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ArcelorMittal says buoyant steel offsetting weak mining

ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, reported a higher than expected profit in the third quarter and said improvements in its U.S. and European steel businesses are more than offsetting weak mining operations.

The company, which makes about 6 percent of the world's steel and is one of the world's largest iron ore producers, cut its estimate for global steel consumption because of a slowdown in China and heavy declines in Brazil and former Soviet states.

A worker walks among coils of galvanized steel at a steel factory.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images
A worker walks among coils of galvanized steel at a steel factory.

Importantly, however, it made a sharp upward revision on its overall market estimate for U.S. consumption while that for Europe was left little changed. The two regions account for about two thirds of ArcelorMittal's steel shipments.

Chief Executive Lakshmi Mittal said that the company had fared well in the third quarter in Europe and was seeing a strong North American recovery and a turnaround in its operations grouping Africa and the former Soviet states, the latter benefiting from weaker local currencies and exports to the Middle East and North Africa.

"Based on today's market conditions, I do not foresee a deterioration in our performance in the fourth quarter," Mittal said in a statement, repeating the company's 2014 forecast of core profit (EBITDA) above $7 billion.

The "smart" estimate of Thomson Reuters's StarMine, which weights analyst's forecasts according to past performance, had been for core profit of $7.2 billion.

Third-quarter core profit (EBITDA) was $1.91 billion, above the average $1.82 billion in a Reuters poll of brokers and up nearly 12 percent on the same period last year.

Roaring US demand

The group, double the size of rival Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp and a benchmark for global manufacturing, cuts its forecast for global steel consumption growth to 2.25-2.75 percent, from 3.0-3.5 percent.

For the industry as a whole it expects only modest growth in steel demand from China and sharp declines in Brazil and the former Soviet states.

However, it now expects higher U.S. steel consumption than previously envisaged. Including inventory changes, the company forecast overall U.S. steel consumption to grow by 8.25-8.75 percent, from its previous estimate of 5-6 percent. It forecast for Europe narrowed to 3-3.5 percent growth, from 3-4 percent.

U.S. industrial output posted its biggest monthly gain in two years in September, while in Europe the steel-consuming auto sector reported car registrations up 6 percent up in the first nine months of the year.

Top U.S. steelmakers, such as Nucor and U.S. Steel Corp, have cited strong demand from the auto, appliance and oil and gas industries, as well as lower energy costs.

The construction sector, which uses about half of the world's steel, has also slightly improved from 2013.

ArcelorMittal said that strong demand in key developed markets meant it maintained its forecast that steel shipments would be 3 percent higher this year than last, with higher capacity utilisation and cost savings raising margins.

Iron ore shipments, it said, would be up 15 percent after the ramp-up of capacity at its mines in eastern Canada.

The company has, however, suffered from sharply lower iron ore prices, largely the result of the slowdown in China weakening demand while supply has risen as ArcelorMittal and the big three iron ore miners - BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale - have boosted output.

The spot benchmark Asian iron ore price has fallen by about 40 percent this year to below $80 a tonne, prompting ArcelorMittal in August to cut its 2014 group profit estimate.