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Appointment of ASSDA General Manager: Trent Mackenzie


I am pleased to announce the appointment of Trent Mackenzie as ASSDA General Manager, commencing Monday 19 September 2016.

Trent has over 37 years experience in the stainless steel and special alloys industry, having served in a variety of senior positions for companies including Allegheny Technologies International, ATI Group and High Performance Metals. He brings strong technical, marketing and sales expertise to the team.

Trent’s focus as General Manager will be to drive ASSDA on a national basis, including promotion of the Association’s program to new and existing members, development of the ASSDA Accreditation Scheme, and pursuance of new market and product substitution opportunities for stainless steel.

ASSDA has a long track record of providing quality products and services that deliver benefits, and the Board would like to see the Association continue to expand its network and grow with the industry for the benefit of its members.

In the first instance, Trent’s priority will be to engage with all ASSDA members and Accredited Fabricators, and he will be in contact with you all within the coming months.

Trent will be based in Brisbane, and can be reached on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He will also be attending ASSDA’s annual PacRim Stainless 2016 conference on the Gold Coast, and I encourage you all to register for this excellent networking opportunity.

Thanks for joining me in welcoming Trent to the team.

Best regards
Stephen Robertson
ASSDA President

Standards Australia Planning to Withdraw AS 1528 Series of Tube and Fittings Standards

If you use, sell or make AS 1528 products, please respond to the advice provided below.

Standards Australia is currently carrying out an 'Aged Standards Review'. Subject to public objection before 14 July 2015, Standards Australia are proposing to withdraw the widely-used AS 1528 integrated set of tube and fitting standards, including:

AS 1528.1-2001    Tubes (stainless steel) and tube fittings for the food industry - Tubes
AS 1528.2-2001    Tubes (stainless steel) and tube fittings for the good industry - Screwed couplings
AS 1528.3-2001    Tubes (stainless steel) and tube fittings for the food industry - Butt weld tube fittings

A full list of standards proposed for withdrawal is available on the Standards Australia website.
 
The aim of AS 1528 has been to standardise a hygienic tube for use in dairy and other food and beverage manufacturing, that is effective in maintaining the required food safety standards and that is also readily available at a relatively economical price. The standards has been successful in these aims. It is also the only dimensionally integrated set of tube and fitting standards in the world.

Probable consequences of the withdrawal include:

  • Increased use of technically unsuitable ASTM 554 tube
  • Increase of company specific components with poor interconnectivity
  • Consequent increased costs of fabrication and variable quality
  • Less certainty of surface finish with potential for poor cleanability and hygienic integrity

If you are using the AS 1528 standard, please email Standards Australia on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., specifying the Standard (number, title and publication year) and the basis of your concerns and objections by 14 July 2015. It would be appreciated if you could please copy ASSDA (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) in any objection you lodge.

We strongly encourage all members involved to make a submission before the closing date to ensure this vital suite of standards is retained.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact ASSDA's Technical Specialist Graham Sussex on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

30 June 2014

This market report is written for ASSDA members by Richard Clark, Managing Director of Stainless Steel Focus Ltd.

One of the most significant developments of the past few years in our industry has been the spectacular rise of China. It now appears that this was more dramatic than first thought. In 2013, according to a recent analysis of the Chinese stainless industry conducted by SMI GmbH, Chinese producers melted more than 20m tonnes of stainless, catapulting global melting production to over 40m tonnes. At 20.5m tonnes (up 17% from 17.5m tonnes in 2012), Chinese production accounted for 50.5% of global output.

The question now is whether this phase of year-on-year growth can, or will, continue; or are we already entering a new phase? There are signs that the latter may be the case. Asked by the writer in a recent interview if he thought there could be some consolidation of the industry in China. Outokumpu CEO Mika Seitovirta said that although no one really knows to what extent there will be consolidation in the Chinese stainless steel industry, it is clear that talk on a government level has shifted China to quality (i.e. profitable) growth rather than volume. So we may see slower growth at state-owned enterprises. Also, much of the recent increase in Chinese production has been attributable to private procedures (according to the analysis by SMI, private producers increased their output by 24% in 2013). The biggest increase, SMI said, came from the Tsingshan Group, which is now the second largest producer of stainless steel in China behind state-owned TISCO. Our sources indicate that Tsingshan increased its production from some 1.5m tonnes in 2011 to around 4.0-4.2m tonnes today. Here also there appears to have been a change of strategy. Tsingshan is to invest significant sums in NPI production facilities in Indonesia and, reports indicate, it is also to establish a one million tpy stainless production facility in the country. Such a move can obviously been seen as a way of dealing with the problematic area of securing adequate raw material supplies (i.e. nickel units) for stainless steel production faced by domestic Chinese producers. Could it also perhaps be a sign that China as a location is losing cost advantages it once had, and that production may shift to new "low cost" areas (and also, to regions where strong demand growth may be anticipated)?

Chinese expansion may therefore be coming to an end. Indeed, a senior executive at Tsingshan has recently been reported as saying that high-cost stainless producers in China will disappear and the industry will consolidate into not more than 10 producers, of which 5 or 6 will become industry leaders.

Whilst China has over the past few years consistently been showing double digit growth in production and consumption (with China now accounting for as good as 50% of all stainless steel consumed globally), significantly lower growth rates have been experienced in the "mature" stainless steel markets around the world. It is not surprising then that consolidation has for some time now been a key feature of the European stainless industry.

This process has of course in recent years been dominated by Outokumpu. A major step in the consolidation process was to drastically cut melting capacity (by around 1.4m tonnes). The closure of the Krefeld melting shop in Germany at the end of 2013 was a start. But in a drive to return the Outokumpu group to profitability in the face of global challenges, the process has been accelerated, and extended. In March, Outokumpu reached agreement with employees and unions to accelerate the Bochum melt shop closure, now scheduled for 2015.

The rationalisation was extended to the cold rolling sector as well. It was announced that the Benrath cold rolling mill in Germany was expected to be closed in 2016 and that operations at its Kloster mill in Sweden would be discontinued.

Turning to the actual market situation, there appears to be a consensus that things are gradually appearing. Acerinox commented in its quarter one report that the stainless market was experiencing growth in consumption at a global level, in line with the increasingly better macroeconomic figures. It said that the performance in demand in the first quarter confirmed the trend change that was initiated in the second half of last year, and that its order book is the highest for the last three years, guaranteeing good activity levels at the mills for the coming months. The North American market continued to "behave satisfactorily", it said, and in the first quarter of this year apparent consumption increased around 8%.

According to Outokumpu, global real demand for stainless products totalled 9.1m tonnes in the first quarter of 2014, up by 6.0% compared to the fourth quarter of 2013. Especially in the Americas and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) regions, demand increased during the first three months of 2014 by 14.9% and 12.7%, respectively. However, demand in EMEA still remained below last year's first quarter level. In APAC, consumption levels inceased by 3.2% quarter-on-quarter, Outokumpu said.

Analysis of stainless steel production figures shows that there were healthy increases in many countries in the first quarter. Japanese crude production rose by 9.5%, compared to the first quarter of last year, to reach 837,800 tonnes. In the USA where, as an aside to the ramp-up of the Calvert melt shop was continuing as planned, production increased in quarter one by 13.1% to 556,900 tonnes.

In Europe, there was quite healthy output in many countries (compared to the same quarter of last year). Production was 8.6% in Belgium, 10.1% in France, and 7.9% in Finland. It should be borne in mind that these increased were offset to a large extent by the 18.9% drop in German production, and a lesser decline in Italian output. The final outcome was that first quarter EU output was just 0.3% up on the first quarter of 2013 at 2.06m tonnes.

There were also positive developments on the price front in the first quarter according to Outokumpu. In Europe, there were some signs of improvement in the base price as well as in the alloy surcharge. In the USA, the increase in the alloy surcharge by 2.9% was the main price driver, whereas the base price declined slightly. The Chinese transaction price remained unchanged quarter-on-quarter. On the downside, average transaction price levels still remain significantly below last year's first quarter levels with a decline of 13%, 8% and 12% in the EU, USA and China, respectively.

The risks
The performance of the stainless steel market is, of course, inextricably tied up with the nickel price developments. After several years of weak prices, the eventual recovery of real stainless steel demand, coupled with the export ban on ore by Indonesia, led to rising prices. The average price in quarter one has been reported at $14,632/tonne, 5.2% up on the fourth quarter of 2013. The upward trend in prices continued in the second quarter (investment, speculative buying and the tension between Russia and the West, coming on top of the known factors). In April, the average price increased to over $17,360/tonne (up around $15,650/tonne in March), and rose further in May to over $19,400/tonne. As a result, restocking is likely to be providing further support to the stainless industry, on top of the improvement in real demand.

There are of course always risks. When it comes to nickel price developments, nothing is ever set in stone. This is why it may be an idea, for those who have not already done so and have the opportunity, to look into the daily alloy surcharge pricing models which Outokumpu has introduced. As of June, for new orders for European distributor customers of flat products, there is now a third variant of the model - the Average Flex, which reduces the customer's alloy risk by calculating the daily alloy surcharge as an average based on a self-defined period between the order and delivery date. This complements the original versions - the Effective option (fixing the alloy surcharge on the date of the order) and the Selective option (the selection any day between order and delivery).

There is also the risk that higher prices in Europe and the USA could, as at least one mill pointed out, lead to further price gaps between European and Asian prices, increasingly the likelihood of higher exports from Asia. And there is the fragility of the European recovery.

These factors, and how the problem of the global overcapacity might eventually be tackled (with, as recently pointed out, "four players in the USA, four players in Europe, but 50 players in China") suggest that despite talk of a recovery, it would still be wise to be cautious.

 

This item is a personal and independent view of the stainless steel and raw materials situation by Richard Clark, Managing Director of Stainless Steel Focus Ltd. No liability on the part of the author or the Australian Stainless Steel Development Association can be accepted under any circumstances for any of the views expressed.

May 2015

Market Report: Looking Forward to a Gradual Improvement

This market report is written exclusively for ASSDA members by Richard Clark, Managing Director of Stainless Steel Focus Ltd.

The general economic situation and outlook, on the whole, is not all that bad. According to the latest report by the economic committee of Eurofer – the European Steel Assn, various indicators suggest that the economic recovery in Europe could gain momentum over the coming quarters. With lower oil and energy prices, low inflation, declining unemployment, and improving wage conditions, private consumption looks set to continue to rise. Investment activity, on the other hand, remains sluggish. On balance Eurofer anticipates GDP growth in the EU of 1.9% this year, and 2% in 2016. There are, of course, a whole series of factors that could impact on confidence and the economy in Europe – tension in the Middle East, tension with Russia, the continued uncertainty concerning Greece and its position in the Eurozone, and even, this time around the UK general election. At the time of writing the likely outcome of the election was impossible to predict. What is clear is that one of the major parties is committed to holding an in-out referendum on Europe. If that party then were in a position to form a stable government then presumably there would be many months of uncertainty regarding the UK’s future position in Europe, which would no doubt not only affect UK business but also the way European companies do business with the UK, and indeed also affect decisions by companies much further afield – not least, just as an example, Japanese companies where decisions related to investments in the UK are frequently no doubt taken on the basis of the UK being a member of the EU, i.e. a gateway to Europe. According to reports in the UK press, both the Japanese and the Australian governments have indicated that they see UK membership of the EU as positive.

The other major factor affecting Europe, as well as the global economy, is the performance of the other major players. There appears to have been something of a slowdown in the USA after several years of strong growth in manufacturing, although Eurofer is still anticipating that GDP will rise by 3% on average per annum in 2015 and 2016. The exceptional growth seen in China also appears to be waning, with Eurofer now anticipating GDP growth of below 7% in 2015, and around 6% in 2016.

With a general economy that is, on the whole, not all that bad, one would anticipate a healthy stainless steel market development, which would seem to be far from the case. Prices, as reported in Outokumpu’s recent interim report, fell in the first quarter in all regions compared to the previous quarter.

Part of the reason, of course, are the weak nickel prices. The monthly average cash nickel price has fallen month by month this year so far from $7.22/lb in December 2014 to just $5.80/lb in April. In December last year cash prices were moving in the range from just under $17,000/tonne to just under $15,000/tonne. The range in April was from around $12,000/tonne to (only at the very end of the month) just under $14,000/tonne.

Apart from having a direct impact on stainless steel prices as a result of alloy surcharges, there is another indirect effect. Declining nickel prices do not usually constitute an inducement for distributors to restock, especially when inventories are at relatively high levels, thereby depressing demand.

And the outlook for nickel? Average prices this year look set to be well down on last year, with only limited improvement next year. Admittedly,  after the substantial nickel supply surpluses seen in 2013 and 2014, some are anticipating a more balanced market this year and next year, but stocks (especially LME stocks) remain at extremely high levels, and in fact increased further this year from just over 405,000 tonnes at the beginning of December to almost 445,000 tonnes at the end of April.

The other major factors affecting the markets are, of course, the over-capacity in China and the high level of Chinese exports. Although the statistics indicate that Chinese exports declined again in the final quarter of last year, the total volume of exports in 2014 was a substantial 44.2% higher than in the previous year at some 3.68m tonnes. To put this figure into perspective, it is equivalent to around a half of total EU stainless steel production. Exports of hot rolled flat were up by around 48.3%, exports of cold rolled flat up by 53.1%, and exports of long products up 17.8%.

Whilst Asia is the main destination for China’s stainless steel exports, there have been significant increases in exports to the EU. For example, an increase of 150% last year in the case of hot rolled, and a more than doubling of exports of cold rolled. Our estimates indicate that China accounted for almost a half of all EU imports of hot rolled in 2014, and for around a third of imports of cold rolled.

The EU has, of course, now taken action to remedy this situation, imposing provisional anti-dumping duties of up to 25.2% on imports of stainless steel cold rolled from China (as well as duties of up to 12% on imports from Taiwan). The full impact of this measure is, however, not expected until later in the year when a final decision is taken.

With inventories understood to be on a high level, and with a strong dollar, and the difficult situation in other markets around the world, resulting in high import levels, the US market is also under pressure.

With not exactly an economic boom expected imminently, and with no dramatic improvement in nickel prices, and continued significant overcapacity in the market, one can only anticipate that in the short-term at least things could continue much as they are for some time.

And longer term? Over the past few years, we have seen exceptionally strong growth in stainless steel production. The latest figures from the International Stainless Steel Forum show global stainless production in 2013 at 38.5m tonnes, 7.2% higher than in the previous year. Production in 2014 was reported at just under 41.7m tonnes, a further increase of 8.3%. Much of this growth was, of course, driven by China where, according to the ISSF figures, production increased by 18% in 2013 to almost 19m tonnes, and by 14.3% in 2014 to almost 21.7m tonnes.

It is perhaps not an unrealistic scenario to speculate that such growth rates are unlikely to continue, and thus exert even more downward pressure on the market. The slowdown in the domestic Chinese economy compared to the previous several years, coupled with anti-dumping measures imposed by, inter alia, the EU, means that there is little scope for Chinese mills to ship more material, especially not profitably.

Developments in Europe – not least the closure of the Krefeld and (in June) the Bochum melt shops, are indicative of the steps that have to be taken to rebalance the market. It is not inconceivable that similar rationalisation and consolidation could take place in China. Certain analysts are predicting growth in stainless production in China to slow to around 6% per annum in 2015 and 2016. Global production is expected to slow to around 4-5% per annum. This slowdown, as long as final end use demand continues to increase, could relieve some of the pressure on prices.

And back to nickel again. We have already indicated above that subject to any major new unexpected developments, nickel prices are not exactly likely to explode in the near future. But again, looked at longer term, even if growth in stainless steel production does slow down, demand for nickel will still continue to rise and, at some point – to return to the profitability argument – NPI production could decline, removing some more of the surplus from the market.

So while the immediate outlook may not be exactly bright, there may be some hope that we could see a more balanced supply and demand situation for stainless steel, and the market possibly supported ultimately by a gradual improvement in nickel prices.

This item is a personal and independent view of the stainless steel and raw materials situation by Richard Clark, Managing Director of Stainless Steel Focus Ltd. No liability on the part of the author or the Australian Stainless Steel Development Association can be accepted under any circumstances for any of the views expressed.

 

We were deeply saddened last month to farewell one of our industry's luminaries, Mark Smith.

Mark Smith was the Sydney Branch Manager for Midway Metals. He began his career selling carbon steel for Southern Steel. The early 1980s saw Mark progress into stainless, first working for Fagersta, and thereafter for Applied Kinetics, Atlas steels, Impact and Austral Wright Metals. In between these roles, Mark stepped out of the industry to work for his own business, driving for Couriers Please. However, he soon came to the realisation that stainless was in his blood and returned to the scene in the late 1990s.

Described as 'very good at his craft' and a 'super salesman', Mark had an exceptional understanding of the stainless steel market and its unpredictability with pricing. Widely respected by his colleagues and peers, Mark was well-known as a people person and a good friend.

His recent passion for cycling saw him participate in a number of road racing events, and Mark was sponsored to compete by Midway Metals.

He was a loving husband to his wife Donna, and a devoted father to his adult children, Lachlan and Shannon.

Mark will be fondly missed and always remembered.

 

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