BIR Convention: Too much and too little

BIR Convention: Too much and too little

For stainless steel recyclers, too little scrap hurts the bottom line as does too much stainless output in China.

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June 8, 2016

Recyclers involved in the stainless steel market are suffering from too little scrap and too much new product output in China, according to speakers and panelists at the 2016 Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) World Recycling Convention, held in Berlin in late May and early June.

At the BIR’s Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee meeting, Jonathan Bower of ELG Haniel Metals provided an update of market conditions in the alloyed steel scrap markets based on reports from BIR committee members from around the world.

Bower and other contributors noted that the production of stainless steel globally is steady and rising, but much of the increased output is in China, where mills melt very little scrap. The other predominantly negative trend is that recyclers are receiving inadequate supplies of scrap to feed mills in other parts of the world that want it.

In a panel discussion at the meeting, Barry Hunter of United States-based Hunter Alloys LLC said regarding the “universal lack of [alloyed] scrap,” that he had “never seen it like this” in his 50 years in the business.

Low copper and ferrous scrap prices in late 2015 and early 2016 (as well as low nickel prices) have combined to staunch flows into scrap yards around the world, according to reports from committee members.

On the Chinese production side, economist Jason Schenker of Prestige Economics, Austin, Texas, said he fears mills in that nation will continue to over-produce. “I’m very skeptical that China can absorb [its stainless steel output. This trade issue is huge. I just don’t think they have enough of a domestic market to sell into. They may continue to sell at a loss on the world market.”

Speaker and panelist Salvatore Pinizzotto, director of market research and statistics at the Lisbon-based International Nickel Study Group (INSG), said one bright spot is there is little new primary nickel production coming online or scheduled to in the next several years.

“There is a 10-year gap in new production,” he stated. Pinizzotto also said the majority of the world’s remaining nickel ore reserves are costly to access. There are “plenty of nickel reserves available to the world,” he commented, but “the problem is to get this nickel out of the ground.”

It may not feel like it in 2016, when Chinese mills using Filipino nickel pig iron are putting a lid on stainless scrap demand, but in the long version of the game the world will ultimately need the nickel-bearing scrap collected and processed by recyclers.

The 2016 BIR World Recycling Convention was May 29-June 1 at the InterContinental Hotel in Berlin.