March 16, 2020 / 3:16 AM / in 14 days

China steel futures hit near two-month high on demand optimism

* U.S. Fed slashes rates, China central bank cuts RRR

* Chinese steel stocks at record high, but rise slows

* China Jan-Feb steel output rises 3.1% despite disruptions

* Iron ore, other steelmaking raw materials also higher

By Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA, March 16 (Reuters) - Chinese steel futures hit their highest in nearly two months on Monday on signs of a recovery in demand, and as policymakers worldwide rolled out more stimulus measures to cushion global economies reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates by 100 basis points on Sunday, in line with a global policy effort to stave off a steep economic downturn as increasing lockdowns and travel bans hit businesses across the globe.

The central bank of China on Friday cut the cash that banks must hold as reserves for the second time this year, releasing $79 billion to help its coronavirus-hit economy.

China accounts for more than half of the world’s steel output and is the biggest exporter of the material widely used for manufacturing and construction.

Construction steel rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) rose as much as 2.1% to 3,584 yuan ($511.74) a tonne, the highest since Jan. 21.

Hot-rolled steel coil, used in cars and home appliances, gained as much as 1.9% to 3,551 yuan a tonne, the strongest since Jan. 23. Stainless steel climbed 2.4%.

Prices remained supported as of 0230 GMT, more than 1% higher despite fresh data showing China’s steel output rose 3.1% year-on-year in the first two months of 2020.

Sentiment across Chinese ferrous futures markets was generally upbeat, with iron ore leading gains among steelmaking raw materials, boosted by falling inventories at China’s ports.

“With workers slowly returning to worksites (in China), there are growing expectations that steel mills will need to restock raw materials,” said ANZ senior commodity strategist Daniel Hynes.

“And while total steel inventories climbed higher last week, stockpiles of rebar actually fell for the first time in several weeks,” he said in a note, highlighting rising rebar prices.

FUNDAMENTALS

* Iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose as much as 2.4%, and were up 0.7% on the Singapore Exchange.

* Iron ore miner Vale SA on Friday said it could adopt contingency measures or eventually suspend operations due to coronavirus concerns.

* Coking coal gained 1.3%, while coke was 2% higher.

* Chinese steel stocks hit a record-high 38.91 million tonnes last week, although the weekly rise was the slowest since Dec. 20, according to data compiled by Mysteel. Inventories at mills dropped by 600,000 tonnes to 12.9 million tonnes.

($1 = 7.0036 yuan)

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Devika Syamnath

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