Stainless steel is one of the fastest growing metals in terms of consumption. It is in many ways the perfect solution to the challenges the world is facing at the moment.

In 2013–2018, consumption of stainless steel has grown about 4% per year, and the long-term prospects for increasing use of the stainless steel are positive. Stainless steel consumption has been growing in all geographical areas. Growth has been fastest in the APAC region, while consumption in the Americas and EMEA regions have grown slower.

 

Global market with few big players

Outokumpu operates in the global stainless steel market. The market of cold-rolled products totaled approximately 30 million tonnes in 2018, of which Outokumpu’s market share globally was approximately 6%. Our cold rolled market share in Europe is approximately 28% and in the NAFTA region approximately 23%. Outokumpu is the market leader in Europe and the clear number two in the Americas with a market share of approxi¬mately 22% in the US.*

In addition to Outokumpu, the largest stainless steel producers worldwide include Asian companies Tsingshan, TISCO, POSCO, Baosteel and YUSCO as well as European-based Acerinox and Aperam. Several Asian producers also manufacture carbon steel, while European manufacturers focus on stainless steel.

 

With a growing demand, the long term market outlook is positive

The demand for stainless steel products is impacted by global, regional and national economic conditions, levels of industrial investment activity and industrial production.

Global real demand for stainless steel products reached 43.2 million tonnes in 2018, an increase of 4.9% from 41.2 million tonnes in 2017. Growth was most pronounced in the APAC region at 5.7%, while demand in EMEA grew by 2.4% and in the Americas by 3.9% in 2018.

In 2018, the real demand growth among the end-use segments was very broad-based. ABC (architecture, building and construction) & Infrastructure segment grew by 5.8%, while both Chemical, Petrochemical & Energy and Industrial & Heavy Industries grew by 5.7% compared to 2017. Consumer Goods & Medicals and Automotive & Heavy Transport grew by 4.5% and 3.5%, respectively.

In 2018, the real demand growth among the end-use segments was very broad-based. ABC (architecture, building and construction) & Infrastructure segment grew by 5.8%, while both Chemical, Petrochemical & Energy and Industrial & Heavy Industries grew by 5.7% compared to 2017. Consumer Goods & Medicals and Automotive & Heavy Transport grew by 4.5% and 3.5%, respectively.

In 2018, the global steel production amounted to 1,809 million tonnes of which approximately 3% was stainless steel. The long-term outlook for stainless steel demand remains positive. Global megatrends such as urbanization, climate change, and increased mobility combined with growing global demand for energy, food, and water are expected to support the future growth of stainless steel demand. Growth in stainless steel consumption between 2018 and 2023 is expected to be relatively well-balanced between the end-use segments.

 

Tariffs created uncertainties, overcapacity decreased

Uncertainties in the stainless steel market continued throughout 2018 due to the US steel import tariffs. Base prices declined significantly in Europe whereas in the US, base prices continued to increase. The European Commission initiated temporary safeguard measures in July to restore the balance in the European market. In early 2019, the EU commission imposed permanent safeguards, that are expected to stabilize the market balance in Europe during 2019.

The stainless steel industry has been burdened by overcapacity in the recent years especially in Asia. The global stainless steel production capacity of slabs and billets increased in 2018 by roughly 5% to 70.6 million tonnes. Also, the global utilization rate was assessed to have increased above 74% levels in 2018. As the production of stainless steel is capital intensive, producers generally seek to maintain high capacity utilization in order to maintain and improve profitability.

The global stainless steel* production of slabs and billets grew by some 6% in 2018 from the previous year, reaching 50.4 million tonnes. The output increased most in Asia, namely in Indonesia and China, but also Europe and Americas showed growth in 2018. (Source: SMR)

Stainless steel is sold either directly to end users or to stainless steel distributors, tube makers and processors, such as steel service centers, who resell the products to end users. In 2018, 54% of Outokumpu’s stainless steel was sold directly to end-user customers. The remaining approximately 46% of sales were shipped to distributors and processors that stock and process stainless steel to serve end users.

 

Stainless steel and raw material prices in 2018

In 2018, European base prices decreased by 20% due to increased import pressure. The US average base prices increased from 2017 by 7%.

The LME nickel price increased by 17% in the first half of 2018 and hit the highest level of the year of USD 15,750/tonne in early June. Prices were soaring as the demand outpaced the supply, and the sentiment was buoyed by the robust global economy and future expectations of nickel demand in electric vehicles’ batteries. In the second half of the year, prices plummeted by 29% on the back of concerns about escalating trade war, and expectations of increasing nickel supply in the coming years. At the end of 2018, nickel price was at its lowest level at USD 10,595/tonne. The average nickel price in 2018 was USD 13,133/tonne, which was 26.1% higher than the average price of USD 10,411/tonne in 2017.

The European benchmark price for ferrochrome decreased to USD 1.18/lb in the first quarter of 2018 as a result of good availability of ferrochrome. For the second quarter price shot up to USD 1.42/lb on the back of tightening markets in China. For the third and fourth quarters prices decreased to USD 1.38/lb and 1.24/lb, respectively, amid oversupplied markets and appreciated US dollar. For the first quarter of 2019 price dropped further to USD 1.12/lb.