Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Mittal/Arcelor merger should not seriously affect steel prices [MEPS]

According to a MEPS report published today, a Mittal / Arcelor merger should not seriously affect steel prices, because (excluding North America, where the Dofasco assets would be sold) the product market orientation of the two firms is largely complementary.
The greatest overlap between Mittal Steel and Arcelor exists in European heavy sections (also called structural sections or beams), and here the European competition authorities are likely to require certain divestments.
For full report, please visit http://www.meps.co.uk/viewpoint2-06.htm.



Thursday, February 23, 2006

Letter from the Sago Miners [BlackDiamond]

Here is a really interesting perspective from the Sago miners, republished from Blackdiamond
Working at Sago

Miners well trained, focused on ensuring safety
By Craig Newsome, Jeremy Toler, Chester Runyon and Brian E. Curtis

We are the miners of the Sago coal mine that suffered the explosion on Jan. 2. We have experienced all the pain of the loss of our brothers, uncles, cousins and friends. We have watched with disgust as some news media reported us as poor, dumb coal miners who had to work in horrible conditions because we could not find work anywhere else. Well, let us tell you about our mine and the miners who work here.

We work at this mine because we choose to, not because we have to. We are proud of our mine and the miners we work with. These men are well trained and operate million-dollar pieces of equipment within the confines of the coal mine as easily as you do your riding lawn mower on your lawn. We are intelligent, skilled and are aware of our surroundings. None of us would ever allow any condition to exist that would injure one of our fellow workers on purpose. Every time any of us has become aware of any hazard and reported it to any member of the company, they have corrected it almost immediately. We feel that we have a safe mine or we would not work here.

The explosion we experienced occurred behind a set of seals in an abandoned area. We don’t know of any man alive who could have predicted such a thing. We have a greater interest than any others as to what occurred. We have a guess, but are willing to wait until the investigation is complete to know the real answer.

The current management of this company and our mine has been portrayed by the media as uncaring about our personal safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. This company has put a safety program in place that literally puts our safety in our own hands. They have responded to citations issued and try to correct them immediately. They discuss with us each violation and how we can prevent it from happening again. This is done to get our input, not as a disciplinary measure. There is even talk of developing a bonus plan that rewards us for being safe workers. It appears this plan will reward individuals for attendance and safety instead of for production.

You all seem to indicate that we have a dangerous mine because we received over 200 citations from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration over the past two years. But again, every time MSHA issued a Citation, we corrected it almost immediately. To tell you the truth, we did not do some things very well that we should have.

MSHA beat us up pretty good about cleanup, rock-dusting and maintaining the escapeway. They forced us to raise our standards. What no one realizes is that ICG’s standards meet or sometimes exceed those of MSHA or the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. The men at Sago soon began to believe that ICG was sincere with regard to our safety. As a result of the MSHA, state and ICG efforts, we did raise our standard and that saved 17 miners. You see, there was not one survivor of the explosion, but 17.

The “One Left” crew was in direct line of the explosion within 1,000 feet, but none of them was seriously injured by the blast. Why? Because the area of the mine was so well rock-dusted and maintained that the explosion did not propagate at all. When it ran out of methane, it stopped. Our 17 miners know how close they came to death and thank God, MSHA and the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training for their efforts. We also thank the company for their corrective actions that stopped this explosion. Our miners exited the mine safely in the escapeway, which had recently been cleaned, roof bolted and screened.

We also want to thank the mine rescue teams that came to try to rescue our brothers. There were men from all over the country in a unified effort. A special thanks to the Consol UMW teams that came to our aid without any concern for union or nonunion. They only considered us miners. Those teams and individual men will always have a special place in our hearts. We know that they took some bad press from some of the family members, but we saw their efforts and admire them for it.

We do take offense at the leadership of the United Mine Workers of America for statements about our mine and the indications of how unsafe we are. Many of us have worked at UMW mines and would like to question why the UMW leadership made a big deal out of our 270 citations over a two-year period. They indicated that if we were a UMW signature mine, we would not have had so many. They stated that many of the conditions were so serious we should not have been allowed to operate.

Our question to the UMW is: Why did the UMW signature mine McElroy in northern West Virginia receive more than 1,830 citations in the same time frame and still be allowed to operate? Why did the Blackville No. 2 Mine in Morgantown receive 1,400 citations in the time frame and still be allowed to operate? Why do Shoemaker, Robinson Run No. 95 and many other UMW mines receive 500 to 1,000 per year and still be allowed to operate? Why, if the UMW provides such a good safety advantage, do these mines have such horrific violations records, (These numbers are public record on MSHA’s page on the Internet.)

We recognize that we owe a debt of gratitude to the UMW, as it helped the miner gain a good wage, health benefits and fought for safety. However, the current leadership has an agenda to advance at our expense, rather than try to help us. They have come to our mine and forced their way in because of the agenda. We do not want them to represent us. We have elected our own representatives from within our miners (by a margin of over 90 percent).

Why would we want a union to represent us whose members receive 10 to 20 times as many violations as we receive? We are reducing our citations and will succeed. We have cut the numbers of citations at this mine by almost 50 percent in the past quarter. We will welcome any advancement in technology that will help our miners communicate, be located, or extend their supply of oxygen. Buy those are all devices we never want to have to rely on. We first want to know what happened, where we failed (if we did), and what can be done to prevent any such thing from ever happening again.

We would also ask the UMW and its leadership about its contribution to the Sago Fund. As it now seems, ICG started the fund with a $2 million donation. Lots of companies and individuals have generously contributed to the fund as well, particularly $250,000 from A.T. Massey. To date, we have seen no mention of a UMW donation. If they have that much care and concern for us, they should show it to these families.

We just want to set the record straight. We are intelligent, skilled men who are working here because we want to. We have a brotherhood here that is close and will become closer when we are allowed to return to work. We will take this experience and learn from it and will never allow it to occur again. We all understand the risk we are exposed to, but also know that the mine is as safe as we make it.

This letter was sent to West Virginia newspapers by Newsome and Curtis, both of Buchannan, Toler of Canvas and Runyon of French Creek.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Specialist steel sector reports available online

Steel industry portal http://www.steelonthenet.com is pleased to announce that specialist iron and steel sector and related reports from a number of leading suppliers are now available for sale directly from the website at http://www.steelonthenet.com/publications.html.
The metals and mining publications cover iron ore, coal, coke, steel as well as raw materials ... and include information on worldwide production/processing facilities, company data, capacity data plus production, consumption, pricing and trade statistics. The reports also include a number of key industry forecasts.
Why not visit us at http://www.steelonthenet.com/publications.html and see what publications are for sale?
Kind regards.
Dr Andrzej M Kotas
Chief Executive

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

World Crude Steel Output In 2006 Forecast To Grow By 47 MT [MEPS]

MEPS has just forecasts global crude steel production climbing to 1175 million tonnes this year - more than 4 percent up on the 2005 outturn. Blastfurnace ironmaking is predicted to reach 817 million tonnes in 2006. This represents a rise of around 4.5 percent over the year earlier figure.

To read the full article, visit MEPS.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mittal Steel's bid for Arcelor - latest news reports

We have created a new news page for visitors to www.steelonthenet.com which is dedicated to the Mittal / Arcelor bid.

This page, which contains only the latest news reports and opinions about the hostile bid, can be found at http://www.steelonthenet.com/feeds/mittal_arcelor.php.

We hope that this resource will be useful to all those who are interested in the current bid.

Dr Andrzej M Kotas
Chief Executive

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Stock Building and Rising Nickel Costs Drive Stainless Steel Prices Higher [MEPS]

According to a MEPS report, stainless producers from Japan in the east to Kentucky in the west seem to have decided that they have had enough of falling prices and are acting to reverse the downward steel price trend. The first few weeks of 2006 have seen a flurry of announcements of intended selling price rises.

It is quite unusual for producers in Asia, Europe and America to go for price hikes all at the same time. Three factors have prompted this unusual unanimity. First, price weakness has affected all major markets. Second, Chinese production of cold rolled stainless is lower than had been forecast thus reducing fears of excess supply. Third, alloy costs are on the rise.

Between January and December last year, basis prices for grade 304 cold rolled stainless coil (excluding raw material surcharges) fell in many of the world's principal markets. The drop was relatively minor in the US. However, in Europe the price went down by 25 percent.

Last year's cuts in production seem to have brought a bit more balance to the supply-demand picture. We estimate that crude stainless output in the second half of last year slipped by at least 12 percent in Europe and the Americas. Output also appears to have fallen in Asia, though more modestly.

The prospect of rising alloy surcharges next month has encouraged buyers to come back into the market to rebuild their depleted stocks. Mills, therefore, seized the opportunity. Among the first to move was Arcelor’s subsidiary Ugine & ALZ, which is proposing a €50 per tonne basis price increase from February and another €50 per tonne rise in March. Other European mills are following a similar line.

In the Americas it was NAS which led the upward move announcing plans to raise basis prices by about 3 percent effective March 1. This is the first such attempt in 18 months, and was followed by other major producers.

In Europe and America the mills will have the challenge of pushing through basis price hikes at the same time as alloy surcharges are rising. This is a practical proposition if the cost of nickel continues to increase for several months. However, this latest order burst could be short lived if nickel prices start to retreat once again.

For original report, visit MEPS at http://www.meps.co.uk/editorial1-06.htm.


West Virginia Government Seeks Halt in Coal Production [BlackDiamond]

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Joe Manchin called for all coal companies in West Virginia to shut down for safety checks after two more mine workers were killed Wednesday in separate accidents.

While Manchin's call was voluntary, he also ordered mine inspections speeded up so that all 544 of the state's surface and underground mines are examined by regulators as soon as possible.

"We're going to check for unsafe conditions, and we're going to correct any unsafe conditions before we mine another lump of coal," Manchin said.

David Dye, acting U.S. assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, later urged coal mines nationwide to conduct safety and training sessions on Monday for workers at the beginning of each shift. He cited the recent upsurge in mine accidents.

"I am asking miners and management at every mine operation to do the right thing: take one hour out for safety's sake this Monday," Dye said in a statement.

Both deaths Wednesday occurred at mines in southwestern West Virginia, officials said. One miner was killed at an underground mine when a wall support popped loose. And a bulldozer operator died at a surface mine when the vehicle struck a gas line and sparked a fire.

The deaths brought to 16 the number of mining-related fatalities in West Virginia since Jan. 2.

Manchin said the safety checks would include reviewing mine conditions, safety checklists and designated escape routes.

The West Virginia Coal Association, whose members account for 80 percent of the state's coal production, said its members would heed the governor's request. Association President Bill Raney expected the safety checks would take a matter of hours, depending on the mine type and size.

"They were immediately complying," Raney said. West Virginia is the nation's second-largest coal producer, after Wyoming.

Names of the two mine workers who died Wednesday were not immediately released.

Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training, said the underground miner was killed at Long Branch Energy's No. 18 Tunnel Mine in Boone County. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The bulldozer operator died at the Black Castle Surface Mine, also in Boone County, Gresham said. Black Castle is operated by Elk Run Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co. The death was the third at a Massey subsidiary in less than two weeks.

The fatalities followed the deaths of a dozen miners from carbon monoxide poisoning after a Jan. 2 explosion at International Coal Group Inc.'s Sago Mine. The explosion trapped the men hundreds of feet underground. The sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., is recovering in a rehabilitation hospital.

Less than three weeks after Sago, two miners died in a belt line fire at Massey's Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, about 180 miles away.

Manchin responded to those earlier tragedies by pushing a state mine-safety bill through the Legislature in a single day. Among other things, the bill requires coal companies to provide miners with emergency communicators and tracking devices, and to store extra air supplies underground.

West Virginia's congressional delegation followed up those efforts Wednesday, introducing similar federal legislation.

The Long Branch mine employs around 59 people, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Eight workers were injured during the first nine months of 2005, more than 2 1/2 times the national average, according to MSHA figures.

Federal inspectors issued 50 citations against the mine last year, 19 of which were considered "significant and substantial."

Two employees were injured at the Black Castle during the first nine months of 2005, below the national average. The mine has about 186 workers.