WESTERN DEMAND LIKELY TO BUOY STEEL MARKET

WESTERN DEMAND LIKELY TO BUOY STEEL MARKET

Strong growth in steel demand by Western Europe and continued buoyancy in the United States market are expected to make up for the slowdown in demand by Asian countries impacted by the currency crisis, an industry study said.

Despite the volatility, crude steel production in the 29 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is projected to rise in 1998 by 0.4 percent, which represents a smaller gain from last year's 6.3 percent rise, to 479 million tons.Overall, in 1997 world steel production rose by 6.2 percent, to 794.5 million tons, the study by the OECD's steel committee said. The report concludes that as a result of extensive restocking, real demand in 1998 should be close to apparent consumption.

It also forecasts that while prices for strip products could fall, particularly in the first half of this year, flat product prices should remain steadier.

On the trade front, the OECD projects that imports of steel by the United States will decline in 1998 by at least 7.5 percent, but exports, which last year shot up by 20 percent, may rise slightly.

But the OECD study said steel exports in the OECD area could decline by 5 percent and imports by more than 8 percent.

In 1997, imports of steel products in the OECD area increased by 6.7 percent, while exports rose by 3.6 percent.