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European Stainless Steel Scrap Demand and Market Trends

According to the latest report from the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the demand for stainless steel scrap in Europe has remained robust during the first quarter of 2024. However, the market dynamics reflect a complex interaction of supply chain issues, import surges, and production challenges.

Key Highlights:

  1. Robust Demand Despite Weak Industrial Activity:
    • The demand for stainless steel scrap remains strong despite ongoing weakness in industrial and manufacturing activities across Europe.
  2. Increase in Net Imports:
    • There has been a substantial increase in net imports of stainless scrap into the European Union, with a 50% surge in the first two months of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023.
  3. Impact of Strikes on Production:
    • Major strikes have hampered European crude stainless production, limiting price gains for scrap material holders. European crude stainless steel output declined by more than 6% in 2023, totaling 5.9 million tonnes despite a seasonal improvement in the fourth quarter.
  4. Global Production Trends:
    • On a global scale, stainless steel production increased by 4.6% in 2023, reaching over 58.4 million tonnes. China was the largest contributor with nearly 36.7 million tonnes.

Regional Insights:

  1. East Asia:
    • China: Demand for stainless steel end products fluctuated month-to-month, with exports of stainless-steel coils increasing by about 10% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024.
    • Taiwan: Weakened demand for stainless steel scrap as hot coil imports stabilized around 75,000 tonnes per month.
    • South Korea: Stable initial demand, but scheduled annual furnace maintenance in the second quarter is expected to reduce scrap cargo imports significantly.
    • Japan: Rising domestic demand for stainless scrap has reduced exports.
  2. India:
    • Indian steel mills are actively replenishing low raw material inventories, boosting scrap imports. The implementation of Bureau of Indian Standards certification for ferro-nickel is expected to temporarily increase stainless steel scrap imports.
    • Investments: Jindal Stainless has announced a $650 million investment, including a joint venture in Indonesia and an acquisition in India.
  3. Middle East:
    • UAE: Green Metal Industries plans a $100 million investment to construct a plant in Kezad, Abu Dhabi, focusing on producing premium alloy grades and stainless steel.

Market Challenges:

  • Superalloy Scrap Demand:
    • Driven by the aerospace sector’s efforts to address supply chain disruptions, demand for superalloy scrap remains robust. However, an oversupply has led to a decline in cobalt prices.
  • Logistics and Transportation:
    • Persistent transportation disruptions due to the Red Sea crisis and vessel rerouting around Africa have led to longer shipping times and higher costs. Insurance premiums for vessels navigating through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal have surged by 250%.

Conclusion

The stainless steel scrap market in Europe is characterized by robust demand, influenced by various global and regional factors. The increase in net imports and the impact of industrial strikes underscore the complex dynamics affecting production and pricing. Despite challenges, investment and strategic adjustments in different regions reflect an adaptive approach to sustaining and growing the stainless steel industry.

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