The global crisis has imposed on all industries including the iron and steel industry a state of uncertainty mainly caused by occurrence of what was unexpected of a huge recession in the situations of this industry at more than one level, mainly represented in the demand decline and prices drop.
In spite of the fact that this industry has remained the most coherent one in comparison with many other industries such as the automotive industry, or in comparison with the financial institutions or banks of which many have announced bankruptcy, what has taken place at the level of the steel industry has constituted a shock which has been the toughest one during several decades.
This shock has created a state with which it is difficult to predict how the situation will be during the next period, because “expecting the unexpected” is not an exception, which has turned the saying that the worst is over to be just a state of optimism, in spite of the existence of positive indicators suggesting that some of the light beams are looming in the horizon, meaning that the end of the tunnel is no longer far.
In this environment in which the confidence of investors has retreated and a sort of fear has dominated many of the money holders who have lost a considerable portion of their profits which they have got during the booming times, to proceed with new investments is a sort of adventure, as was the case several years ago, that is to say, before the steel industry has entered into the booming cycle. Mere thinking over entering the field of this industry was considered a sort of risk. This interprets to a great extent the reason why the Arab private sector had refrained about only ten years ago from entering into this industry which remained until the end of the 1990s restricted to the government sector, excluding a limited number of investors who had the courage to enter into this sector, which is the same courage which has later paved the way for a wider entry of a number of investors from the private sector into the field of this industry.
The strong relationship connecting the steel industry to the world export markets, as one out of three tons of its production goes to the world export markets, has made this industry more sensitive to the changes taking place in the steel markets. To cope with such changes, it has resorted to cut down its production by reducing the rate of utilization of the available production capacities. It has found in this action a solution enabling it to be more responsive to the demand situation in the domestic markets and more capable to adapt to the situations of the world market which has been dominated by the economic downturn.
The steel industry has expressed the extent of its responsiveness to these changes by reducing the rate of utilization of its production capacity at the world level from 87.1% in 2008 down to 71.8%during the first quarter of 2009, as indicated in some reports. The rate of reduction was 52.8% in the EU countries and 50% in the NAFTA countries.
The Middle East countries have been sole exception from this situation. The rate of utilization of the production capacity in the Middle East countries reached approximately 88% during the first quarter of 2009 against 83% in 2008. This rate of utilization in the Asian countries surpassed 85%. China and India have been the two major drivers of this increase in the steel production during the past months of 2009.
If the Asian steel industry had, during the past years, constituted the major driver of the growth of this industry at the world level, the steel industry in the Middle East countries, definitely in the Arab countries, is set to play a strong role in the future growth of this industry through the new expansion projects in a number of the Arab markets which are, in spite of the global crisis, still planning to continue to achieve their expansion plans. This has been clearly expressed during the Arab Steel Summit 2009 which was held in Abu Dhabi. Several Arab companies had confirmed their determination to go on with execution of their expansion projects. The Emirates Steel Industries is the most prominent example in this regard by completing the first stage of expansion and proceeding with the second stage which will boost the production capacity up to 3 million tons per year in 2011 so that the production capacity in 2013 will reach 6.5 million tons per year.
The announced expansion plans, some of which are under execution and some others are waiting, have posed questions about whether such expansions are ignoring what is occurring of changes in the environment of this industry which require or have to require reconsideration – as seen by some analysts – of these expansions.
These questions have made their way to the conference of the Arab Steel Summit in Abu Dhabi. However, there are still other situations represented in the growing demand in a number of the Arab markets, as the Egyptian market and some other Arab markets gave the clear example of such situations. This has resulted in the increasing inflow of steel imports. The Arab imports of steel products in 2008 exceeded 35 million tons, making the Arab markets the largest net steel importers at the world level. The volume of imports during the first quarter of 2009 exceeded 7 million tons, most of which were from Turkey, which has strengthened the orientation that the power of the Arab steel industry should not be only in the volume of its imports, but also in the volume of its production which will provide it with the possibility to be an export power also, especially after lifting of the restrictions imposed during the past years on exporting the steel products to the world markets under the pretext of meeting the growing local demand.
The total Arab steel production is less than 2% of the total world production and is less than the share of any one of the top eight companies at the world level. This by itself is a strong motive to act for the growth continuity in this industry at the Arab level. There are still available possibilities in spite of the decline of the cash flow as a result of the crisis, and the market is still able to absorb and the high population growth rates push for more consumption. All of these are indicators pushing for confirming that if the crisis has imposed on many steelmakers in the world to struggle for survival, it has, on contrary, imposed on the Arab steel industry the fact to rely on the strategy of the struggle for success not only for the present but also for the future.
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