* Nippon Steel planning $1 bln a year in strategic spending
* Acquisition targets may arise amid oversupply, falling
* New Japanese processing plants coming up in China,
By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO, May 9 Japanese steelmakers, fresh from a
bumper year of profits amid an upswing in their home market
after massive government stimulus, are looking to step up
expansion overseas despite the prolonged supply overhang that
now grips Asia.
The fresh drive overseas means top Japanese steelmakers will
be producing more than half of the total output of their
mainstay automotive steel sheets in factories outside Japan by
2016, as their home market stagnates with a falling population.
Executives at steelmakers such as Nippon Steel & Sumitomo
Metal Corp and JFE Holdings are faced with
little choice but to accelerate their push abroad as the effects
of the stimulus led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wane and
spending on autos falls after a sales tax hike from April.
"As for automotive steel, Indonesia is a key area where we
would consider to invest," Executive Vice President Katsuhiko
Ota said at an earnings briefing on Friday, adding that
expansions of plants in India and China are other issues to
"We'll be also studying various investment options overseas
including upstream (crude steel production). But we need to
figure out which investments are the most beneficial when the
supply-demand gap is so huge," he said.
Given the excess supply fuelled mostly by Chinese output of
about 780 million tonnes of crude steel a year, Japanese mills
are reluctant to invest in blast furnaces, but they are eager to
enlarge their processing plants and clientele in Asia.
Nippon Steel, which on Friday reported for the year ended
March 31 a return to net profit that was the highest since the
start of the global financial crisis in 2008, plans to set aside
about $1 billion a year in extra strategic spending, mainly for
It spent about $0.78 billion to buy a U.S. plant from German
rival ThyssenKrupp with ArcelorMittal in the
$1.55 billion deal that was completed in
Some analysts say cheap acquisition targets may arise for
Japanese firms as foreign competitors are suffering from
prolonged oversupply and falling steel prices.
Japanese steel executives say they need to boost their
output outside of Japan to grab a bigger slice of growing
overseas markets over the long term.
They have benefited from a falling yen over the last year
and a half, which boosted volume and margin of exports for their
biggest customers, the automakers, but that is unlikely to last.
"We need to be able to supply materials in Asia and the rest
of the world as the globalisation of Japanese automakers won't
stop even after the yen turned weaker from the super high
levels," JFE Executive Vice President Shinichi Okada said at an
earnings briefing late last month.
JFE plans to focus on expansion of overseas processing
facilities for now, but it is also willing to look into any good
opportunity in owning a blast furnace abroad, he said.
JFE has said it was considering taking a majority stake in a
project to construct a plant in Vietnam with steel sheet
production capacity of 3.5 million tonnes that could go onstream
in 2016, but decisions have been pushed back due to the
Earnings results released by Friday showed Nippon Steel's
recurring profit - pretax and before one-off items - jumping
4.7-fold to 361 billion yen ($3.55 billion) for the year through
March on solid demand for construction and automobiles at home,
while JFE's profit grew 3.3-fold to 174 billion yen.
Kobe Steel Ltd, Japan's No.3 steelmaker, returned
to the black with 85 billion yen in recurring profit, against a
loss of 18 billion yen a year earlier.
By contrast, South Korea's POSCO last month cut
forecast for sales and investment for this year after its first
quarter profit missed estimates.
China's Baoshan Iron & Steel Co Ltd posted a 7
percent fall in its first-quarter net profit due to a weak
economy and over-capacity.
Japanese mills, about 30 percent of whose demand comes from
automakers, have been gradually boosting overseas production in
the wake of the yen's jump after the 2008 financial crisis as it
pushed manufacturers to transfer their plants outside of Japan.
A strong yen raises operating costs at home and makes
Japanese exports less profitable, while making overseas
investments more affordable.
To cope with rising demand in Asia, Nippon Steel built
processing plants for automotive steel in Thailand and Mexico
last year. Its annual overseas output capacity of automobile
steel sheet, combined with the recently purchased U.S. plant, is
expected to hit 9 million tonnes this year, surpassing domestic
capacity of 8 million tonnes.
JFE also added processing plants in Thailand and India over
the past year and is building another one in Indonesia by 2016.
Nippon Steel and Kobe Steel plan to add new facilities in China
by 2015 and 2016, respectively.
($1 = 101.6050 Japanese Yen)
(Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Tom Hogue)