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Brazil Steel Imports To Fall On Seasonally Weaker Demand -Barclays

RIO DE JANEIRO -(Dow Jones)- Brazilian flat steel imports, which reached a record high in 2010, are set to decline in the next few months on expectations of seasonally weaker demand in the domestic market, Barclays Capital analysts said Wednesday. Flat steel imports hit 287,000 metric tons in December, double the level of imports in the same month a year earlier and 3% above November's levels, according to Brazil's trade and industry ministry. However, imports now may slacken to about 150,000 to 200,000 tons monthly as demand is lower at the start of the year and Brazilian steelmakers have reduced sales prices to better compete with imports, Barclays analysts led by Leonardo Correa said in a note to clients. Import activity by the Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Espirito Santo, which last year took advantage of tax breaks to import large tonnages of cheaper steel, also has fallen off, according to the analysts. The appreciation of Brazil's real and high local steel prices and demand attracted a flood of cheaper-price steel into Brazil in 2010. According to Brazilian Steel Institute IABr, total steel products imports--including flat, long and semi-finished products--soared to 5.46 million tons in the January-to-November period from 2.11 million for the same period in 2009. Figures for the whole of the 2010 aren't yet confirmed, IABr said. Flat products, produced by steelmakers Cia Siderurgica Nacional SA (SID, CSNA3.BR), Usinas Siderurgicas de Minas Gerais SA (USIM5.BR, USNZY) and ArcelorMittal (MT, MT.AE), are used in construction and home appliances. Domestic flat steel price premiums, which made local products up to 45% more costly than imports at the start of the year, were cut during the year as steelmakers were forced to compete with stockpiles of lower-priced imports. Continuing import activity in flat steels, albeit at a lower level than in 2010, and the lower margins arising from lower price premiums pose "structural pressures" on Brazil's steelmakers, Barclays said. Imports of long steel, used mainly in construction, eased in December as domestic steelmakers including Gerdau SA (GGB, GGBR4.BR) reduced their own products prices to compete, according to the analysts. Trade and industry ministry figures show long products imports fell to 43,000 tons in December, down 38% from the previous month. The falloff in long steel imports was "a positive signal that pricing discounts were effective" the Barclays analysts said. "We expect imports to ease even further throughout 2011, as pricing premiums are already at equilibrium levels." -By Diana Kinch, Dow Jones Newswires; 55 21 2586 6086; diana.kinch@dowjones.com

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