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ArcelorMittal says more upbeat on steel market, including China

ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, said it was slightly more positive about the steel market, with a modest improvement in the outlook for China, though it kept its own forecast for 2016 earnings unchanged.

While ArcelorMittal has no major exposure to China, the world's largest producer and consumer of steel is an important gauge for the global economy with increased exports from a weakened Chinese market hitting steel prices elsewhere.

Chief Executive Lakshmi Mittal said in a statement on Friday that the very tough operating conditions of the second half of 2015 had continued into the first quarter.

"Since that time we have seen a recovery in spreads in our core markets to more sustainable levels, which is expected to result in improved results in the coming quarters," he said, adding that the market needed to be cautious given the threat of cheap imports flooding in from China.

Paul Mullins, director at Kallanish Commodities, told CNBC on Friday he thought steel prices had improved a lot in the first quarter this year.

"They [prices] came from an awful place last year- as a benchmark, 2015 was atrocious so any any performance this year is going to look good in comparison - secondly, I think anything to do with the steel industry, no matter what the question is, the answer is usually China."

"The Chinese put an awful lot of credit into the month of March, steel prices started to rise and as a result a lot of Chinese companies made profits in April which wiped out all of the losses they made in the first quarter of this year," explained Mullins.

ArcelorMittal repeated its 2016 guidance for core profit to be above $4.5 billion. The group said an improved steel market would mean it needed more working capital in 2016, but it would still have a positive cash flow at the end of the year.

ArcelorMittal said it expected global apparent steel consumption, which includes changes to inventories, to rise by between zero and 0.5 percent this year compared to last.

In China, it raised its forecast to a decline of between zero and 1 percent from a previous drop of 0.5 to 1.5 percent.

ArcelorMittal joined the ranks of international companies becoming more downbeat about the Brazilian economy, expecting steel demand there to decline by as much as to 12 percent, from an expected fall of 6-7 percent previously.

For the group as a whole, core profit (EBITDA) fell by about a third in the first quarter to $927 million, just above the $919 million expected in a Reuters poll of 11 analysts.

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