* European demand very weak in Q1 - CEO
* Says iron ore prices fell to about $128/tonne
By Philip Blenkinsop
LUXEMBOURG, May 8 (Reuters) - The world’s largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal suffered in the first quarter from “very weak” demand in Europe and falling iron ore prices, its chief executive said on Wednesday ahead of results due on Friday.
The company, which makes some 6-7 percent of the world’s steel, has said it sees global steel consumption up 3 percent this year, but European demand falling by between 0.5 and 1.5 percent after a 9 percent drop in 2012.
“We are seeing it could be more minus 1.5 than minus 0.5 because the first quarter has been very weak. It started well, but as we entered it, it looks weak,” Lakshmi Mittal told Reuters on the sidelines of the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
The consensus of analysts in a Reuters poll expects ArcelorMittal to report a fall in core profit (EBITDA) of 31 percent to $1.36 billion dollars when it reports on Friday.
After the 2008-2009 recession, European steelmakers benefited from a sharp rebound of auto demand, partly prompted by car scrapping schemes, while the construction sector, another major steel consumer, barely recovered.
However, European auto demand has fallen back again.
“Peugeot and Renault, their demand has dropped by 20 to 30 percent in the first quarter,” Mittal said.
The ArcelorMittal chief said he still believed the European market would show signs of recovery in the second half.
Mittal said iron ore prices had dropped to around $128 per tonne from some $157-158 earlier in the quarter. Some 24 percent of ArcelorMittal’s core profit in 2012 came from mining, principally of iron ore.
He said Chinese steel demand would probably grow by between 2.5 and 3 percent this year. In February, the company had forecast a 3 percent expansion.
“It is strong in auto and construction, but recently there has been some credit squeeze and we are seeing some softening of the overall demand,” Mittal said.
In the United States, both the auto and construction sectors were strong, Mittal said. But the energy and mining equipments markets were weaker in the first half. (Editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Patrick Graham)