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Coronavirus Outbreak in Hebei Has Limited Impact on China’s Steel Industry

The recent Covid-19 outbreak in the steel producing hub Hebei will not have material impact on China’s steel industry, Fitch Ratings says.

The most significant effect from the recent outbreak is the closure of certain transportation routes, which could delay raw material and product deliveries. However, we think steel production will be only minimally affected in the short term because the current restrictions are implemented in only some cities in the province. In addition, demand for steel products is generally weaker during winter when there is less construction activity. In the past few years (excluding exceptions caused by Covid-19), the new fixed-asset investment growth rate was in the low single digits in winter and in the mid to high single digits during the rest of the year.

Most steel plants maintain sufficient raw materials for operation in the short term, and steel plants usually plan for maintenance during the winter. Steel production in winter (November to February) during the last three years (excluding exceptions caused by Covid-19) was, on average, around 90% of the output for the rest of the year.

The closure of certain transportation routes began on 5 January 2021, and China’s steel product inventory level has increased by around 6% week on week since then. This increase is in line with that seen in previous years around the same time. Therefore, we think inventory build-up from the latest measures to curb the Covid-19 outbreak should not be significant.

However, prolonged restrictions or wider implementation of the measures could have a considerable impact on the steel industry. Extended logistics restrictions could mean insufficient raw materials for steel plants to continue production and delivery delays that could lead to inventory build-up. Construction around restricted areas may also be dampened, which will reduce demand for steel products.
Source: Fitch Ratings

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