Steel Smashes Records as China Intensifies Emissions Crackdown

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China’s steel futures hit fresh records as the government added to a sweep of measures aimed at reining in output and emissions in the world’s top producer. Iron ore was steady.

Steelmakers are coming under sharper scrutiny after President Xi Jinping’s government said it wanted output to fall from record levels of more than a billion tons. In the latest hawkish move, the country’s environment minister ordered inspections to root out mills with illegal discharges or fraudulent emissions data.

The renewed government attention saw futures for two key steel products -- rebar and hot-rolled coil -- close at record highs in Shanghai. Prices have soared with iron ore this year as a wave of demand in China and globally leaves mills struggling to match orders.

Steel Smashes Records as China Intensifies Emissions Crackdown

“Steel mills are enjoying record profitability combined with some constraints on supply,” Elizabeth Gaines, chief executive officer of the world’s No.4 iron ore supplier Fortescue Metals Group Ltd., said in a phone interview. Demand for iron ore used to make steel is “very strong”, she said.

Authorities in China had already ordered nationwide inspections of the steel industry to make sure that capacity cuts ordered over the past five years have been enforced. The government has also pushed a raft of output curbs in top hub Tangshan that has at least tempered the supply outlook. China churns out more than half the world’s steel.

Rebar closed 1.8% higher to 5,452 yuan a ton on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, marking its best-ever close. Hot-rolled coil rose 1.7% to close at the highest level since trading began in 2014.

Steel has become an early target in China’s push to lower emissions and reach net-zero carbon by 2060. The industry accounts for about 15% of the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions, making it one of the biggest industrial culprits in adding to China’s carbon footprint.

Ins And Outs

The gains suggest investors are shrugging off a separate move announced Wednesday to ease the way to lower production. The government will make exporting steel more expensive by removing tax rebates on tens of millions of tons from May 1. It’s also easing input costs by cutting import tariffs on steelmaking materials like semi-finished products or scrap.

Steel Smashes Records as China Intensifies Emissions Crackdown

The new settings “will likely weigh on China’s iron ore demand as economic incentives to use more imported scrap steel have increased, while the economic incentives to export some steel products have decreased,” Commonwealth Bank of Australia analyst Vivek Dhar wrote in a note.

The tax tweaks at least threaten to alter steel trade-flows in the midst of a global boom. The volume of steel enjoying the soon-to-be canceled rebates was more than 44 million tons in 2019, according to researcher Kallanish Commodities. That’s more than two thirds of total steel exports.

More Costs

Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., the listed unit of world’s top mill China Baowu Group, is facing higher environment-related costs, it said in a statement on Wechat on Tuesday. Those costs may rise to about 200 yuan per ton of steel output, from around 140 yuan, amid the nation’s green push.

Iron ore, which traded near record levels earlier this week amid a frenzy of demand and weak-than-expected supply, was steady at $187.75 a ton in Singapore.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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