Lex 2010-04-14

There have been cheerier get-togethers than Tuesday’s 11th annual meeting of the steel trade associations of Korea and Japan, held in Tokyo. Delegates were voting no to everything: no to raw material price increases, no to quarterly pricing of iron ore (rather than annual), and no to the proposed production joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

Steelmakers are at last waking up to a convergence of forces, none of them desirable. So far, they have successfully passed on the rising cost of spot ore, which has doubled since early September, thanks to strong demand for steel from manufacturers of autos and home appliances. Korea’s Posco, the world’s fourth-largest steelmaker, posted a more than fourfold jump in first-quarter profit on Tuesday. On Citigroup calculations, gross margins in March at Baosteel, the bellwether of China’s steel industry, were not far from the glory days of April and May 2008.

Yet prospects for further margin enhancement seem slim. Already-high steel prices leave little scope for further hikes; destocking has already started among traders. Input prices, meanwhile, may be inflated by the tight supply of ore. On Barclays Capital estimates, the big three producers will deliver less than 55m tonnes of additional production from new projects this year and next, in a seaborne iron ore market approaching 1bn tonnes. China, meanwhile, where nearly 70 per cent of the seaborne market is spot, will have to keep shipping it in, if only to offset the declining quality of its domestic ore.

That Posco has lagged Vale by 10 per cent in the three weeks since Baosteel seemed to sound the death knell for the 40-year old benchmark system, suggests fears that steelmakers will be exposed to near-continuous price-hikes by miners. Architects of the BHP/Rio joint venture should be very afraid: steelmakers seem to be in the mood to take their vengeance through a co-ordinated action to oppose it.

Lex专栏:全球钢铁企业联合起来
英国《金融时报》 Lex专栏 2010-04-14

周二在东京举行的韩日钢铁协会第11轮年度会议,肯定算不上最喜庆的聚会。代表们对所有问题都投了否决票:否决原材料价格上涨、否决铁矿石季度(而非年度)定价,以及否决力拓(Rio Tinto)和必和必拓(BHP Billiton)拟议成立的合资生产企业。

钢铁企业终于开始意识到,各种对己不利的力量正在汇聚。由于汽车及家用电器生产商对钢铁的需求强劲,到目前为止,钢铁企业已成功转嫁了不断增长的铁矿石现货价格成本——现货价格自去年9月初以来翻了一番。全球第四大钢厂——韩国浦项制铁(Posco)周二宣布,该集团第一季度利润增长逾三倍。根据花旗集团(Citigroup)的估计,中国钢铁业龙头企业宝钢(Baosteel)的毛利润率,距离2008年4月和5月的鼎盛时期也相去不远。

不过,利润率进一步提升的可能性已经很小了。本已高企的钢价已没有多大上涨空间;交易员已开始抛售钢铁类股。与此同时,成本价格可能会因铁矿石供应吃紧而激增。根据巴克莱资本(Barclays Capital)的估计,今明两年,在规模接近10亿吨的海运铁矿石市场,三大铁矿石生产商来自新项目的产量增长将不足5500万吨。与此同时,占全球海运铁矿石市场近70%份额的中国,将不得不源源不断地进口,即使只是为了弥补本土铁矿石不断下降的品质。

三周前,宝钢似乎给有着40年历史的基准定价机制敲响了丧钟,此后,浦项制铁与巴西淡水河谷(Vale)达成的协议价被迫上涨了10%。这说明人们担心,钢铁企业将面临矿商近乎无休止的涨价。必和必拓/力拓合资企业的缔造者们应该会非常担心:钢铁企业似乎有意通过一致反对合资企业来寻求报复。

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