Better times ahead for refractories?

By Siobhan Lismore-Scott, Laura Syrett
Published: Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Optimism industry has returned to growth; European market too mature to expand far.

Refractories producers gathering at the 57th International Colloquium on Refractories in September were cautiously optimistic that the downturn observed in key steel and cement markets since the economic crisis of 2008 may be behind them.

Speaking to IM, Robert van Aalst, a sales representative for Norway-headquartered Elkem Silicon Materials said that its 2014 year-to-date sales were up 30% on 2013 and its orders were strong until the end of the year.

“Business is goodÊ - and it seems to be getting better,” van Aalst said.

Commenting on the 2014 colloquium, van Aalst said that the event was better attended and the sentiment was more positive than it has been in recent years.

“A few years ago, there was nobody in the market and no money,” he said.

“Let’s hope we’ve seen the last of the bad years,” he added.

Manan Shah, business executive at India-based Ashapura Minechem Ltd, told IM that business was “not bad” and predicted that the growing trend in China towards the conservation of domestic raw materials would favour vertically integrated refractories producers in the coming years.

“If you speak to purchasing managers, they will tell you that [availability] of Chinese material is going down,” Shah said.

“We [Ashapura] have our own mines, so we are in a good position,” he added.

One Europe-based producer, who preferred not to be identified, said that raw material prices had been largely flat in the last two years, but that the European market in particular was not strong enough to introduce product price increases that would help shore up margins.

“Business is not brilliant, but it’s ok,” the company said, adding “the refractories market in Europe is not growing”.

Astrid Volkaert, president of the Brussels-based European Refractories Association (PRE), pointed out that refractory product output from its members shrank in 2013 compared with 2012.

“We produced 3.8m tonnes [of refractories] in 2013, which was a slight decrease on the previous year,” Volkaert told delegates.

“It is clear we are still facing a very difficult economic situation,” she added.