Steel market indicators for operating margins at steel mills in China and elsewhere in Asia have weakened since August, as steel prices fall and higher grade raw materials costs strengthened on pollution concerns, according to analysis by S&P Global Platts Tuesday.
The spread between China hot rolled coil export prices and iron ore and coking coal costs has fallen to $326.80/mt, from August's average of $353.76/mt.
A rebound in coking coal prices this month has been shaving margins as steel prices fall. Premium HCC imports to China spiked as port access improved following a preference for thermal cost at some locations during peak power cooling demand.
The market has been gradually losing value from a peak in June for flat steel export spreads out of China, while rebar's export spread peaked in July.
However, steel prices are still providing generous indicative mill margins and supporting higher steel production, and utilization to capture prevailing dynamics and meet orders.
"Chinese steel margins continued to hold their ground in August despite some raw material inflation as domestic heavy scrap moved higher (by $41/mt month on month)," Jefferies investment bank analysts said in a recent report.
"HRC metal spreads at $315/mt, which are still marginally below their 10-year peak reached in June ($338/mt), only fell slightly month on month while rebar margins at $327/mt continued to expand, with prices displaying strong momentum of late."
Underlying iron ore costs and coking coal import costs in China rose 1% month on month in August on stronger iron ore prices.
Iron ore import prices into China settled at $67.16/dry mt CFR China in August, from $64.35/dmt in July, while high grade product premiums remained high. Premium Low Vol CFR China prices fell to $188.52/mt in August, from $192.75/mt in July, but have risen since.
Raw material costs for reference iron ore and premium coking coal imported into China in August were 8.5% lower than a year earlier, based on spot prices and quantities used per metric ton of hot metal.
Chinese HRC export spreads fell to $353.76/mt in August from July's $360.68/mt. The daily peak remains at $371.80/mt on May 28.
The ASEAN HRC spread fell to $376.76/mt in August from $385.66/mt in July, based on TSI delivered HRC CFR ASEAN port.
The S&P Global Platts China rebar export price-based spread also fell. On Tuesday, the spread was $294.80/mt, down from August's average of $328.45/mt.
"Margins for both products [HRC and rebar] remain above historical averages by 53% and 78%, respectively, and should remain supported by strong demand and sentiment with winter production restrictions soon to be announced," Jefferies said.
"Pollution-related production cuts in regions with poor air quality already began to kick-in during August and should only expand further in weeks ahead."
The bank saw a domestic steel price premium over export rebounding in August, leaving steel exports unattractive.
In the US, rebar spreads with ferrous scrap carried on rising, by 4.7% in August to $387.41/st ex-works Southeast.
US scrap-based HRC mill spreads fell back in August on softer HRC prices, after a huge increase in spreads over past months, as import tariffs supported steel pricing.
The US HRC and shredded scrap spread fell to $584.58/st ex-works Midwest in August, from a high of $591.01/st in July.
The Turkey export rebar to scrap margin rose to $209/mt in August from $200.86/mt in July as scrap weakened. The melt margin increased back to higher levels seen previously.
Re-roller margins in Turkey using Platts Black Sea billet and rebar export prices, with indicative shipment costs into Turkey, fell due to stronger relative billet prices.
Export rebar subtracting Black Sea billet landed in Turkey averaged $22.86/mt in August, down from $25.88/mt in July.