Collapsing demand resulting from high inflation and interest rates, exacerbated by conflicts and persistently elevated power prices, is clouding the steel market outlook for 2023. Recession in apparent steel consumption is expected to further deepen (-5.3%) this year, while the anticipated rebound (+7.6%) in 2024 faces geopolitical unpredictability and prolonged economic uncertainty. Imports, despite a declining trend in line with very weak demand, continue to maintain their market share (28%) above historical levels.
“The perspectives for the European steel sector get gloomier every quarter amidst disruptive wars, global tensions, an unresolved energy crisis, high inflation, tightening economic conditions and historically high import shares that are strangling manufacturing. This situation negatively impacts steel demand. It is essential that EU policymakers steer a course which maintains a sustainable industry in Europe and responds to the call of the clean tech value chain – of which steel is a fundamental part – for an EU Clean Industrial Deal and urgent actions to keep Europe in the world’s clean technology race”, said Axel Eggert, Director General of the European Steel Association (EUROFER).
EU steel market overview
In the second quarter of 2023, apparent steel consumption recorded its fifth consecutive slump (-7.6%), totalling 35.6 million tonnes. This volume, although higher than the previous quarter, is still below the levels seen in 2021 and the first half of 2022. This negative trend is expected to continue for at least another quarter, leading to a deeper reduction in apparent steel consumption for the whole of 2023 (-5.2%, previous estimate -3%). This would mark the fourth annual recession in the last five years (-7.2% in 2022). In 2024, a stronger rebound is projected (+7.6% from +6.2%), but that recovery is conditional on still very uncertain positive developments in the industrial outlook and steel demand.
Domestic deliveries followed the same downward trajectory in the second quarter of 2023, declining for the fifth consecutive time (-6.5%). Imports, reflecting the prolonged downturn in demand, continued to fall (-10.2%), but their pace more than halved compared to the first quarter (-26.6%). However, the share of imports out of apparent consumption has further expanded (28%), remaining at considerably high levels in historical terms.
EU steel-using sectors
Against this challenging backdrop, steel-using sectors in the EU displayed unexpected resilience and continued to moderately grow (+0.8%) also in the second quarter of 2023. This was due to the positive performance of the automotive, mechanical engineering and transport sectors, offsetting poor output in domestic appliances, tubes and metalware, along with the ongoing recession in construction (-2.5%), which accounts for 35% of steel consumption. As long as high interest rates impact demand, the recessionary trend in the construction sector is expected to continue.
Steel-using sectors’ growth is projected to halve (+0.6%) in 2023 compared to previous estimates (+1.3%), and to continue to slow down (+0.4%) in 2024, following a likely downturn in the automotive sector.