Japanese steel orders fall again in February on weak domestic demand

Japanese steel orders retreated in February for a second straight month due to sluggish domestic consumption.

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Total orders amounted to 5.79 million tonnes, down 2.4% from the previous month, according to figures from the Japan Iron & Steel Federation. Volumes were also down 4.3% year-on-year.

The fall was driven by a sharp drop in domestic orders, which retreated by 4.1% from January’s levels to 3.73 million tonnes.

However, on the year volumes were essentially flat, edging up just 0.2%.

Steel orders from the manufacturing sector were down by 3.8% from January but up 8.2% from year-earlier levels at 1.63 million tonnes.

The year-on-year increase reflects the recovery in the Japanese economy over the past 12 months, largely due to a weaker yen and economic stimulus policies of the Shinzo Abe government.

Orders from the auto industry, the largest consumer of steel, totalled 745,000 tonnes, down 5.1% on the month, but up 10.9% on the year.

Even demand from the shipbuilding sector appears to be recovering, although figures from this segment are highly volatile and subject to big monthly swings. Orders reached 337,000 tonnes in February, a fall of 1.8% from the previous month, but an increase of 17.5% from year-earlier levels.

Orders from industrial machinery and equipment manufacturers decreased by 6.1% on the month and were down 4.4% on the year, at 129,000 tonnes. Those from electrical machinery and equipment manufacturers were up both 1.3% from the previous month and 15.1% on the year, at 141,000 tonnes.

Orders from the construction sector, meanwhile, continued to pull back after strong gains in recent months, dropping by 3.9% on the month and 9.4% on the year to 951,000 tonnes as orders from the building segment retreated 9.3% month-on-month and 17% year-on-year to 503,000 tonnes.

Orders from dealers, an estimated 70% of which are supposedly consumed in the construction industry, fell by 4.8% on the month and 1.7% on the year to 1.14 million tonnes.

Exports, meanwhile, posted a small rebound after several months of declines, rising by 1.1% from January’s level to 1.98 million tonnes. However, volumes were still 11.6% lower than in the corresponding period a year earlier.