The World Steel Association (worldsteel) forecasts that global steel demand will reach 1,616.1 Mt in 2018, an increase of 1.8% over 2017 figures. In 2019, it is forecast that global steel demand will grow by 0.7% to reach 1,626.7 Mt.

Speaking in London at a press event for worldsteel's April Short Range Outlook, TV Narendran, chairman of worldsteel’s economics committee commented that the global economic situation was expected to remain favourable over the next two years with high confidence and a strengthening recovery of investment levels in advanced economies.

“Benefitting from this, steel demand in both developed and developing economies is expected to show sustained growth momentum with risks relatively limited. However, possible adverse impact from rising trade tensions and the probable US and EU interest rate movements could erode this current momentum,” he said.

The upside and downside risks to this forecast are mostly balanced, claims worldsteel. In 2018, high confidence, strong investment levels and a recovery in commodity prices are generating a virtuous cycle for steel demand globally both in developed and developing economies. The slight deceleration in 2019 will be due to further deceleration in China and weakened investment momentum due to higher interest rates.

Conversely, a possible escalation of trade tensions, rising inflationary pressure and tightening US and EU monetary policies may cause financial market volatilities, which might trouble highly indebted emerging economies.

China – a deceleration trend

In 2017, the Chinese government’s mild stimulus measures boosted construction activity, but investment continued to decelerate and steel demand showed only a moderate increase.

GDP growth is expected to decelerate mildly during 2018 and 2019, but as the government continues to focus on shifting the growth driver toward consumption, investment is likely to decelerate further. Steel demand in 2018 is expected to remain flat and is expected to contract by 2.0% in 2019 with a further slowdown in construction activity. In manufacturing, the machinery sector is expected to maintain positive growth on the back of a strong global economy while automotive and home appliances are expected to decelerate.

High corporate and local government debt continues to raise concern but a hard landing for the Chinese economy is unlikely in the short run.

Developed economies’ – a robust outlook

Steel demand in the developed world is expected to increase by 1.8% in 2018 and decelerate to 1.1% in 2019.

In the US the outlook for steel demand remains robust on the back of strong consumption and investment due to high confidence, rising income and low interest rates. The manufacturing sector is supported by a low dollar and increasing investment while rising housing prices and steady non-residential sector growth point to a healthy construction sector. Recent tax reform is expected to boost steel demand, but there is some concern over a possible overheating of the economy. The announced infrastructure plan is unlikely to affect steel demand in the short term.

The EU economy has developed strong momentum with broadening recovery across countries. Prompted by robust domestic and external demand, investments are expected to remain a major growth driver while low inflation, wage and real income growth will support private consumption. Steel demand will be supported by a pick-up in non-residential construction and strong manufacturing activities.

In the automotive sector both the EU and the US is expected to moderate due to the saturation effect and rising interest rates. The machinery sector is expected to benefit from rising investment, but an
expected monetary tightening is responsible for the forecasted deceleration of steel demand growth in 2019.

Steel demand in Japan has been benefitting from an improving investment sentiment and government stimulus, but the scope of growth will continue to be limited by structural factors such as an aging population.

Despite improved consumer sentiment, steel demand growth in South Korea will be constrained by high consumer debts, weakening construction and a depressed shipbuilding sector.

Developing economies

In developing and emerging economies (excluding China) steel demand is expected to increase by 4.9% and 4.5% in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Recovery in oil and commodity prices has improved the outlook for MENA countries. Provided geopolitical stability can be achieved, steel demand outlook for the region could further improve as a result of reconstruction activities.

In Russia and Brazil a mild recovery is expected to continue. In Russia, credit expansion, easing monetary policy and improving consumer and business confidence will support it. In early 2017 Brazil started to come out of its deep recession, but uncertainty remains as to the sustainability of this recovery momentum. Recovery of construction activities has been slow. In other Latin American countries, recovery is also underway and growth in the region could accelerate if reforms are implemented, but the forthcoming elections lead to uncertainty.

Turkish steel demand showed strength in 2017, backed by supportive government measures. While slightly decelerating due to subsiding special economic stimulus, steel demand in Turkey is expected to show stable growth in 2018/19.

The Indian economy is stabilising from the impact of currency reform and GST (Goods and Services Tax) implementation and steel demand is expected to accelerate gradually, mainly driven by public investment. Stronger growth is hampered by still weak private investment.

Steel demand in ASEAN-5 countries dipped in 2017 due to slow construction activity and destocking. In 2018/19 however, steel demand is expected to regain growth momentum backed by infrastructure investment.