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Last edited 17 Feb 2022
What is causing the rise in steel prices?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, steel prices have rocketed and demand is at an all-time high, but why is this happening and what does it mean for the future? It is easy to simply blame the pandemic for the cost of steel rising in such a dramatic way, but this is not the only factor at play. Whilst other materials such as timber have been through similar patterns of demand, the prices have changed as the world returns to normal. This is not a trend that has been seen with steel, and many manufacturers are now concerned that this price rise might be here to stay.
Steel is a commodity that is always in demand, and as such, it has always commanded a healthy price. However, when we see changes in supply for the raw materials used in steel, it becomes clear that the price will be on the increase. Since the start of 2020, many different factors have combined to mean that the cost of production has risen, and demand has outstripped supply to create an unusual set of circumstances.
As the world has begun to reopen, home-based demand has pulled back, but in industrial settings it is still. Steel-heavy industries such as oil and gas are seeing huge demand due to the extra heating costs of people working from home, a return to air travel and more daily commutes taking place. Many construction projects which had been put on hold also swung back into action. As people scramble for material, the cost of steel is being driven higher and higher.
China is currently the world’s largest steel producer, and its own lockdowns have created drastic supply issues across the globe. With many Chinese steel mills either closed down or working at reduced capacity, the backlog became clear very quickly.
Much of the demand for stainless steel has initially come from Asian countries but this has now spread further afield. The rising cost of iron ore has meant that steel mills are not enjoying higher profits and this is only serving to push the price of what they produce higher.
 Other shortages
Global supply chains are also creating their own issues. A microchip shortage is holding back car production, but it is likely that when that bottle is uncorked, the demand for steel will be even higher as car manufacturers begin to play catch-up and become desperate to ramp up production. Freight shortages brought on by Brexit and the pandemic have also increased demand and therefore prices.
Car manufacturers are also playing another role thanks to their demand for nickel. This is something which is being increasingly used in electric vehicle batteries, and with demand for these cars increasing day by day, it is no surprise that nickel prices are also rising. As nickel is one of the key components of stainless steel, this is another contributing factor.
The lower availability of steel has meant that many companies are now stocking up on whatever they can get their hands on which once again reduces availability for others and drives prices even further upwards.
 What does the future hold?
It is predicted that steel prices will eventually fall back to more sensible levels, thanks in part to the softening of input costs, iron ore and increased competition from cheaper imports. However, with demand for electric vehicles only set to rise, the price of nickel is likely to continue to increase. This is likely to have a long-term impact on steel prices which means that we might not see them return to anything that resembles what we were used to.
The predicted recovery of the global economy will help, and construction is thought to be one of the most powerful sectors behind this. Recently, steel mills appear to have been filling up orders, and there is a sense that normal production levels are set to return. However, with a lot of catching up to do, steel prices are expected to remain high.
Steel is a material that is in demand across the world and in a vast number of industries. It is hard to see a future where it is not in demand and so it is likely to take time for production levels to return to what they once were and clear the backlog of orders. Once this does start to happen, we are likely to see a more true reflection of the price.
--Newgate 16:12, 29 Nov 2021 (BST)
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