Opportunities and Risks: Steel demand forecast 2030

The European steel industry is facing a time of upheaval and challenges, as our updated steel demand forecast for 2030 reveals. Amidst the green transformation, the European steel industry is experiencing a phase of uncertainty, marked by geopolitical disruptions, volatile energy prices, and a noticeable slowdown in economic growth, particularly in Europe.

Nearly a year after our initial steel demand forecast, we take stock and provide an updated forecast for global and regional steel demand, incorporating a new statistical approach that better accounts for current uncertainties. Despite overall positive global growth prospects, trends for European steel companies indicate increasing competitive intensity. This makes efficiency improvements and strategic adjustments crucial for survival in this dynamic environment.

This article is structured as follows: For both global demand and the main sales markets for European steel, we reflect the results of our last forecast from 2022 compared to the actual development of steel demand (Apparent Steel Use as defined by the WorldSteel Association) in the same year. Since the updated figures for the previous calendar year are not published in the Statistical Steel Book until December of the following year, no figures for 2023 are available at the time of publication of this article (May 2024). The forecast for the respective markets will then be updated based on the latest information. Our last forecast was based on the models we developed, which were essentially based on macroeconomic factors (e.g. GDP, population growth). However, the future development forecasts for these factors are subject to high uncertainty and are therefore only partially suitable for a long-term forecast. With the forecast update, we are now pursuing an improved approach: Historical data indicates that demand fluctuates statistically significantly around the long-term trend on an annual basis. Consequently, the long-term trend in steel demand is estimated on the basis of statistical models in the newly developed forecast model by B&C. Our analyses have shown that this forecast based on the long-term trend is superior to the macroeconomic approach. In addition, these statistical models allow a statement to be made about the uncertainty of the forecast, from which an estimate of the corridor of expected (short-term) deviations can be derived (99% confidence interval).

Global model
The year 2022 proved to be a challenging one for the steel industry, as it was for many other industries. Global demand for steel in 2022 has declined to the 2020 level in alignment with our initial forecast model and is around 1.79 billion tons. The forecast error is thus less than 0.5%.
The recently developed model by B&C predicts a long-term growth trend and forecasts global demand of around 2.06 billion tons for 2030 (see Figure 1). This corresponds to growth of 8.6% compared to 2022. The expected fluctuation range (99% confidence interval) is between 1.91 and 2.22 billion tons. This implies that a positive growth forecast for 2030 applies in any case. In contrast to preceding years, we assume that growth in China will decelerate significantly. At the same time, the regions of Southeast Asia and India will continue to grow and thus make an important contribution to future global growth.

Review of the macroeconomic forecasting model

The analysis of actual steel demand compared to the forecasts of our macroeconomic model shows moderate deviations in the regions of Western Europe and North America (see Figure 2). While North America was around 6% behind the forecast in 2022, the macroeconomically based forecast model predicted the downturn in steel demand in Western Europe almost perfectly.
An exception is Eastern Europe, with a deviation of -15% in 2022 compared to our forecast. The reason for this is the war in Ukraine, which broke out in February 2022 – an unpredictable exogenous shock that had a massive negative impact on steel demand.

New forecasting model

While global steel demand shows positive long-term growth prospects, the long-term trend of the main sales markets for Western European steel companies, namely EU West, EU East and North America, paints a less positive picture: The overall market is growing at a rate less than global demand (8.6%) over the same period, at 7.6% compared to 2022 (see Figure 3). This is particularly evident when compared to the previous decade – compared to the highest value in 2018, the market size is even shrinking by 3.2%. A more detailed examination of the forecasts for the main sales markets and possible reasons for the different developments in the individual regions as well as their possible implications for European steel companies are explained below.

EU West

For Western Europe, the long-term trend shows a slightly negative course, which aligns with general economic expectations, which are characterized by the pessimistic outlook for Germany as the European economic engine (see Figure 4). A demand of around 128 million tons is forecast for 2030: Compared to the highest value of the last decade (2018), this represents a reduction of around 5%, but compared to the weak year 2022, an increase of around 9%. Future deviations can have various causes, including the development of electromobility, demand from the defense industry and interest costs and their influence on the construction industry are conceivable. For Western European steel demand, this may mean a change in the product portfolio (e.g. higher demand for electrical steel), which companies should also prepare for when designing their future production infrastructure.

EU East

The demand forecast for Eastern Europe, on the other hand, looks more positive: There is a strong growth trend, which is based on the enormous economic upswing of the last decades and the associated increase in prosperity (see Figure 5). This trend will lead to demand of 95 million tons by the end of the decade, which represents an increase of almost 25% compared to 2022, which was marked by the war in Ukraine, and compared to the highest value of the last decade (2019) of around 6.5%. Even when considering the expected range of fluctuation (99% confidence interval), the pessimistic case (lower limit) would result in an increase of over 6% compared to 2022. However, it remains to be seen how the current ongoing geopolitical tensions will affect trade in the future. It should also be noted that further escalations of the situation could also lead to a structural break in trend growth. However, it remains to be said that Eastern Europe remains an interesting market due to its high growth dynamics, but that the current geopolitical situation also poses a certain risk.

North America

North American steel demand, similar to Western Europe, is showing a slightly negative long-term trend (see Figure 6). This trend is surprising because it runs contrary to the forecast economic development. However, this can be explained, among other things, by the structural change from traditional, steel-intensive to technology-oriented industries. The B&C forecast model shows that demand will reach 132 million tons for 2030. Compared to the highest value of the last decade (2014), this represents a reduction of around 10.7%. In contrast to Europe, however, demand in 2022 was just above the long-term trend, reaching136 million tons. Canada and Mexico, which together account for ~ 28% of demand in North America, also had to contend with challenges (including high interest rates and inflation), but the robust US economy (the USA accounts for ~ 70% of North American demand) compensated for this.
The long-term impact of the Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in the USA in mid-2022, remains to be seen. The resulting stimulus for the US economy could also stimulate the US market in the coming years, pull Mexico and Canada along with it and thus lead to a positive medium-term deviation from the long-term trend of the B&C forecast. Within the scope of the statistically expected deviation (99% confidence interval) from the long-term trend, values of around 154 million tons are even possible in this case. At the same time, however, it also remains to be seen how the persistently high inflation and the resulting interest rate reaction of the US central bank will affect the economy in the medium term. At present, the signs are still positive, but the outlook could cloud over if expectations of imminent key interest rate cuts are not met. In the pessimistic case, a reduction in demand to as much as 111 million tons (99% confidence interval) is not unlikely. Nevertheless, the US market remains interesting for the European steel industry, although it involves moderate risks.

Conclusion

The newly developed forecast model by B&C shows that, globally, the positive growth trend of the last decades is continuing, while the main sales markets for European steel companies are experiencing an increase in the intensity of competition. The regional trends diverge, however, in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and North America. While Western Europe is experiencing a slightly negative growth, Eastern Europe is showing a strong upward trend and thus opportunities for future sales volumes. However, the war in Ukraine is currently affecting this growth in Eastern Europe, and also represents a high risk. North America, on the other hand, shows a slightly negative trend in the forecast, which may be offset by economic impulses in the USA. The future of the European steel industry remains dependent on the following important factors: geopolitical developments, economic trends and technological changes. Despite the challenges, the global markets offer opportunities that must be exploited. Efficiency improvements and strategic adjustments are crucial to survive in this dynamic environment both regionally and internationally.

For more information on our range of services to support transformation processes and performance optimization by using the possibilities of data-driven analysis and decision support, please contact us at info@bronk-company.com.

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Dr. Pascal Lutter,
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Benedikt Schmidt,
Senior Manager

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