Tight credit and the need to generate cash flows have resulted in extreme destocking industry-wide, and this has been amplified at the raw materials level.
Demand for steel should improve following the aggressive expansion of central bank liquidity provisions since early September, in combination with major fiscal injections into the U.S. and European banking systems, as well as major stimulus packages announced for China and expected for the U.S. The timing and severity of the downturn caught most analysts by surprise and Fitch does not expect real demand to begin to recover before the second half of 2009. Steel and raw materials prices may begin to recover before then, signalling that stocks have been liquidated.
Spot raw materials prices have fallen sharply following destocking and declining steel production. Contract prices for iron ore and metallurgical coal are expected to be 20%-40% lower than last year. Freight rates have fallen as well, which should result in lower costs going forward.
Key 2009 Themes/Events:
- Companies with strong balance sheets and flexible operations will fare best over the downturn. Flexible operations will allow production cuts to optimize profitability and conserve cash. Low debt-service and/or access to capital will be supportive during a period of very low shipments and poor operating profitability. Focused working capital management will benefit cash flows.
- Earnings will generally be down substantially for the next 12 months from 2008, which benefited from a robust first half.
- There will continue to be pressure on contracts if not outright defaults. As capital is stretched some firms will have no option but to refuse delivery in the absence of renegotiation of price. Demands for credit support will likely continue to increase and further constrain trading activity.
- China cut steel production in the face of weak domestic and export demand but may need to shutter upwards of 20% of capacity (high-cost) longer-term. While Fitch expects China to lead demand recovery, excess production would pressure weak markets in Europe and North America. Rising steel prices in China will tend to signal the end of destocking, while sustained price appreciation, increasing freight rates and rising scrap prices will tend to signal improved demand.
- Consolidation may be more regional and driven by the need to rationalize capacity and cost structures, although activity has virtually halted following the advent of the credit crisis.