Japanese steel prices continue to rise in May

Japanese steel producers saw prices in May rise for a fourth straight month, although much of it was negated by rising input costs.

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Domestic iron and steel prices last month rose by 0.1% from April, according to the Bank of Japan's latest Corporate Goods Price Index (CGPI), its equivalent of the Producer Price Index.

Driving the index higher was a notable jump in pipe and tube and cold-rolled stainless sheet prices.

Compared with a year ago, prices are still down by 4.5%. However, they are up by 0.5% on the corresponding month in the previous quarter.

However, the upward trend in prices looks set to take a breather as major producers such as Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp and Tokyo Steel hold back on additional price hikes to give the market time to digest earlier increases.

Nevertheless, both have said that they still aim to significantly raise prices in the coming months.

That need is being made urgent by rising input costs, particularly those of power, which rose by 2.5% after increasing 3.8% in the previous month. Mills' energy costs have risen by close to 10% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, export prices were up for a seventh straight month in yen terms, with prices for metal products including steel rising by 0.6%.

Nevertheless, the fact that in contract currency terms, export prices were 2.1% lower indicates that the gains were due to the weaker yen, rather than any big rise in regional prices.

That is a worry for steelmakers as recent volatility on the global markets appears to indicate that the fall in the yen has been too far and too quick. Indeed, the yen has appreciated close to 7% since late last month, reducing the competitive advantage of Japanese steel.

But the weaker yen is also deterring cheap imports. While import prices were down 1.7% in contract currency terms, in yen terms they rose by 1.5%, far outstripping the rise in domestic prices.

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