Boston, MA -- (ReleaseWire) -- 03/18/2014 -- The outlook for Italy's metals sector is far from encouraging, as a combination of cheap Chinese imports, low domestic demand and few project expansions mean that growth in consumption and production will stagnate over the period to 2017. However, we expect Italy to retain its position as the EU's second largest steelmaking country, with a 16% share of production.
2013 was not a good year for the industry in terms of output. According to Italian steel producers' association Federacciai, the country's steel exports to non-EU countries during January-August 2013 fell 9.2% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 3.546mn tonnes.
Exports of flat steel to non-EU countries declined 20%, while long steel products increased by 5.2%. Italy's steel imports from non-EU countries increased 17.7% y-o-y to 4.868mn tonnes. The most recent data shows that domestic crude steel production in August 2013 fell by 7.5% y-o-y to 1.09mn tonnes. The result made August 2013 the 17th consecutive month in which Italy had recorded a y-o-y decline in its crude steel production.
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The industry will face increased competitiveness in core markets as it feels growing pressure from non-EU rivals and this could prompt consolidation and a move towards greater specialisation rather than a focus on volumes. One potential growth area we highlight for Italy's steel sector is in high-quality steel, which China is increasingly demanding. As yet, Chinese producers have focused on low-quality mass production of steel and thus Italian producers, which have experience in the high-end steel sector, could benefit.
The EU is not taking the threat of increased competition lying down. The European Commission (EC) recently announced an array of recommendations to revive Europe's steel industry, hurt by tumbling demand and plant closures. The 'EU steel action plan' is the first comprehensive attempt by the EC to stem a decline in the steel sector since the Davignon Plan sought to tackle an industry slump in the mid-1970s. The plan, presented by industry commissioner Antonio Tajani, aims to cut red tape, boost apprenticeship schemes and innovation, create a level international playing field and study ways to lessen the burden of energy costs, which account for about 40% of steelmakers' operating expenses. It says existing EU funds should be used to ease the social cost of restructuring, which has caused the loss of 40,000 jobs in recent years, including the planned closure of most facilities at ArcelorMittal in Liege, Belgium.
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