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Analysis: US scrap, Turkish steel inextricably intertwined?

Pittsburgh — Considering that one country is the world's largest steel scrap exporter and another is the world's largest steel scrap importer, the US and Turkey seem inextricably linked.

Market dynamics and perhaps even forced intervention by US scrap merchants and Turkish steel mills this decade have resulted in a slight detangling of the two markets.

Yet US scrap merchants and Turkish mills remain each other's biggest customers. That may change as the US ramps up tariffs on Turkish steel products to 50%. Scrap is not included in any tariffs as of yet, but if Turkish rebar sales to the US slow, they may not need, or be able to afford, US scrap.

And the threat of tariffs on scrap is also omnipresent in the trade-policy-by-tweet environment that has gripped the steel market this year. Turkey placing tariffs on US scrap could hurt a steel industry that used 30.3 million mt of steel scrap in 2017, 21.0 million mt of which was imported.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US may view steel scrap exports to Turkey as a tariff target. Among all of Turkey's imports from the US, only aircraft shipments ($1.26 billion) were valued more than steel scrap ($1.23 billion) from the 12 months through June 30, according to S&P Global Platts Market Intelligence reports.

In 2012, the US accounted for 29% of all Turkish steel scrap imports and Turkey accounted for 30% of all US steel scrap exports, the highest proportion of this decade. Those levels have slowly fallen as US merchants diversify their customer base and Turkish mills diversify their supplier base.

The US last year provided 17% of all Turkish steel scrap imports and Turkey took 24% of all US steel scrap exports.

Through the first six months of 2018 Turkey has imported 10.77 million mt of steel scrap and the US has exported 8.57 million mt with the US accounting for 18% of Turkish steel scrap imports and Turkey accounting for 19% of US steel scrap exports, according to the latest Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) and US Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission data.

"[Scrap] exporters will continue to try to find other homes but there aren't enough logical homes to pick up all of the Turkish demand," one trader said. "Without a doubt, in the short term more [US] scrap stays domestic. The amount of scrap going to Turkey cannot be absorbed by just one or two markets, the volume will need to be dispersed to several markets that are currently not developed to anywhere near the level that Turkey is."

In the first half of 2018, Turkey was able to increase its buys of Russian scrap 60% to 1.33 million mt. As recent as 2014 Turkey only had three 2 million mt-plus scrap suppliers: the US, the UK and Russia. Turkey has since added Belgium and Netherlands to the list of 2 million mt-plus suppliers.

US scrap shippers have been able to diversify too, sending a record amount of material in 2017 to Mexico (1.66 million mt), Pakistan (691,055 mt) and Bangladesh (619,899 mt).

Whether its market dynamics or intentional efforts to become less reliant on one another, the US scrap and Turkish steel market still appear reliant on one another.

"I'm anxious to see the fallout from the 50% [tariffs] and if there is any resolution," one US exporter said.

US bulk scrap shippers have seen industry change in the past. Turkey became the largest buyer of US scrap in 2010, supplanting China, which had dominated the deepsea market for US material for much of the previous decade.

Is there another industry upheaval on the horizon?

"Looks like a good opportunity for China to sell scrap to Turkey," the exporter concluded.

Sources :

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