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Japan's steel output hits five-month high


Japan’s crude steel output rose to its highest level for five months in March 2012, but was still lower year-on-year.

Production increased in March to 9.32 million tonnes, 2.3% higher than in the corresponding month a year earlier and 8.3% more than in February this year.

Japanese mills reported tentative signs of better demand after a year in which the steel market was kept in check by low economic growth and was hit by one-off events.

“We expect demand to improve slightly in the coming months, but we still cannot say we are near a full recovery,” an official at one Japanese producer told Metal Bulletin.

Export demand is picking up, as is buying from areas still rebuilding after last year’s earthquake, the official said. But the overall economic recovery remains fragile, and the strong yen remains a concern despite a recent retreat, he added.

Blast furnace operators increased their production by 8.8% over February’s levels to 7.03 million tonnes, although volumes were still down by 0.6% on the year.

Electric arc furnace operators’ volumes were up by 6.8% month-on-month and by 12.4% year-on-year to 2.28 million tonnes, as they boosted output before Tokyo Electric Power raised its electricity charges for corporate clients in April, the Japan Iron & Steel Federation (JISF) said.

Hot rolled production increased by 8.8% month-on-month and by 3.7% year-on-year to 8.47 million tonnes, while carbon steel output was up by 9.4% on the month and 0.6% on the year to 7.16 million tonnes.

Speciality steel production rose by 4.6% month-on-month and by 8.6% year-on-year to 2.15 million tonnes.

Output for the year fell to 106.46 million tonnes, the first decline in two years, as demand for vehicle steel plunged in the wake of the March 2011 disaster. Exports slumped because of the strength of the yen and a drop in vehicle output due to flooding in Thailand, despite extra demand for steel for use in post-disaster reconstruction, the JISF said.

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