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Russia, Ukraine conflict pushes Nippon Steel to tap alternative sources of iron ore

Russia, Ukraine conflict pushes Nippon Steel to tap alternative sources of iron ore
Nippon Steel Corp., bracing for possible disruptions to its iron-ore supplies from Russia and Ukraine, is planning to make up any shortfall by buying more of the steel-making ingredient from alternative sources in Brazil and Australia.
About 14% of the company’s iron ore pellet feedstock currently comes from Russia and Ukraine, Takahiro Mori, executive vice president of Japan’s biggest steelmaker, said in an interview this week.
Nippon Steel has been in discussions with other suppliers, including Brazilian giant Vale SA, to buy more as tensions in Eastern Europe increase, he said. Iron ore pellets are a highly concentrated form that make up an undisclosed portion of all the company’s iron ore purchases.
The geopolitical crisis has spurred fears of supply disruptions and surging costs of commodities from aluminum to wheat to fuels — and iron ore. After Russia invaded its smaller neighbor on Thursday, Ukrainian iron-ore miner Ferrexpo PLC said that while its mines continue to operate, its ability to ship out of the country is beginning to be impacted.
Sanctions loom against Russia that could also impact its commodity exports. U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to inflict a “severe cost on the Russian economy” that will hamper its ability to do business in foreign currencies.
In the wake of Russia’s moves, oil passed $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014, European gas jumped and aluminum hit an all-time high.
According to Mori, Nippon Steel is assuming there will be no slowdown to operations due to the conflict, but “it’s inevitable” steel demand will be impacted if the situation worsens to the point it slows the global economy.
As a potential positive for Nippon Steel, a cut in Russian gas supplies to Europe could spur development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects to ensure the bloc’s energy security, leading to higher demand for steel pipes.
Russia is Europe’s top gas supplier, with about a third of flows traveling through Ukrainian pipelines. Some LNG tankers originally destined for Asia have already been redirected to Europe due to better prices on the continent.
“If LNG development projects are advanced for defense in the region, we’ll see more demand for seamless steel pipes,” Mori said.
Nippon Steel is also wary of recent spikes in iron ore and slowing demand from carmakers due to supply-chain bottlenecks that have accelerated cuts to vehicle output. Those factors have been weighing on its earnings, according to Mori.
The company will stick to its guidance of record annual profits for the fiscal year ending March 31, saying higher overseas revenue supported by rising steel prices can help compensate for the shortfall.
Mori also said price negotiations with domestic manufacturing customers, including carmakers, have nearly been completed and that the company is securing another increase for the coming quarter or half-year starting April 1. He didn’t elaborate or give the size of the hike.
That’s a signal steel suppliers have gained the upper hand in a country where automakers — their biggest manufacturing customers — have typically had more bargaining power.
Senior executives at the steelmaker have been increasingly vocal in seeking better terms for domestic contract prices, to bridge the gap with international prices.
Japan Times
Feb 26, 2022 14:31
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