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Moody's changes outlook for European steel sector to negative

Staff writer |
Moody's has changed its outlook for the European steel sector to negative amid the sharp fall in steel prices.

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Thos prices weighs heavily on profitability such that it will take at least 18 months to return to levels close to those of 2014.

However, Russian steelmakers' lower costs supported by rouble depreciation make them more resilient to steel price declines, the ratings agency wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

While the purchasing managers' index (PMI) and steel sector's capacity utilisation - two key outlook drivers - indicate economic expansion, Moody's said the substantial, longer-term downturn in prices and high levels of cheap imports eroding European mills' market shares outweigh the benefits of moderate growing demand in Europe.

The large volume of cheaper steel products imported from China and the rest of Asia are pressuring European steel manufacturers' margins, which are declining despite the prevailing low raw material cost environment.

In response to rising imports and falling prices, many manufacturers are adapting their production output. However, Moody's said in the absence of price discipline from China, any improvement in European steelmakers' profitability will most likely come from capacity cuts and/or other cost reductions as they adapt their cost structure to cope with lower steel prices.

Hubert Allemani, senior analyst at Moody's, said, "We expect steelmakers' earnings to stagnate or fall this year on the back of slumping steel prices.

"Stabilisation of prices at low levels, sluggish or declining demand growth outside Europe and high levels of cheap Chinese imports will keep steel prices under pressure for at least the next year."