Steel Price Forecast: Is the Metal Poised for Long-Term Declines?

The price of steel, essential for engineering and construction worldwide, has not shown signs of recovery since declining from a multi-year high in 2021.

Over the past two years, steel used in various everyday products such as cars, washing machines, building structures, and surgical scalpels has faced headwinds in trying to recover from a prolonged downtrend.

Steel demand from China, which consumes more than half of global output, has been slowing due to the underperforming, debt-ridden property sector. In addition, central banks’ monetary tightening has also dented residential housing demand and manufacturing activity, as well as global economic growth.

In this article, we explore expert insights on factors that will drive steel price forecast in 2024, 2025, and beyond up to 2030.

Key Takeaways

  • The lingering property crisis in China continues to put pressure on the steel demand.
  • More robust demand growth from automotive and infrastructure investments could limit weakness in the property sector.
  • China’s steel demand is seen declining over the coming decade as it reduces reliance on heavy industry.
  • Rising demand for renewable energy could support steel consumption in the long term.

Steel Price Forecast Summary

2024

$740 to $785/mt

Key Factors:

  • More stimulus for China’s property sector
  • Rebound in global steel demand
  • End of monetary tightening

2025

$713.16 to $730

Key Factors:

  • Weakness in steel demand from China’s property sector
  • Lagged impact of monetary tightening

2026, 2030 and 2033

700, $540, and $520

Key Factors:

  • Falling demand from China as it focuses on the service sector
  • Increasing demand from the decarbonization of the economy

Steel Price Performance 2021-2023

The steel industry, like other commodities and energy sectors, experienced a significant downturn in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The widespread efforts to curb the spread of the disease led to reduced business activities and disrupted supply chains. Consequently, construction projects for residential and commercial properties and auto manufacturing slowed down considerably as people remained confined to their homes.

As a result, steelmaking factories either shuttered temporarily or operated at reduced capacity during this period.

According to data from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), prices for flat steel products and rebar dropped by 16% in July 2020.

Flat steel, such as hot-rolled coil (HRC), cold-rolled coil (CRC), pipes, and plates, is commonly utilized in automotive frames and body parts, packaging, and various appliances. On the other hand, rebar, also known as a reinforcing bar, is crucial for reinforcing concrete and masonry structures.

However, this downward trend was short-lived, as steel prices rebounded starting from July 2020 and continued to surge until July 2021. Flat steel prices and long prices surged by 134% and 58%, respectively, compared to the previous year, as of July 2021, as reported in the OECD Steel Market Developments report for Q4 2021.

This spike in steel prices could be attributed in part to steel plants scrambling to meet the recovering demand and replenish their stocks after experiencing shutdowns during the initial phase of the pandemic, OECD wrote in the report.

Steel Prices 5-Year Performance.
Steel Prices 5-Year Performance. Source: TradingView

After reaching their peak in June 2021, steel prices began to decline again.

According to an OECD report, flat steel prices and long prices plummeted by 31% and 12%, respectively, in June 2022, compared to their heights in June 2021. In April 2022, long prices briefly spiked on supply concerns as Russia faced sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine before going back to a downtrend.

Russia is the world’s sixth biggest steel producer, according to the World Steel Association (Worldsteel).

By December 2022, flat steel prices and rebar prices were 54% and 12% lower than the same period in one year earlier.

The price of Hot-Rolled Coil (HRC) Steel free-on-board (FOB) China at the London Metal Exchange (LME), for example, was traded at around $645/mt at the end of 2022, dropping from around $750 in early January 2022 and from $950 in March after Russia’s invasion to Ukraine in February.

In the first half of 2023, global steel prices generally stabilized but varied in different regions.

The price of flat products was high in the United States, Europe, and Japan on good demand, including from the automotive industry. On the contrary, Chinese flat steel prices eased due to weak housing construction and deteriorating investment in property, according to OECD.

US Midwest Domestic HRC Steel Futures surged more than 52% over 2023. On the other hand, the price of HRC Steel Free-On-Board (FOB) China at the London Metal Exchange (LME) was traded at around $576/mt by the end of December 2023, down from nearly $650/mt at the start of the year.

On the other hand, steel rebar futures dropped 9.76% in 2023, closing the year at $600/mt, down from $680/mt at the start of the year.

Drivers for Steel Prices in 2024

Most steel prices continue their downtrend so far in 2024. HRC Steel FOB China at the LME has dropped nearly 7% to $544.50/ton from $585 in early January. Steel rebar futures have dropped 2,7% to $583.5/mt as of May 1.

US Midwest Domestic HRC Steel Futures have declined 28.63% as of May 2 at $810/mt.

Steel Prices YTD Performance
Steel Prices YTD Performance. Source: TradingView

We take a look at some key factors that will drive steel prices for the rest of 2024.

Eyes Still on China’s Property Sector

The prolonged slowdown in China’s property sector is expected to continue affecting demand from the world’s biggest steel exporter and consumer.

Crude Steel Production

Real estate companies in the country are grappling with high levels of debt caused by excessive borrowing and overbuilding. Despite government measures to support the sector, such as reducing mortgage rates and down payments for first-time homebuyers, there are few indications of a recovery.

At the end of January 2024, a Hong Kong court ordered the Chinese property giant Evergrande to be liquidated after failing to provide a convincing plan to restructure a $300 million debt, Al Jazeera reported.

In late February, another Chinese developer giant, Country Garden, announced that it faced a liquidation petition for failing to pay a $205 million loan.

Data from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics shows that from January to March, real estate companies sold 226.68 million square meters (sqm) of floor space of newly built commercial buildings, a 19.4% year-on-year decline. Of the first three months’ sales, the floor space of residential buildings sold decreased by 23.4%.

In the same period, the floor space under construction was 6,785.01 million square meters, down by 11.1% YoY. Of the total floor space under construction, 4,745.80 million square meters were residential buildings and it was also down by 11.7% YoY.

ANZ Research’s Senior Commodities Strategist Daniel Hynes and Commodities Strategist Soni Kumari wrote in a note on 21 March estimated that steel consumption from China’s property sector to fall by 4% to 270mt this year as the construction of real estate properties to slow further.

The property sector accounts for about 30% of China’s domestic steel consumption.

Hynes and Kumari said:

“We see no near-term solution to China’s property market woes, and steel demand from its residential real estate is likely to fall further this year.”

Fitch Ratings on March 1 projected sales of residential property space in 2024 to fall to 850 million-900 million sqm, from 950 million sqm in 2023 and 1,150 million sqm in 2022.

Daria Efanova, Head of Research at London-based Sucden Financial, in a webinar on 17 April projected that recovery in the Chinese real estate properties construction will most likely take place in 2025.

Efanova said:

“There have been signs in recent months that the picture is starting to change a bit from a sentiment perspective whilst the construction itself has not been quite robust.  Although Q2 tends to be peak construction season, so that’s something we’ll watch out for from China. Actually, from the US as well.”

Despite the anticipated lingering weakness in steel demand from China’s property sector, analysts expect robust demand from the country’s infrastructure investment, the automotive industry (particularly in electric vehicle production), renewable energy, and manufacturing to offset the slowing real estate construction.

ANZ Research’s Hynes and Kumari estimated that the steel demand growth in non-property sectors to lift China’s consumption by 0.5% year-on-year (YoY) to 929mt in 2024.

According to ANZ Research, the infrastructure and the automotive industry account for 25% and 10% of China’s domestic consumption, respectively. The analysts said:

“Investment in social housing should increase. Infrastructure investment remains strong, bolstered by government efforts to build out the country’s renewable energy sector. China’s automotive industry, the largest in the world, will receive further supportive measures, with a particular focus on the electric vehicle (EV) market. The manufacturing, machinery, and shipping industries are also seeing growth.”

The World Steel Association, in its short-range outlook for April 2024, expected China’s steel demand to remain unchanged in 2024 from the previous year at 895.7mt. This is due to the growth in demand from infrastructure investments and manufacturing sectors, which will compensate for the decline in the real estate sector.

However, Worldsteel projects that China’s steel demand will decline by 1% in 2025.

Global Steel Demand to Slightly Recover

While demand from China is estimated to remain subdued, consumption in the rest of steel consumers is projected to rebound, lifting global demand.

Nonetheless, demand growth is limited by a slew of headwinds, including falling household purchasing power, inflationary pressure, high costs, aggressive monetary tightening, and geopolitical tensions.

Worldsteel forecasted steel demand will rebound by 1.7% to reach 1,793mt in 2024. The Brussels-based industry group estimated global steel demand to increase by 1.2% in 2025 to reach 1,815 Mt.

Fitch Solutions’ BMI, in its steel price predictions on March 5, projected the global steel consumption to grow by 2.1% to 953.441mt in 2024, compared to a 1.6% growth in 2023, as tight financial conditions and inflationary pressures will continue to hinder growth.

In 2025, global consumption growth is expected to slow further at 1.5%  to reach 983.322mt and 1.1% in 2026.

BMI analysts wrote:

“The global economic outlook continues to be bleak, with the manufacturing sector remaining a drag on growth in developed markets. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is expected to persist, further impacting the overall economic outlook of the European Union and placing a constraint on steel demand and thus prices.”

Weak Economy Limits Steel Output Growth

On the supply side, BMI estimated global steel output to increase by a modest 2% to reach 925.661mnt after production stayed flat over 2023 on a persistently weak global economy.

Global steel production growth is projected to rise by 1.6% to 956.361mt in 2025 and by 1.2% to 979.81mt in 2026, according to BMI.

“We also note that downside risks persist, as the deteriorated global industrial and economic outlook will weigh on steel production,” BMI’s analysts wrote in their steel price forecast.

In the first three months of 2024, global steel output rose by 0.5% YoY to 469.1 Mt.

ANZ Research, in its latest forecast on May 2, expected the global economy growth to steady at 3.1% in 2024, little changed from 3.2% in 2023.

Meanwhile, the bank estimated China’s economic growth to slow further to 4.9% in 2024 and 4.5% in 2025.

The End of Monetary Tightening

Monetary tightening from 2022 to 2023 has affected demand for base metals, including steel, as high interest rates increased mortgage and borrowing costs, leading to a downturn in housing and manufacturing activity.

In 2024, investors are watching closely for central banks, particularly the US Federal Reserve, to end their monetary tightening cycle. On March 21, Swiss National Bank surprised markets by cutting its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percentage points to 1.5%.

The European Central Bank and the Fed have also indicated that they may dial back their monetary restrictions once inflation is back to their target.

Worldsteel said in its short-range outlook:

“While it seems the world economy will experience a soft landing from this monetary tightening cycle, we expect to see global steel demand growth remaining weak and market volatility remaining high on lagged impact of monetary tightening, high costs and high geopolitical uncertainties.”

Nonetheless, on the upside, Worldsteel believes that faster-than-expected disinflation, accompanied by further monetary policy easing, could provide a significant boost to sectors that heavily rely on steel, particularly housing construction.

Steel Price Forecast 2024

Analyst/source Steel Price Forecast 2024
Fitch Solutions’ BMI $740
Trading Economics 3,448.29 Yuan ($476.32)/mt (Steel rebar futures Shanghai Futures Exchange) end of Q2
Trading Economics $785.35/mt (US Midwest domestic HRC steel) end of Q2

With China’s steel demand anticipated to remain subdued, limiting recovery in global consumption, what is the steel price forecast for 2024?

On March 5, Fitch Solutions’ BMI maintained its steel price forecast for 2024 at $740/MT, a 1.4% increase from $730 in 2023.

BMI analysts wrote:

“We expect that in the coming months, prices are likely to remain volatile, with market sentiment depending largely on Chinese stimulus measures.”

The downturn in China’s property sector would remain a downside risk for steel prices, BMI analysts said, adding that the country’s housing downturn is likely to last years, driven by an oversupply amid waning speculative demand.

BMI added that steel prices could head even lower than their current expectations if China’s economic momentum remains weak in 2024.

“At a global level, a deep recession in the US might result in US steel prices collapsing, which would drag the global average down,” stated BMI.

Trading Economics estimated steel rebar futures at the Shanghai Futures Exchange to reach 3,448.29 Yuan ($476.32)/mt and US Midwest domestic HRC steel to trade at $785.35/mt.

Haykal Hubeis, Secretary General of the Indonesian Association of Processing and Refining Industry, said steel prices could rebound in the second half of this year.

Hubeis, who is also a director at Indonesian steel maker PT Delta Prima Steel, commented:

“Investment in infrastructure and manufacture in China is expected to increase. Steel demand from India is also strengthening. Demand from both China and India slowed in 2023, but the optimism is emerging now ahead of the second half.”

He did not provide a specific steel price forecast for 2024.

Steel Price Forecast 2025

Analyst/source Steel Price Forecast 2025
Fitch Solutions’ BMI $730
Trading Economics 3,317.65 Yuan ($458.30)/mt (Steel rebar futures Shanghai Futures Exchange) in 12 months from the end of Q2 2024
Trading Economics $713.26 /mt (US Midwest domestic HRC steel) in 12 months from the end of Q2 2024

For 2025, forecasts showed steel prices may retreat, partly due to the anticipated slowing in China’s steel demand.

BMI saw steel price to average $730/mt in 2025, a 1.4% decline from the estimated $740 in 2024.

BMI analysts wrote:

“Ultimately, we expect that a combination of slowing Chinese steel consumption growth and rising global steel market protectionism prompting greater production in affected countries to loosen the market and drag prices lower in the medium term.”

According to Worldsteel, China’s steel demand in 2025 will be significantly lower than the peak demand year in 2020. It stated:

“This projection is also in line with our view that China might have reached its peak steel demand and the country’s steel demand is likely to continue to decline in the medium-term, as China gradually moves away from a real estate and infrastructure investment dependent economic development model.”

Steel Price Forecast 2030

There are very few analysts providing steel price forecasts for 2030, as making long-term steel price predictions involves various unpredictable and complicated factors.

BMI forecasted that steel prices could fall further in the coming years, averaging $540/mt by 2030 and $520/mt by 2033.

The estimated decline in steel price was because China’s domestic demand would continue to slow in the coming decade as the world’s second-biggest economy is pushing ahead to move away from heavy industry and towards the service sector in the wake of the collapse of the property market bubble.

BMI said:

“Stronger demand growth in India, and, possibly, other emerging markets is unlikely to offset the net effect of a China slowdown.”

The Bottom Line

With the property crisis in China expected to drag down the country’s steel demand in the coming years and the global economy possibly not recovering quickly enough, the anticipated recovery in steel prices could be short-lived.

On the other hand, the global race to decarbonize economies could boost steel demand from renewable energy such as wind, solar, and EVs, supporting steel prices in the long term.

Remember that forecasters and analysts can and do get their predictions wrong. You should always do your own research to determine whether steel is a good investment that fits your financial goals.

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Fitri Wulandari
Financial Journalist
Fitri Wulandari
Financial Journalist

Fitri has over 20 years of experience in financial journalism. She has contributed to various international media outlets, including Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg, and Reuters, before joining Techopedia. She spent the first 15 years of her career covering commodity and energy news, later transitioning to general financial writing. These days, she conducts interviews with industry players and analysts and reports on international conferences. Fitri holds a degree in International Relations, supporting her expertise in financial journalism. She occasionally serves as a guest trainer for journalistic training and as a moderator for panel discussions.