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Analysis: Turkish producers' melt margin at 9-month low on sluggish steel sales

The spread between Turkish export rebar prices and imported steel scrap fell to the lowest level in nine months as steel producers experienced slower sales and lower export prices.


For most of the year, the same spread floated closely around the $200/mt level, displaying the Turkish mills' pricing power over imports of deep-sea scrap cargoes.


Last week, the melting margin fell to the lowest point since last January, when scrap imports reached their highest level in almost four and a half years.


Currently, steel scrap imports at $320/mt CFR in Turkey are well below this record high, while the mills' melting margin is now pressured by sluggish sales domestically and in the export market.


Domestic demand for rebar has collapsed amid the latest lira woes, uncertain economic policy, and an unravelling construction boom that has supported internal steel buying for many years.


The already slow domestic demand is further pressured by Iranian offers for rebar material at lower levels, leaving domestic pricing in some regions below $500/mt, down from around $510/mt just a week earlier.


The situation in the Turkish export market is less severe as Turkish producers have found some support in the last few weeks through strong buying from South East Asian countries for September and October shipments, primarily from Singapore and Hong Kong, while European buyers remained on the sidelines.


Buying interest from the Far East has slowed down somewhat since then, with domestic demand strongly subdued. As a result, Turkish mills struck lower-priced export deals this weak, squeezing producers' margin at unchanged or even slightly higher scrap prices.


PRODUCERS SEE PROFITS SQUEEZED

While profitability can vary quite significantly between mills -- especially with variable prices of energy needs and electrode costs, among other things -- some Turkish producers feel increasingly pressured by the narrowing margins between their sold rebars and their raw material prices.


According to one industry source, some Turkish mills were roughly calculating $320/mt for the scrap imports, adding $100/mt for other steelmaking costs, including energy and labour, while accounting for a 10% yield loss.


"The rest is their profit and financial costs, which of course are different for each mill," he said, adding that at current level this should still leave some margin for producers.


However, the weakness in the lira has also led to a hike in energy prices, along with bigger electrode costs, increasing the steelmaking costs to higher-than-usual levels, one steel producer said.


According to a Turkish trader, the current $190/mt level is critical.


"A $190/mt spread [will allow them to] make a little, $180/mt spread will not allow them to make money," he said.


On the procurement side, some Turkish producers were therefore targeting lower price levels for scrap imports.


"Buyers [of scrap] cannot pay more ... they have to settle scrap below $320/mt in their next round of deals," one Turkish buyer at a large Turkish steel producer said.


So far, robust scrap demand in Europe and other markets like India has helped scrap suppliers to resist efforts to lower prices.


On the sales side, Turkish producers' official offers stood at $520/mt FOB this week, while targeting sales at $515/mt FOB in an attempt to retain a healthy melting margin.


Sales were, however, only heard finalized at around $510/mt FOB.


Some mill sources continue to expect rebar prices to increase in the export market in the light of current scrap price levels.


TURKISH STEEL INDUSTRY 'HEALTHY'

Yet, even at current spread levels, warnings about the mills' financial situation are overblown, one CEO of a major steel producer told Platts.


After two years of of solid margins with less debt than a few years earlier and "necessary steps" taken by mills, the steel business in Turkey is "healthy" overall, he said.


Source: Platts

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