The economic environment of the Special Steel Division in the first nine months of the business year 2014/15 improved slightly compared to the previous year. This is due primarily to a revitalization of incoming orders, in particular for special materials for oil and natural gas exploration, but also because of an expansion of the market position for tool steel by consistently focusing on the division’s core business. However, due to the currently very low oil prices, a weakening of demand in the oil and natural gas sector must be expected because investment activity will be reduced.
Regionally, the division’s development has presented a differentiated picture. In Europe, there is still no sign of a broad-based recovery. Nevertheless, the automobile and consumer goods customer segments have been stable at a solid level, even in the current environment. Demand from the energy engineering industry (power plants) remains cautious and the fundamental mood in the general mechanical engineering industry is subdued so that there have been no positive impulses thus far from Germany, voestalpine’s core market. Most recently, the market environment in Spain and Great Britain improved slightly.
Economic development in North America continued to be at an attractive level in the current business year as well, and the market in the USA experienced a significant growth spurt. Additionally, the weakened euro vis-à-vis the US dollar improved the division’s competitive position in the USA. New automobile plants have been opened in Mexico by European premium manufacturers so that the importance of these markets continues to grow for the tool steel segment as well.
Cautious economic sentiment in Brazil continues unabated. The low oil price has had a negative impact on the national oil company Petrobras, particularly because oil well sites in the Atlantic, which are expensive to develop, are not cost-effective at the current oil price. In Asia (China, Japan, Turkey), the Special Steel Division profited from sustained, dynamic economic development. Due to the limited volume of business, the direct impact of Russia’s conflict with the Ukraine is minimal.
The development in the High Performance Metals business segment was affected by low customer inventories. This was an important reason why the sale of premium products in the tool steel and high-speed steel segments was substantially increased during the first three quarters of 2014/15. A solid level of orders from the automobile and consumer goods industries also contributed significantly to the high capacity utilization of production facilities in this business segment. Demand for special materials for oil and natural gas exploration and for the aviation sector was also at a positive level. Framework conditions for open die forging products for the energy engineering industry continue to be difficult.
In the Value-Added Services business segment, expansion of services continued on schedule during recent months. Expansion continued in Taiwan with the opening of a second location in Asia for the coating of tool steel and special materials. In order to meet growing demand for heat treated and mechanically processed tool steel by the automobile industry in Mexico, the Special Steel Division also opened a new service center in Northern Mexico. With these strategic investments, the Value-Added Services business segment enhanced its already strong position as a premium service provider for toolmaking worldwide.