Stainless steel statistics: imports and use

World Bureau of Metals Statistics (WBMS) has just published the 2019 edition of ‘Annual Stainless Steel Statistics’, which has appeared annually since the 1980s. This month’s ‘Stats Corner’ presents just some of the many charts that cover imports and use.
Article by Peter Cranfield, WBMS consultant

WBMS’s 2019 ‘Annual Stainless Steel Statistics’ is published electronically and comprises detailed data on slab production, trade by country of origin, destination and stainless shape. It estimates use by country. Some data series (not in this publication but available separately) go as far back as 1950 e.g. ingot/slab production. Recent feedback suggested a summary of the statistics would be useful. So this year it includes copious charts on the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Chart 1 shows global imports by main country totalling 20 Mt in 2018. It does not match the 22 Mt global exports shown last issue. This can refl ect time lags but also that exports are mainly from large economies where detailed trade data may be more readily available. Asia, Europe and the USA are the largest producers of stainless but also the largest users of which a significant part is imported.

In Europe heavy consolidation has resulted in three main producers where plant closures have resulted in large meltshops and hot band concentration in a few countries such as Finland, Belgium and Spain. But there are large cold rolling facilities in France, Germany and elsewhere which rely on imported hot band which appears as intra EU trade.

So Germany is the largest importer but much of this for cold rolling. “Others” is high in that there are probably over 100 countries importing stainless some of which in small quantities, It shows how important trade is for the stainless industry and the trade stats can drill down to a very high level of detail for those who need this information.

In the last issue hot rolled coil (HRC) exports were 6 Mt, thereof China 24%, Indonesia 21%, Belgium 16%, S. Korea 13% and Finland 7%.

Chart 2 shows where the HRC were going and the volumes match well, given the time lags. Taiwan rolls more than domestic melting production and imports HRC from a number of countries mainly China, Japan and S. Korea. China traditionally imported from S. Korea and Japan, to which can now be added Indonesia.

Aperam’s cold rolling (CR) mills in France are supplied with HRC from Belgium and Outokumpu’s CR mills in Germany receive HRC from Finland. Italy’s HRC is mainly from Asia, some from Europe. The Malaysian mill receives HRC from Acerinox plants in Spain and S. Africa. Mexico’s HRC is from the USA. Thailand and Turkey mainly import from S. Korea.

Chart 3 shows global use of stainless in 2018 amounting to around 40 Mt. China accounted for nearly half. India was the second largest user at 7%. Other Asian users were: Japan 5%, S. Korea 3%, Vietnam 2% and Taiwan 2%.

So the top six in Asia account for two-thirds of global use. Europe would be the second largest region in terms of use. As in the case of imports, the ‘others’ category covers a large number of countries, especially from Asia. All these are detailed in the full report.

Chart 4 shows the growth in use from 2009 to 2018, with the rates calculated using a moving average to smooth the data. The numbers seem very impressive with a global average annual growth rate of over 7%. This should be viewed with some caution. 2009 was the year after the global fi nancial crisis, which precipitated a deep global recession so the starting point was below the trend or norm. Also in recessions there tends to be a destocking phase that deepens the apparent use even below that of actual use. So to obtain a more representative growth rate we would need to look at alternative periods. The fact
remains that whatever the adjustment is the growth is still better than most other metals or materials.

As we would expect the growth has been most impressive over this period in China. Also impressive is the growth in India, some of which in the AISI 200 series with manganese substituting nickel in part. In Vietnam, Turkey and Thailand there are cold rolling mills processing imported hot band and this undoubtedly has helped local fabrication in these countries and partly accounts for the high use there.

In Europe the growth in use has been encouragingly strong at over 4% pa. Growth in the USA has been around 3%. So while there are many concerns that we have had the longest economic bull run in this cycle and we may be due for a correction, stainless growth at least in volume terms has until now demonstrated very strong performance.

Meet the Author: Peter Cranfield, WBMS

Peter Cranfield has a BSc (Econ) from London University and an MBA from Warwick. He started his career at Inco serving as market research manager and also producing the annual publication World Stainless Steel Statistics (in 1986 taken over by WBMS). Later he joined Shell-owned Billiton in The Hague for 15 years working in a number of metals and industrial minerals as well as strategic planning. Peter then moved back to London with BHPBilliton working in business planning and analysis in nickel, cobalt and stainless. He has regularly delivered presentations on nickel and stainless at conferences around the globe. Since retiring he has consulted for BHPB, Nickel Institute and now the UK-based World Bureau of Metal Statistics.

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