Nippon Steel trims annual loss f'cast on high export prices, demand pick-up

TOKYO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Japan’s top steelmaker Nippon Steel Corp on Friday trimmed its annual net loss estimate by nearly 30% as higher export prices and recovering demand from automakers and other manufacturers led to a sharp rebound in steel earnings.

“A jump in our export prices to Southeast Asia and other areas bolstered our margins,” Nippon Steel Executive Vice President Katsuhiro Miyamoto told a news conference.

“Demand from manufacturers has also picked up significantly after October,” he added.

The world’s No.3 steelmaker reduced its net loss forecast for the year to March 31 to 120 billion yen ($1.1 billion) from its November forecast of 170 billion yen.

It now expects a business profit of 30 billion yen, instead of its previous prediction of a loss of 60 billion yen.

Earlier, it reported a net loss of 123.8 billion yen for the April-December period, against a loss of 357.4 billion yen a year earlier. It did not give numbers for the third quarter.

To cope with collapsing demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, Nippon Steel temporarily shut six blast furnaces, slashing capacity by 32%, but the recent resumption of three furnaces sent the figure to 13%, Miyamoto said.

Its annual crude steel output is now estimated at 33.2 million tonnes, up from its earlier plan of 32.7 million tonnes, though the latest figure still represents a 21% drop year on year.

Solid overseas steel markets will likely continue on the back of robust demand in the world’s top buyer China, while the domestic market will remain tight given low inventories, Miyamoto said.

But prices of raw materials -- iron ore and coking coal -- are also expected to stay at high levels due to China’s strong appetite, he added.

Its smaller rival Kobe Steel Ltd also lifted its annual net earnings outlook to zero from its earlier estimate of a net loss of 15 billion yen, thanks to stronger demand from automakers and cost reduction.

($1 = 105.3400 yen)

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise