***TOP STEELMAKERS: Production in reduction

The Top Steelmakers of 2009 list is a bit late

The Top Steelmakers of 2009 list is a bit late.

We could have claimed it was timed to coincide with Steel Success Strategies, being held in New York next week.

Or, even better, to provide some meaty reading matter for some of the world’s most influential players, on their way home from the Bildeberg conference at the weekend.

Truthfully, though, this year’s list has been a challenge to put together. A nightmare, in fact.

Some things were easy — they haven’t changed. ArcelorMittal is still the world’s largest steelmaker for example. The company produced 73.2 million tonnes in 2009, keeping it well ahead of the competition for another year.

The changes were significant, however.

Let’s start with the big numbers. 62.7 million tonnes is a good one.

That’s the drop in the amount produced by MB’s Top Steelmakers of 2009 from the amount produced by MB’s Top Steelmakers of 2008. Even if the producers that fell off the latest list are discounted, it’s still a reduction of 41.9 million tonnes.

Tokyo Steel, Rautaruukki and Vallourec were among those to disappear. Acerinox, Feralpi, Saarstahl and CMC all dropped off as well because they produced less than two million tonnes of crude steel last year.

But where some fell, others have replaced them. For seven disappearances, there are nine new additions to the list in 2009. All of them, except one, are based in China.

Shandong Steel Group was the largest new player, ranking eighth with 2009 crude steel output of 26.38 million tonnes.

This latest giant was incorporated in March 2008 when Jinan Steel and Laiwu Steel, two major mills
in eastern China’s Shandong province, were merged. It’s grown quickly since then, largely through acquisition.

The state-controlled company’s ascent has echoes of Hebei Steel, another Chinese steelmaker which holds second position in the 2009 list. Production of 40.24 million tonnes puts it four places higher than 2008, when it produced only 33.28 million tonnes.

Hebei is not the only Chinese mill to up its output. Almost every Chinese steelmaker on the list produced more in 2009 than it did the year before.

Baosteel may have slipped a position to third place, behind Hebei, but it still produced nearly 10% more year-on-year. With total output now at 38.87 million tonnes, that’s no mean feat.

Wuhan Steel and Shagang Group are two other top-ten rankers that both increased their output significantly.

With the overall tonnage produced down year-on-year, producers in other regions have obviously born the brunt. Japanese mills are at the top of the list. Or not, as it happens.

Nippon Steel, the world’s second largest steelmaker in 2008, slipped four places down the list in 2009 when it produced just 27.61 million tonnes. That’s still a lot, but it’s a dramatic decline from 36.88 million tonnes the year before.

This puts it just behind South Korea’s Posco, a company Nippon has battled with for share of the export market to the rest of Asia. But Posco also made dramatic cuts, which reduced its 2009 output to 29.53 million tonnes, down on 34.7 million tonnes a year before.

JFE Steel also lost four places when it cut production to 26.28 million tonnes. This compared with 33.8 million tonnes in 2008.

But the most noticeable reduction in production is right there at number one. Even though it is still by far the world’s largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal made a staggering reduction in crude steel output, down 30% from 103.3 million tonnes.

A cut of slightly over 30 million tonnes in 2009 means that the company has absorbed more than its fair share of the industry’s overall tonnage reduction as demand dropped during the crisis.

ArcelorMittal should be applauded. It has stuck to its guns. And the path back to restoring its share of the pre-crisis market will be a difficult one.

The company had a 67.8 million tonnes lead over its closest competitor in 2008. Now that lead has shrunk to 32.96 million tonnes. China is catching up.

Click here to view top steelmakers 2009 table