Global Steel Output Flat in Latest Total

Nov. 4, 2020
Chinese steel production slowed during September, dragging the world’s total output down accordingly, while the U.S. and other major steelmaking centers continue to lag year-over-year and YTD results by double digits.

Global steel production slipped to 156.4 million metric tons in September, down -1.2% from August and -2.9% from September 2019. The result shows the first decrease in monthly raw-steel production since May, as the global industry adjusts to demand changes following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Steel Association, which tracks the production figures on a monthly basis, once more offered the necessary proviso that “ongoing difficulties” presented by the pandemic mean that many of the figures are estimates that may be revised for next month’s update.

Through the first nine months of 2020, the world’s total raw-steel output was 1.34 billion metric tons, down by -3.2% compared January-September 2019.

Last month World Steel issued its latest Short-Term Outlook forecast for 2020 and 2021, and now predicts that that steel demand will drop by -2.4% year-over-year for the current year, to 1.725 billion metric tons. For 2021, the group foresees steel demand then recovering 4.1% year-over-year, to 1,795.1 million metric tons.

World Steel tracks raw-steel output from 64 countries on a monthly basis, meaning the output of basic oxygen furnaces and electric arc furnaces, mainly carbon and alloy steels cast as billets, blooms, rounds, blooms, or slabs. Stainless steel is not included in the total.

China is the world’s largest producer of steel by many multiples, and thus the performance of the Chinese industry during any particular period may frame the total picture for the world’s industry. During September, Chinese producers decreased their raw steel output for just the second time in 2020, down -2.4% from August to 92.6 million metric tons. That is to say, China’s month-to-month decrease for September represents about 50.0% of the world’s total month-to-month decrease.

It’s notable, however, that China’s September figure represents a 10.9% year-over-year increase. For the current year to-date, despite any disruption due to the pandemic, Chinese raw-steel output has totaled 781.6 million metric tons, a rise of 4.5% over January-September 2019.

India, the world’s second-largest steelmaking nation, produced 8.5 million metric tons of raw steel during September, -4.5% from August and -2.9% on September 2019. India has produced 70.2 million metric tons of raw steel during 2020, -16.5% from the comparable result for 2019.

In Japan raw-steel production remained steady in September at 6.5 million metric tons, +0.6 from August and yet -19.3% less than during September 2019. The YTD total is 61.2 million metric tons, -19.1% from the 2019 nine-month total.

South Korea’s industry produced 5.8 million metric tons of raw steel in September 2020, essentially even (+0.8%) with August and +2.1% over September 2019. Through the first nine months of this year, South Korean steelmakers have produced 49.6 million metric tons, which is -7.5% less than last year’s total.

The Russian steel industry has returned to the top-five among the world’s producers with a 5.8 million metric ton output for September, -3.2% less than the August total and on par (+0.7%) last September’s production. Through the first three quarters of this year, Russian steelmakers have produced 53.3 million metric tons of raw steel, -1.4% compared to the January-September total for 2019.

The U.S. steel industry ranks ahead of the Russians for year-to-date production – having produced 53.5 million metric tons (60 million short tons) from January to September, but that is a -19.2% decline versus last year’s nine-month total. During September, U.S. producers’ output totaled 5.7 million metric tons (6.3 short tons), -3.7% from August and -18.5% from September 2019.

Europe’s steel industry, like that in the U.S., is beset by weak industrial demand preceding the pandemic, as well as the effects of the lockdown in slowing manufacturing and construction activity. As a bloc, the EU has produced 99.4 million metric tons of raw steel in the first nine months of 2020 – which is -17.9% compared to 2019. During September, however, the largest producer nations in the region (Germany, +6.6%, from August; Italy +91.0%; France; +33.3%; and Spain, +34.5%) enjoyed solid rebounds, though their respective year-over-year and year-to-date totals continue to show double-digit deficits.