In April and May, covid-19 crushed domestic industrial and consumer activity. The hit on India’s biggest steel mills, which make up 65% of the country’s annual output of about 110 Million MT, was calamitous.
The industry has been left standing still. The cost of standing still has been very high.
During the pandemic, the mills’ massive blast furnaces continued to burn but made less than a third of pre-covid-19 levels of production. Why keep the blast furnaces burning for so little output? Because closure and reopening can take up to 12 weeks; the process is complex; and maintenance costs are high. This remains the nuclear option for steel makers.
In short, India’s mills continued to bear high fixed costs: firing furnaces but without making much steel. Big integrated mills posses the manufacturing and marketing agility, and capital base, to survive, with bruises. Smaller mills, which account for about a third of national output, lack the strengths to survive a trough, and many have capitulated.