China’s July steel output eases on environmental curbs, shrinking margins

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BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s monthly crude steel output fell for a second straight month in July, official data showed on Wednesday, as steel mills trimmed output amid heightened environmental measures and record raw material prices.

The world’s top steelmaker produced 85.22 million tonnes of crude steel last month, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed, down from 87.53 million tonnes in June but still well above 81.24 million tonnes a year earlier.

Average daily output of the industrial metal was 2.75 million tonnes, down about 6% from 2.92 million tonnes in June, according to Reuters calculations.

The decline came as local governments in northern China, including the top steelmaking province Hebei, stepped up production restrictions to improve air quality.

Hebei is set to impose tougher emission requirements on industrial firms after warning three cities for their failures in controlling air pollution over the first half of this year.

At the same time, the price of iron ore, a key steelmaking raw ingredient, surged to a peak of $126.5 a tonne in early July, data tracked by SteelHome showed, squeezing profit margins at steel mills. [SH-CCN-IRNOR62]

Weekly utilization rates at steel mills across the country fell to around 66.44% in July from 70.41% a month earlier, data compiled by Mysteel consultancy showed. However, an easing of production restrictions at some cities, such as Handan, led utilization rates to rise to 69.48% in the week to Aug. 8.

Steel stocks held by Chinese traders have been increasing for nine straight weeks since early June, indicating weak demand over summer as construction activities slow down due to hot weather and frequents rains.

In the first seven months, China churned out 577.06 million tonnes of steel, up 9% from the same period last year, the NBS data showed.

(Reporting by Muyu Xu, Min Zhang and Shivani Singh; editing by Richard Pullin)