Japan steelmakers set for sharp profit recovery as global demand surges
By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese steelmakers are on track for a V-shaped annual profit recovery from the pandemic-induced slump, as solid global demand boosts prices while higher prices of iron ore and coking coal drive hefty inventory appraisal gains.
Japan's second-biggest steelmaker, JFE Holdings, on Thursday nearly doubled its annual net profit forecast following similar upgrades by Nippon Steel and Kobe Steel last week.
JFE now expects a net profit of 240 billion yen ($2.2 billion), its highest since 2007/08, against its May estimate of 130 billion yen and a loss of 21.9 billion yen last year.
"We doubled our profit estimate in the steel segment as product prices are rising to reflect higher material costs and strong overseas steel markets," JFE Executive Vice President Masashi Terahata told reporters, citing one-off valuation gains on its materials inventories are another reason.
"Steel demand is expected to continue a gradual recovery through March."
Last week, JFE's larger rival Nippon Steel raised its profit guidance by 54% to 370 billion yen to mark the highest since its acquisition of Sumitomo Metal Industries in 2012.
"Higher product prices and solid profits from overseas units are behind the revision," Nippon Steel Executive Vice President Takahiro Mori told reporters, pointing to its units in India, the United States and Brazil. Nippon Steel booked a net loss of 32.4 billion yen for the year ended March 31.
Steel shipments by the world's fifth-biggest steelmaker are anticipated to grow further in manufacturing and construction in the October-March period, Mori said.
Japan's No.3 steelmaker, Kobe Steel, raised its annual net profit outlook by 60% to 40 billion yen.
International peers have also reported robust results as the global economy rebounds.
ArcelorMittal, the world's No.2 steelmaker by output, booked its highest quarterly earnings in 13 years while South Korea's POSCO posted its highest ever quarterly profit.
Despite strong performances, Japanese mills are frustrated because they have failed to raise product prices for major local customers such as Toyota Motor Corp to pass on climbing material costs and other expenses in their semi-annual price negotiations.
"We need to realise fair contractual prices to secure appropriate margins on an international level, otherwise we won't be able to stay responsible for stable supply to these customers," Nippon Steel's Mori said.
($1 = 110.3900 yen)
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Jason Neely)
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