As Chinese steel starts to call its own

With Chinese steel prices on a steady recovery since the Lunar New Year holidays, supply and production allocations have swung firmly towards serving the domestic market.Buyers overseas have meanwhile found it hard to play catch up with Chinese offers, as delays or attempts to be coy with sellers are usually met with unwelcome news the next day that prices have climbed even higher.
Feedback from participants on both sides of the market suggested that they did not think this bout of price increases is showing any signs of losing steam just yet.
For Chinese suppliers, who have been blamed for everything from dumping to the demise of the UK steel industry, the past few months have perhaps seen them undergo a coming of age of sorts, as they realize the tremendous influence they exert on global markets.
This was in plain view at a recent industry conference, where at least two speakers pronounced Chinese steel’s position as global price setter, by virtue of the nation being the biggest producer, consumer and exporter, as well as its futures exchanges, home to the most liquidly traded steel contracts.
“There’s no need to look at overseas demand,” declared an official at a government think tank in his speech. “Once domestic prices go up, global prices go up.”
Another official from the Shanghai Futures Exchange boasted how they have recently been swarmed by visits from the CME, LME and SGX, all keen to understand the reasons behind the explosion in volumes traded in its hot rolled coil contract.
In the physical market, those who have cried foul against unfair trade have moved to establish formidable barriers to Chinese exports. But it is ironic to note how overseas buyers are now starting to bemoan the disappearance of Chinese offers in the market.
This is particularly evident in markets such as galvanized sheet in Europe where the disappearance of Chinese offers of thin gauge material has resulted in severe shortages in the market.
The complaints of end-users who are no longer able to secure cheap Chinese steel will surely sound insignificant against the macroeconomic backdrop of governments and central banks worldwide, scrambling to avert a seemingly inexorable deflationary spiral.
But who really knows what might come next, or when the release valve might open again if Chinese domestic demand falters?
As the international markets await the faltering of Chinese domestic demand, what appears certain is that the world should get used to working with the whims and fancies of Chinese Steel.
This was created by Keith Tan, Senior managing editor from Platts.
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