China’s finished steel exports are likely to come close or even breach the 90 million mt mark in 2023, hitting a high not seen since 2016, market sources told S&P Global Commodity Insights Dec. 7. Strong steel exports would continue in 2024 as China could go on easing steel output curbs next year, while domestic steel demand may not see any substantial improvement, some market participants said.
In November, China’s finished steel exports rebounded to the fourth highest so far in 2023 at 8.005 million mt, up 0.3% on the month and 43.2% on the year, China Customs data showed Dec. 7.
Over January-November, steel exports increased 35.6%, or 21.7 million mt, on the year to 82.658 million mt.
Based on data from the China Iron and Steel Association and National Bureau of Statistics, China’s crude steel output over January-November is likely to reach 951 million mt, up 16 million mt on the year.
China posting a solid growth in exports indicated domestic steel demand remained weak and overseas buying was supporting high steel production levels in the country, sources said.
Some trading sources expected the high steel production situation and sluggish domestic steel demand to continue through 2024, which would continue to benefit exporters.
“It’s too early to say whether steel exports in 2024 could be even higher than in 2023, but at least the room for steel exports to drop may be limited as mills have the urge to keep their production high but domestic steel demand is unlikely to improve given the property sector’s debt crisis,” a trading source said.
Over 2018-2023, China bought about 242 million mt/year of brand-new crude steel capacity on stream, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights calculations based on information gathered from market sources and company announcements.
Given all the massive, newly commissioned steel making facilities, steelmakers need to keep their production high, to not just protect their market share in a weak market but also to lower production costs and generate cash flows, some market sources said.
According to some trading and mill sources, government-mandated steel output cuts for decarbonization may not be strictly implemented in 2024 as well, as ensuring decent economic growth would still be the government’s top priority.
In November, China’s finished steel imports reached 614,000 mt, the fourth lowest so far in 2023, down 8.1% from October and 18.4% on the year, customs data showed.
Over January-November, finished steel imports fell 29.2% on the year to 6.98 million mt.
As a result, China’s net finished steel exports in the first 11 months of 2023 increased 48.1%, or 24.58 million mt, on the year, to 75.678 million mt.