Uncertainty over Tata Steel Europe going concern status

  • : Metals
  • 21/07/30

Tata Steel UK's reliance on its Indian parent company Tata Steel Limited for financial support is causing uncertainty over Tata Steel Europe's (TSE) ability to continue as a going concern, TSE said in its annual results to March 2021.

TSE, which includes Tata Steel UK and Tata Steel Netherlands, reported a loss after tax of £793mn in its last financial year, as the Covid-19 pandemic caused demand for its products to tumble by 20pc in April-June. Its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation margin was minus 1pc. Tata Steel has pledged financial support to TSE above the amount the European operation expects to require in the next 12 months, but auditors PwC said: "there can be no certainty that the funds required by TSE will in fact be made available".

Tata Steel Limited's directors have said for years that the European operations need to stand on their own and be cash positive, or in the worst case cash neutral, to avoid relying on financial infusions from the parent firm, which plans to grow in the more dynamic Indian market.

TSE is separating its mainland European and UK operations, enabling them to "follow different tracks" and "separate strategic decisions" as they look to decarbonise, chief executive Henrik Adam told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry into Liberty Steel on 22 June.

The company wrote off historical UK losses of £304mn in the latest financial year, as well as interest deductions of £735mn.

The steel market has strengthened since Tata's annual report, which was heavily impacted by the ravages of the pandemic. Spreads between hot-rolled coil (HRC) and blast furnace raw materials have reached record highs and catapulted leading producers' to strong results in the April-June quarter. The spread between Argus' daily benchmark NW EU HRC index and raw materials was $844.50/t yesterday, substantially above the historical average of close to $260/t. One year ago the spread was just $283/t. Spreads rose as high as $920/t in May.

TSE produced 9.6mn t of liquid steel in April 2020-March 2021 — 6.2mn t at Ijmuiden in the Netherlands and 3.4mn t at Port Talbot. This was down from 10.3mn t in the previous 12 months, because of the demand contraction caused by the pandemic.

Costs for the company increased by around 15pc because of Brexit, which alongside Covid-19, has resulted in major logistics and haulage challenges with demand outstripping supply. Around a quarter of UK output is destined for the EU, while some EU material also comes to the UK.

Tata has submitted plans to the Dutch government that would allow it to reduce emissions by 5mn t/yr, or around 40pc, by 2030. The plans include Project Everest, the capture of carbon from Ijmuiden, which would be stored in empty North Sea gas fields, and the usage of by-product gas to produce 100,000 t/yr of hydrogen. In the second phase of Everest, the stored carbon would be converted into suitable raw materials for the chemical industry and synthetic fuels. TSE produced 1.97 t of carbon for each tonne of crude steel during the financial year, down from 1.98 in the preceding 12 months.

The company remains in talks with the UK government over plans for decarbonising its Port Talbot plant. Much talk has focused on the commissioning of at least one electric arc furnace, but there is little clarity over the company's plans.

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