The climb in China’s domestic steel futures and physical markets following the country’s Oct. 9 return from its week-long National Day holidays had raised the hopes of Asian market participants seeking a price direction, despite the lack of evidence that these gains have translated to higher regional prices.
The market was closely watching for signs of a reopening of the arbitrage window for China to import steel, after the downward correction in domestic prices and the revival of Asian demand, which had shut the window in the third-quarter.
For billet, China’s last deal before arbitrage opportunities dried up was done in the week of Aug. 31 at $450/mt CFR China for 3SP Indonesian material, according to spot data compiled by S&P Global Platts.
After midday in China, spot Q235 square billet prices in Tangshan, Hebei province, had gained Yuan 60/mt ($8.94/mt) from Sept. 30 at Yuan 3,445/mt ex-stock ($513.44/mt), including 13% value added tax. The price jump was due in part to environment-related output controls, which had caused a reduction in output and limited supply.
After deducting VAT, domestic prices stood at $454/mt, which indicated an opportunity, on paper, for China to import steel should freight and import duty for non-ASEAN origin cargoes worked out.
Given that seaborne cargoes on the spot market Oct. 9 are for December shipment, and would likely arrive in China in the same month or January 2021, and with reference to the November/December and December/January intermonth spreads of dollar-equivalents at minus $11.92/mt and $9.98/mt for downstream rebar futures on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, the arbitrage window for January-arrival cargoes may be open, according to Platts calculations.
“Sentiment still seems soft for when after China returns, seeing how scrap prices have been pressured and re-rollers don’t want to purchase so heavily at the end of the year,” a Manila-based trader said. “This is unless China comes back buying in a big way, which I personally don’t expect to happen.”
SOFTER SCRAP PRESSURES REBAR, IRON ORE, COAL SUPPORTS HRC
Regional rebar market participants have been waiting for China’s return from the golden week holidays, which they had hope would bring relief to softening prices in light of weaker ferrous scrap prices.
“The price of scrap went down in Turkey, and they’ve tried to hold on to rebar [prices], waiting for China to come out and save the market,” a source at a Russian producer of billet and rebar said.
But rebar stockists and fabricators in Singapore said their inventories were full from purchases made prior to the city state’s coronavirus-related lockdown. Given ongoing restrictions on construction activity, the pace of consumption has slowed.
“We’re full to the brim, had four shipments that we bought before [the lockdown] that came here in June and July,” a fabricator in Singapore said. “The fire department came and told us it was a [safety] hazard to stock to the ceiling.”
Hot-rolled coil prices in parts of northern China, meanwhile, had jumped Yuan 70/mt after markets re-opened Oct. 9, as iron ore and coking coal futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange surged by more than 4% and 3%, respectively, from their Sept. 30 close.
It was not immediately clear whether the gain in HRC prices were solely linked to the sharp rise in Chinese futures. Nevertheless, this together with reports citing healthy HRC consumption during golden week had help lift market sentiment.
HRC and Rebar futures on the SHFE closed Oct. 9 by more than 2% higher from Sept. 30.