Chinese Steel Production Driving Global Increase

Oct. 14, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has apparently reduced steel production around the world, though the results from China show no negative effects – which results in an overall positive total for the worldwide industry.

Global steel output remained steady during August, with 156.2 million metric tons produced by 64 countries, about 0.9% more than during July and just 0.6% more than during August 2019. The World Steel Association, which tracks and reports monthly production in member nations, noted that many of the totals available for August represent estimates as a result of "ongoing difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic".

However, the structure of the global industry is such that Chinese steel production is offsetting decreases and adjustments made in other nations dealing with the pandemic.

World Steel has forecast that 2020 global steel demand will shrink -6.4% year-over-year, declining to 1.654 billion metric tons, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The forecast further projects that steel demand will recover to 1.717 billion metric tons in 2021, rising 3.8% over 2020.

The current year-to-date output is 1.19 billion metric tons, -4.2% lower than the January-August 2019 production total.

The pandemic has apparently impacted demand as well as output, with nearly every major steelmaking nation and region recording significant year-over-year declines in raw-steel output. The important exception is China, which has the by far the world's largest installed capacity and typically represents half or more of all steel produced worldwide.

During August, China produced 94.8 million metric tons of raw steel, an increase of 1.6% in tonnage from July and up 8.4% compared to August 2019. China's year-to-date steel output is 688.9 million metric tons — 3.7% higher than the eight-month total for 2019, and suggesting that COVID-19 has had no effect on those steelmakers' operations.

The next-largest steel producing is India, where August raw-steel production of 8.5 million metric tons was just -0.9% less than the July result, but -4.4% less than the August 2019 total. India's output for January-August 2020 is 61.1 million metric tons — i.e., less than 10% of China's output for the same period — which -18.8 less than the comparable period of 2019.

Japan's industry produced 6.4 million metric tons of raw steel in August, 6.6% more than during July but -20.6% less than during August 2020. Japanese steelmakers' YTD output is 54.7 million metric tons, -19.0% less than the January-August 2019 output.

Japan produced 6.4 million metric tons of raw steel in August 2020, down 20.6% on August 2019.

In South Korea, August raw-steel production totaled 5.8 million metric tons, up 4.96% from July but -1.8% less than during August 2020. Through the first eight months of this year, South Korean steelmakers have produce 43.8 million metric tons, -8.6% less than during the same period of 2019.

Steel production across 28 nations of the European Union totaled 9.3 million metric tons during August, with no change in output from July for the largest steelmaker in the region, Germany, but double-digit month-to-month drops in Italy (-45.9%) and France (-20.56%), likely due to seasonal production outages.

The United States steel industry currently stands as the fifth largest in the world by output, and its August production total of 5.6 million metric tons ( short tons) represents a 3.04% rise over the July total, but is a -24.45% decline from the August 2020 result. For the year to date, U.S. steelmakers have produced 47.4 million metric tons of raw steel, a decrease of -19.8% from their January-August 2019 output.