India is the world’s number one importer and consumer of stainless steel scrap, according to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR). This is not only because of the amount of stainless steel produced in India (it is second only to China) but also because of the very high proportion of scrap to primary use in its production mix.

News of India's position as a number one stainless steel importer and consumer was underlined at a recent meeting of the BIR Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee on 15 October where guest speaker C P Gupta, chairman and managing director of Ambica Steels, which claims to be India's biggest stainless steel producer, said that India was a big potential market for stainless steel recycling.

“Stainless steel production rose to 3.32Mt in 2016 – an impressive growth of 9% – with stainless steel applications in the building and construction, automotive, railway and transport sectors being the main drivers,” Mr Gupta told his audience in New Delhi.

India’s demonetisation initiative and the slowdown in manufacturing activity earlier this year had led to a three-year low in GDP growth of 5.7%. However, this seems to have been a short-term blip and the economy “is bound to grow at 7.5% in the next two years”, Mr Gupta said.

Oryx Stainless BV's Joost van Kleef, the BIR Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee’s chairman pointed to a cash crunch in India following the implementation of the country’s single goods and services tax. He argued that banks were hounding the mills to reduce their debt exposure, which, he said, was also the reason why the mills were being less bullish.

Stainless steel crude output in Europe during Q3 was influenced by maintenance downtime among producers, with the result that demand for stainless scrap was slightly lower, according to Mr Van Kleef. He also noted that year-to-date production was running “at previously forecasted levels and is actually showing a slight increase when compared to the same period in 2016”.

Russian businesses meanwhile are now enjoying improved scope to export stainless steel scrap because the applicable duty is 5% rather than the 20% of some years ago, said Mr Van Kleef. “The problem at the current moment is logistics because container volumes have reduced in Russia and shipment has become more difficult,” he added.

In the Middle East, the Q3 2017 had brought “great progress” in various parts of the stainless steel and special alloys sector, as local trading of 304, 316, 309 and 310 grades improved owing to higher LME nickel prices, with the same being true for cobalt and the Hastelloys.

In the USA, the short supply of available primary and secondary nickel has become the current market reality facing stainless producers and scrap processors.

China’s government has continued with its crackdown on highly-polluting and outdated mills and nickel pig iron producers and this has forced the latter to rethink their risk/reward margin and also some of the outdated mini stainless mills to be phased out, Van Kleef said.

“There is currently a need to restock with raw materials – including stainless scrap –- according to normal lead times, and so demand for scrap should be healthy in the fourth quarter,” Mr Van Kleef said.

Global political uncertainties continue to have an impact: North Korea is causing instability in the Far East; the Philippines could potentially impose taxes on nickel; and the UK and the EU are continuing to squabble over Brexit. “All these factors are keeping us on our toes,” Mr Van Kleef confirmed.