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MAURITANIA JV MULLED

Sabic plans to lift steel capacity to 10m tonnes

Al Khobar, April 11, 2014

By Reem Shamseddine

Saudi Iron and Steel Co (Hadeed), the metals affiliate of Saudi Basic Industries Corp (Sabic), plans to add 4 million tonnes of annual steel output capacity to reach 10 million tonnes by 2025, an executive said.

"Sabic's total steel production now is 6 million tonnes per year ... Now, our ambition for 2025 is around 10 million tonnes. We have to be reasonable - steel is a very tough market," said Abdulaziz al-Humaid, Sabic executive vice-president for metals.

Hadeed, the largest steel producer in the kingdom, has in recent months raised billet production, which helped to replace imports. Around the end of last year it also launched a plant at Jubail making 500,000 tonnes per year of reinforcing bar (rebar), bringing its total rebar output to 4 million tonnes, eliminating the need to import billets for conversion.

"We used to import billets. Now we stopped importing because we have a new furnace; we are now self-sufficient in billet production," Humaid said.

However, Hadeed still imports 8 million tonnes per year of iron ore from Sweden and Brazil, and is studying a proposal for a joint venture in Mauritania to produce iron ore.

The feasibility study is expected to take two to three years, and if the project goes ahead, will come on line around 2019-2020, Humaid said. It would ultimately provide between 7 and 10 million tonnes of iron ore annually.

Asked if this would reduce Hadeed's imports of iron ore from other sources, Humaid said Mauritanian supply might simply cover future expansion in Hadeed's consumption, so imports of ore from elsewhere would remain roughly the same.

Sabic, one of the world's largest petrochemicals companies, said last year that Hadeed planned to build two new plants in Saudi Arabia at a cost of $4.26 billion.

The plants, in Rabigh on the west coast and Jubail on the Gulf coast, are still the subject of feasibility studies, Humaid said, declining to give further details.

Hadeed now has a domestic market share of 50-52 percent.

"Because of heavy imports, our market share dropped to 40 percent, but in the last three months we are in the range of 50-52 percent," Humaid said.

STRONG GULF DEMAND

Saudi Arabia has banned rebar exports since a period of high prices in 2008, which has hurt the profit margins of steel makers in the kingdom. Humaid noted the ban was still in place but declined to comment further.

Sabic can still export flat products, and Humaid predicted strong steel demand in the Gulf, though tough competition from producers in Turkey and China has caused prices to drop by 10-15 percent in the last six to eight months.

"We expect demand to be strong in the region, and we expect that there will be new capacity on line, either from SABIC or from other local producers."

One major issue for construction companies and manufacturers in Saudi Arabia is labour reforms that make it more expensive to hire foreign workers. Humaid said the reforms had slowed the Saudi construction industry, but expected the effect to be temporary.

"We don't think the labour impact is decisive, even today if you ask me, because today our sales are very good," he said.

"The key thing is that we think there will be demand in the next two to three years because of construction in the kingdom, and maybe in Qatar, maybe in the United Arab Emirates.

"We don't think demand will be growing, but at least it will be as good as it's been in the past two to three years."  - Reuters




Tags: sabic | Steel | iron ore | hadeed |

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