Demand for steel gets stronger

Steel demand is forecast to grow by 1.7% in 2024 to reach 1,854 mt, but high interest rates will continue to weigh on steel demand. Next year, growth is expected to accelerate in most regions, but deceleration is expected in China, said World Steel Association (worldsteel) has today released its Short Range Outlook (SRO) steel demand forecast for 2023 and 2024.

The GCC countries were able to weather the headwinds in 2022 thanks to high oil prices, strong domestic demand, a rebound in tourism, and the inflow of foreign wealth. Still, growth is expected to decelerate in 2023 and 2024 due to slower expansion in the oil sector and fiscal conservatism. Post-Covid recovery in the GCC, especially in the UAE, was led by the non-oil sector. Saudi Arabia is planning huge investments into non-religious tourism with the aim of increasing its economic contribution from 3% to 10% of GDP by 2030.

Steel demand in North Africa in 2023 is expected to decline, especially in Egypt and Algeria. The Ukraine war is having an adverse effect on fuel and food import price inflation. In Egypt, the largest steel-using country in the region, demand is expected to contract in 2023 as high inflation and currency depreciation lead to a postponement of large-scale projects. A moderate recovery is projected for 2024.

Following growth of 4.9% in 2022, total steel demand in the MENA region is forecast to grow by only 0.6% in 2023 and accelerate to 3.4% in 2024, wordsteel report said.

Máximo Vedoya, CEO of Ternium, and Chair of the worldsteel Economics Committee, said: “In 2022, recovery momentum after the pandemic shock was hampered by high inflation and increasing interest rates, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the lockdowns in China. As a result, steel-using sectors’ activity went down in the last quarter of 2022. This, combined with the effect of stock adjustments, led to worse than expected contraction in steel demand.”

“Persistent inflation and high-interest rates in most economies will limit the recovery of steel demand in 2023, despite positive factors like China’s reopening, Europe’s resilience in the face of the energy crisis, and the easing of supply chain bottlenecks. In 2024, demand growth is driven by regions outside China but faces global deceleration due to China’s anticipated 0% growth, overshadowing the improved environment. Sustained inflation remains a downside risk, potentially keeping interest rates high.

“As China’s population declines and moves to consumption-driven growth, its contribution to global steel demand growth will lessen. Future global steel demand growth will rely on reduced drivers, primarily concentrated in Asia. Investments in decarbonisation and dynamic emerging economies will increasingly drive positive momentum for global steel demand, even as China’s contribution to global growth diminishes.”

Chinese steel demand contracted in both 2021 and 2022 as the Chinese economy decelerated sharply due to unexpected lockdowns that extended across the country.

The negative momentum in the construction sector that was seen in 2021 intensified in 2022: all key real estate indicators were in deeply negative territory. In 2022, the floor space of newly started projects dropped by 39.4% and investment in real estate declined by 10.0%, the first year-on-year decline in 25 years. These acute declines will put pressure on construction activities in 2023-2024, but a slight pickup in the real estate sector is likely in the later part of 2023 due to government support measures. The recovery of real estate is expected to continue in 2024, but will only be moderate.

Infrastructure investment showed a strong pickup of 9.4% thanks to government support, but this was largely focused on less steel-intensive areas such as water supply systems, telecommunications, and logistics. In 2023, the infrastructure sector may continue to benefit from the projects initiated at the end of 2022, although growth may weaken in 2024 if no large-scale projects begin in 2023.

China’s manufacturing sector performance in 2022 was weak, although exports performed relatively well. The manufacturing sector is expected to show only a moderate recovery in 2023-2024, with slowing exports.

Automobile production grew by 3.4% in 2022, mainly driven by 11.2% growth in the passenger vehicles segment. Commercial vehicle production dropped by 31.9% in 2022. Another leap in new energy vehicle production was seen in 2022, with production jumping by 96.9% to 7.06 million units, which accounted for 25.7% of total vehicle production. In 2023-2024 the automotive industry is expected to show a slightly weaker performance as no new stimulus measures are expected to be introduced.

After declining by 3.5% in 2022, China’s total steel demand is expected to grow by 2.0% in 2023. It is expected to stay flat in 2024.

Developed Economies

Meanwhile, steel demand in the developed economies suffered a sizable contraction in 2022 because of monetary tightening and high energy costs. After falling by 6.2% in 2022, it is expected to increase by 1.3% in 2023. In 2024, a recovery of 3.2% is foreseen.

The EU economy turned out to be more resilient to the energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war than initially thought. While the EU economy grew by 3.5% in 2022, avoiding recession, industrial activities suffered significantly from high energy costs that led to a sizable contraction in steel demand in 2022. In 2023, the EU steel industry will continue to feel the impact of war, other supply chain-related issues, and continued monetary tightening. In 2024, demand is expected to see a visible rebound as the impact of the Ukraine war and supply chain disruptions are expected to dissipate. However, the outlook is subject to persisting uncertainty.

After a fall of 7.9% in 2022, demand is expected to fall by 0.4% in 2023. A 5.6% rebound is expected in 2024.

The strong post-pandemic rebound of the US economy has run its course with the Fed’s steep interest rate hikes to tackle inflation. Growth in 2023-2024 is expected to be subdued by recessionary pressure. Furthermore, the spillover from the recent SVB bankruptcy needs to be watched.

Rising interest rates as well as land and material costs are putting negative pressure on construction, particularly for the residential sector, while recovery in the non-residential sector is expected to continue.

Infrastructure is aided by recent legislation such as the 2021 infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Steel demand from the energy sector is also expected to benefit from expanding energy production.

Emerging economies excluding China

Steel demand dynamics in emerging and developing economies are diverging, with developing Asia excluding China showing more resilience than elsewhere. After falling by 0.3% in 2022, steel demand in emerging and developing economies excluding China will show growth of 3.6% in 2023 and 3.9% in 2024.

India remained a bright spot in the global steel industry in 2022. Having managed inflation well, the Indian economy is on a healthy growth track, with a rising share of investment in GDP thanks to strong government spending on infrastructure. The residential sector is also expected to grow, backed by affordable housing projects and urban demand. Private investment is improving on the back of the Production Linked Investment (PLI) Schemes.

India’s capital goods sector is also expected to benefit from the momentum in infrastructure and investment in renewable energy. Automotive and consumer durables are expected to maintain healthy growth driven by sustained growth in private consumption.

After growth of 8.2% in 2022, demand is expected to show healthy growth of 7.3% in 2023 and 6.2% in 2024.

The revival of tourism, especially as China opens up, and the resumption of delayed construction projects have put the region’s steel demand back on its normal growth track. However, since the end of 2022 the region has been facing a deceleration due to the worsening global economic environment. Important projects in the region include Indonesia’s new capital city project, the Philippines’ long-distance railway projects, and Vietnam’s transportation and industrial infrastructure development.

After falling by 0.3% in 2022, ASEAN steel demand is expected to increase by 6.2% in 2023 and then by 5.7% in 2024.