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Kallanish Kallanish

Knowledge matters Knowledge matters

March, 19th 2019

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JUL 11

Trade war bites into Chinese steel demand


On Wednesday the USA announced plans to impose 10% duties on another $200 billion of Chinese goods. These could impact some 3 million tonnes/year of demand for Chinese steel, far more than the Section 232 tariffs. The more important impact may still lie in China’s response, which could boost steel demand by a larger amount, Kallanish notes.

One key factor for iron and steel is that the new duties would fill in the gaps left over from the Section 232 tariffs. The earlier 25% duties on steel imports actually missed out some products which are normally included in steel trade data, such as some kinds of pipe and pipe fittings. Of these products, China exported 387,274 tonnes to the USA in 2017, up 16.88% year-on-year. Exports to the USA accounted for 17.68% of China’s total exports of these products.

In addition to filling in the gaps in steel products, the proposed duties target a large number of manufactured steel-containing goods, These include such items as doors, windows, tanks and sinks that could also impact steel demand in China. In 2017, China exported some 2.83 million tonnes of these goods to the USA, up 6.45% y-o-y. This accounted for almost 20% of China’s total exports of the same goods. As these goods are primarily made of steel, the tariffs could have an equivalent impact on Chinese finished steel demand from manufacturing.

Finally, the duties also target imports of pig iron, ferroalloys, DRI and scrap from China. These in total amounted only to 37,745t in 2017, although up 57.2% y-o-y.

Assuming 100% steel content of the manufactured goods and no replacement of the export volumes, the total direct impact of the tariffs on consumption of Chinese steel could be 3.22 million tonnes. The indirect consequences could be more significant however. The tariffs appear to be targeted at Chinese employment levels, perhaps a smart move considering China’s first round of counter-tariffs could push up inflation. That could simply trigger a stimulus however which could end up boosting steel demand by more than it loses from the tariffs themselves.

To give a sense of scale, 3.22mt is roughly 0.42% of where Kallanish forecasts end user demand to be in China this year, and it is about 0.4% of forecast production. It is also equivalent to just under 50 million square metres of commercial housing, 6.9% of the amount of housing China completed in 2017.