"Of the 'Big Three' iron ore miners, VALE will likely suffer the most because of its higher percentage of sales to the US and western Europe, relative to BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto which are more exposed to the Asian market," commented Joe Bormann, CFA, Managing Director in Fitch's Latin America Corporate team.
EBITDA margins of Brazilian and CIS iron & steel producers that are self-sufficient in iron ore are expected to decline more that those steel producers that purchase ore from third parties. However their absolute EBITDA margins will remain higher. Fitch expects 2009 average EBITDA margins of vertically-integrated Brazilian and CIS iron & steel producers to be 20% and 18%, respectively, compared to 12% for Chinese steel producers that do not own their own mines.
The agency also notes Brazilian and Chinese steel producers that have a higher proportion of flat products in their product mix will face greater pressure due to falling global demand for automobiles and export-oriented consumer products. Conversely, CIS producers with higher exposure to long products, or those with high exposure to the steel export market, will face overcapacity concerns.
Despite the weak industry outlook, most of the rated issuers within Fitch's EM steel coverage currently have Stable Outlooks, except for Ukrainian steel producers. "In May 2009, Fitch placed Evraz on Rating Watch Negative, reflecting the agency's concerns that the company's financial leverage may deteriorate," said Sergei Guishunin, Director in Fitch's Russian/CIS Corporate team.
Although Brazilian iron & steel producers are expected to see their EBITDA margins halved to 20%, "their credit profiles are supported by strong liquidity positions, cost-control measures and capex cuts," said Jay Djemal, Director in Fitch's Latin American Industrials team. "Rating Outlooks are Stable except for VALE which has a positive Outlook driven by its improving credit profile," he added.
Strong domestic market positions, material exposure to high value-added products, cost advantage in terms of raw materials, and potential state support underpin the credit profiles of the Chinese steel producers.
The mostly Stable Outlooks for EM steel producers contrast with the mostly Negative Outlooks for steel producers in the developed economies. This is mainly attributed to different market dynamics - particularly to the oligopolistic market structure of the Brazilian and CIS market, and reflects state support for the ratings of the Chinese steel producers. However, a more significant pace of economic contraction than expected by the agency may lead to changes in the Outlooks or ratings for EM steel producers.