Warnings are stacking up fast after China’s eye-popping steel rally. Fitch Ratings Inc said prices lifted in part by heightened speculation are destined to slump, while a bank in Singapore flagged the risk of a boom-bust cycle reminiscent of China’s equity market.
The rapid advance is not sustainable as mills are expected to bring back idled capacity, raising supply, Fitch said in a report released yesterday.
Price gains have been driven by a seasonal recovery in activity that has been exacerbated by increased speculation in the futures market, according to analyst Laura Zhai.
Steel prices have surged this year, with rebar up 47 percent, after policymakers in China talked up growth and added stimulus, helping to lift property prices and ignite a speculative frenzy. The gains have helped to restore mills’ profitability, boosting their incentive to increase output. Singapore-based Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) yesterday warned that there might be parallels between the sudden jump in steel trading and last year’s performance in equities, citing the potential for a boom-bust scenario.
“The rapid increase in Chinese steel prices so far this year is not sustainable, as it is largely due to a seasonal pickup in construction and elevated speculation in the steel futures market,” Fitch said. “With prices now surging, many of the suspended plants have resumed production.”
Futures for rebar extended gains in after-hours trade on Friday, rallying as much as 6.2 percent to 2,781 yuan (US$428.15) per metric tonne on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE), before trading 0.4 percent higher yesterday. The price of the product used to strengthen concrete advanced for an 11th week through Friday last week, adding 14 percent.
Steel output in the world’s largest supplier might see a further increase this month as more furnaces are fired up, according to Fitch. Production in March rose 2.9 percent to a record 70.65 million tonnes from a year earlier, according to figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
To cool the spike in trading, the SHFE last week increased transaction fees, while the Dalian Commodity Exchange, which has an iron ore contract, raised margin requirements. The bourse in Dalian also tightened rules on what it called abnormal trading, which now includes frequent submission and withdrawal of orders.
The surge in prices, which also included hot-rolled coil, has unfolded against a backdrop of lower-than-usual inventories after mills cut output last year. China’s rebar inventory shrank 7.3 percent last week to 4.32 million tonnes as of Friday last week, according to Shanghai Steelhome Information Technology Co (上海鋼之家信息科技). This time last year, it was at 6.66 million tonnes.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc on Friday said that while rebar has been “leading the charge” in commodities this year, there is not yet a sustainable shift in the fundamentals. It also forecast losses in iron ore, used to make steel, seeing a drop to US$35 a tonne by year’s end. The benchmark price for 62 percent content ore delivered to Qingdao was at US$66.33 a dry tonne on Friday after sinking 5.9 percent, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd.
“The recent broad-based rally in commodity futures was the result of two factors, including increasing belief that China will continue to rely on infrastructure and property sectors to support the growth as well as ample liquidity,” OCBC said.
The risk of a correction cannot be ruled out, it warned.
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