, supported by higher exports to Europe, S&P Global Platts’ calculations showed based on data from the country’s Joint Plant Committee.

The increase in first quarter was backed by a surge in exports for March, which jumped more than 2.2 times to 1.29 million mt.

The share of March exports to Belgium, Italy, Spain and Hong Kong showed annual increases while shipments to Nepal, the UAE and Vietnam posted falls, according to the Ministry of Steel.

Italy led the destinations with a 22% share of the March exports, up from 12% the year before, while Belgium had a 16% share versus 4% while Spain rose to 5% from 1%. Hong Kong’s share of the March shipments expanded to 10% from less than 1% in March 2020.

The bulk of the March exports were made up of hot-rolled coil, which amounted to 676,200 mt, more than double against March 2020.

Overall, HRC exports in Q1 were 1.19 million mt, up 18.9% from Q1 2020 due to higher prices and demand in the EU.

Platts Metals Trade Review showed that so far in 2021, India had largely switched its “swing supply” focus to Europe. Northern European HRC prices were around $65/mt higher than Indian domestic HRC prices in early January. As of April 12, they were $300/mt higher. India has already exceeded its EU quota by around 40,000 mt this year but hopes the steel will be allowed in quickly given the coil shortage in Europe.

With the Q1 2021 data summed up, India was a net steel exporter for its fiscal year 2020-21 (April-March) with exports at 10.78 million mt, up 29.1% from the previous fiscal year 2019-20, while imports totaled 4.75 million mt, down 29.8% year on year.

For fiscal 2020-2021, HRC was the most exported steel product at 6.65 million mt, itself up by 38% from the year before.

Maintenance, oxygen plans to affect Q2 output

Domestic prices in India could rise in Q2 as JSW Steel, Tata Steel and the Steel Authority of India Ltd., or SAIL, are expected to conduct planned maintenance programs, thereby lowering production.

Also, due to spikes in COVID-19 cases, local steelmakers were asked by the government to increase their production of liquid medical oxygen to meet a shortfall of the gas at hospitals.

Daily COVID-19 infections still exceed 300,000 cases as the country recorded 323,144 confirmed cases on April 27, a day after it posted 352,991 fresh cases, which broke its own global record for a fifth day running.

The steelmakers have increased their supply of liquid medical oxygen to more than 3,000 mt/day this week from an average of between 1,500 mt/day and 1,700 mt/day last week, the ministry said April 26.

As a result of the request, the Bhilai steel plant operated by SAIL, has been temporarily shut to boost its LMO production. The plant has a production capacity of about 3.15 million mt/year, of which 950,000 mt/year is steel plate.

Likewise, JSW Steel has reduced steel production as “saving lives is more important than producing steel and production can suffer for as long as the country is in need of any resource available with the company,” its chairman and managing director Sajjan Jindal said April 28. “JSW is already supplying maximum possible Liquid Oxygen from its plants and is one the biggest suppliers of medical oxygen in the country today.”

“Total LMO supplies during April 2021 is expected to be over 20,000 tonnes. JSW Steel is committed to augment the supply of liquid oxygen further in these critical times to save lives even by lowering the production of steel at its steel plants. We are leaving no stone unturned to push the supply of liquid oxygen to 1,000 tonnes per day in the interest of our nation,” the company told Platts on April 28.

— Clement Choo