The steel industry suffers from a severe glut—but will resist cuts. China has had an overcapacity problem in its aluminum, chemical, cement, and steel industries for years. Now it’s reaching crisis levels.
“The situation has gone so dramatically bad that action has to happen very soon,” said Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, at a press conference in Beijing on Feb. 22, where a chamber report on excess capacity was released. That report’s conclusion: “The Chinese government’s current role in the economy is part of the problem,” while overcapacity has become “an impediment to the party’s reform agenda.”
Many of the unneeded mills, smelters, and plants were built or expanded after China’s policymakers unleashed cheap credit during the global financial crisis in 2009. The situation in steel is especially dire. China produces more than double the steel of Japan, India, the U.S., and Russia—the four next-largest producers—combined, according to the European Union Chamber of Commerce.
That’s causing trade frictions as China cuts prices. On Feb. 12 the EU announced it would charge antidumping duties of as much as 26.2 percent on imports of Chinese non-stainless steel.
Steel mills are running at about 70 percent capacity, well below the 80 percent needed to make the operations profitable. Roughly half of China’s 500 or so steel producers lost money last year as prices fell about 30 percent, according to Fitch Ratings. Even so, capacity reached 1.17 billion tons, up from 1.15 billion tons the year before.
With about one-quarter of China’s steel production coming from Beijing’s neighboring province of Hebei, excess production is a major contributor to the capital’s smoggy skies.
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