What is waiting for us in 2012?
It happens every January (or for the past couple Januarys, at least)—not long after the New Year’s champagne is finished off and the confetti is swept away, members of the steel industry start to wonder if this year will finally be it. In early 2010, the prevalent hope was that things wouldn’t get any worse. In early 2011, the main concern was avoiding a possible “double-dip” while maintaining a trend of slow but steady growth. And now, at the dawn of 2012, the question on everyone’s mind is “Will this be the year the market finally gets its groove back?”
Of course, forecasting the steel industry can be about as productive as getting your tarot cards read. For example, did anyone see the long-lived neutral scrap trend in the US coming last year? Or the divergence in trends between US wire rod and rebar? Or how US domestic flats products reached heights last spring not seen since summer 2008, only to come crashing down? It might be impossible to predict how the steel market will behave in 2012, but it doesn’t hurt to hope that the industry will finally experience the strong growth we’ve all been waiting for.
To get an idea where those potential green shoots of growth might come from, take a look at the feature story on page 34 of Prime , which highlights major developments slated for this year that could have a significant impact on the Americas market. For a more overall view of the international economic climate, this issue’s World Economic Report on page 20 discusses early predictions for economic growth (and in some cases, stagnation or decline) across the globe.
But as mentioned before, one of the best places to get a pulse on the industry is among your peers at steel conferences. SteelOrbis Americas is hosting a few this year in the US that are sure to offer some insights into specific corners of the market: Steel West Coast in Long Beach, California on January 11; the Rebar & Wire Rod conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 23; and Steel Scene in Houston, Texas on May 7-8. Keep checking www.steelorbisevents.com for updated information on speakers and attendees.
Even if 2012 doesn’t turn out to be the Year of Prosperity—even if it takes a few more years to get back to an era of comfortable growth—there is no doubt in my mind that the steel industry remains one of the basic building blocks of civilization, enabling advanced economies to realize futuristic dreams and helping emerging economies catch up with the modern world. We might have cycles of boom and bust, but I think I can safely predict that overall, demand for steel on this planet isn’t going anywhere but up.