JFE Holdings Inc, the world’s sixth-largest steelmaker, said it would restart one of its two idled blast furnaces in February to cope with stronger-than-expected demand in Asia.

JFE Steel, the group’s core unit, had said it would not restart the blast furnaces until after April.

JFE has benefitted more than its domestic rivals from a regional steel price recovery due to its higher exposure to exports. Restarting the mill in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan, will boost JFE’s overall production capacity by 15%.

JFE’s senior vice president Tsutomu Yajima said there had been a surge in inquiries that exceeded the company’s capacity for some high-end products, such as galvanized sheet steel used in consumer appliances.

The No 3 furnace had been idled in January to reduce production amid the global downturn. JFE has nine blast furnaces but is operating seven at the moment. Another in Fukuyama – also No 3 – was halted from the end of February, also to reduce production.