Chinese Steel Output Defies Pandemic, Demand Forecast

July 1, 2020
Global steel production rebounded 9.0% from April to May, to 148.77 million mt, paced by an 8.5% increase in output by China's steel industry.

Global raw-steel production during May 2020 rebounded 9.0% from April, to 148.77 million metric tons, with a notable 8.5% month-to-month increase in China — by far the world's largest steelmaking nation. The global total however remains -8.7% lower than the May 2019 tonnage, demonstrating that the pause in production in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was separate from weak demand in most of the world.

Most of world's steelmakers have been scaling back production volumes since late 2018, with weakening demand from industrial and construction sectors. U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel imports also have disrupted the balance of supply globally. Outside of Asia, global steel production fell during the most recent year, though China’s share of global raw-steel production rose from 50.9% (2018) to 53.3% (2019.)

Through the first five months of 2020, global raw-steel production stands at 728.7 million metric tons, -5.2% lower than the January-May 2019 total.

The production data is provided by the World Steel Assn., a trade association representing steelmakers in 64 nations. World Steel's monthly summary of raw steel output covers steel produced in basic-oxygen or electric arc furnaces, and cast into semi-finished forms like billets for bar and rod products; slabs for flat products; or blooms, for beam and pipe products. The report covers carbon steel only; stainless and specialty steel producers comprise a separate market.

World Steel also issues a semi-annual outlook for global steel demand, and recently estimated that the world's regional and industrial markets' steel demand will drop to 1.654 billion metric tons for 2020, -6.4% from the 2019 output, but could recover to 1.717 billion metric tons (+3.8%) in 2021.

The worldwide results for May once more underscore the overwhelming influence of China on global steel output. With 92.3 metric tons of raw steel produced during the month, China's output represents about 61.0% of the total global output. In any ordinary month, the country can be expected to produce around 50.0% of the world's total, but with other nation's still managing the Coronavirus outbreak and balancing their production in the face of weak demand, China's share of the total continues to widen.

China's May production total is 8.5% higher than its April total 4.2% higher than its May 2019 total, and the new result brings its five-month total for the current year to 411.75 million metric tons, +1.9% higher than January-May 2019 despite the current market conditions.

Those conditions resulted in a reordering of the world's largest steelmaking nations – at least for May 2020. The U.S. dropped out of the top five largest producer nations, while Russia, Japan, India, and South Korea ranked No.2 through No.5.

Russia, which was the sixth-largest producer nation for 2019, produced an estimated 6,000 metric tons during May, +5.91% higher than in April and -4.79% lower than in May 2019. The Russian year-to-date result is 29.85 million metric tons, -1.3% lower than the comparable figure for 2019.

Japanese steelmakers produced 5.9 metric tons of raw steel during May, -10.0% less than in April and -31.8% less than May 2019. The country's YTD output stands at 36.6 million metric tons, -13.4% lower than the 2019 five-month total.

Indian steelmakers produced 5.8 metric tons of raw steel during May, 77.77% higher than in April but -39.1% lower than during May 2019. For the January-May period, India's industry has produced 35.851 million metric tons, -24.6% lower than the comparable 2019 figure.

South Korea’s steel production for May 2020 was 5.4 metric tons, 6.1% higher than April but down -14.1% versus May 2019. The YTD total is 27.4 million metric tons, -8.9% lower than last year's five-month tonnage.

Raw-steel production by U.S. steelmakers totaled 4.8 metric tons (5.29 short tons) during May 2020, essentially even (-0.66%) with April 2020, but -36.58% lower than last year's May total. For the January-May 2020 period, U.S. raw-steel production is 31.33 million metric tons (34.5 short tons), a -15.5% reduction from the January-May 2019 period.