By Maytaal Angel
LONDON (Reuters) - Global crude steel output jumped 4.6 percent last year, driven by strong growth in most regions including in top producer China, where output jumped 6.6 percent, data from the World Steel Association (worldsteel) showed on Friday.
China, which produces half the world's steel, had output of 928.3 million tonnes last year, while global output reached 1,808.6 million tonnes, said worldsteel, whose members account for about 85 percent of global output.
All other regions recorded growth except for the European Union, where production fell 0.3 percent to 168.1 million tonnes in 2018 versus 2017. The steel industry, worth about $900 billion a year, is seen as a gauge of economic health.
"We're going to see markedly weaker growth in 2019 because of weakness in demand (and) what will end up happening is due to cost pressures there'll be closures ... (mostly) from China," said Ross Strachan, commodities economist at Capital Economics.
Output in India, which overtook Japan to become the world's second largest steel producer, rose 4.9 percent to 106.5 million tonnes last year, while production in Japan fell 0.3 percent to 104.3 million tonnes.
In the United States, the world's fourth largest producer, output rose 6.2 percent to 86.7 million tonnes amid strong economic growth and as Washington slapped a 25 percent tariff on all steel imports, sparking retaliatory action the world over.
In October, worldsteel doubled its 2018 and 2019 forecasts for growth in global demand for steel, a material used in everything from cars to construction, but said trade tensions were clouding the outlook.
Rising trade barriers in steel and beyond threaten to crimp global economic growth, economists say, while for steelmakers, slowing growth in China, which consumes half the world's steel, is of particular concern.
Global steel equities fell 26 percent last year, far outpacing a 4 percent fall in steel prices in China and a 9 percent gain in steel prices in the United States.
Steel prices in the United States were boosted by trade tariffs, but thanks to a production ramp up in the country, they are now below levels they were at before the tariffs were put in place last April.
(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; Editing by David Goodman and Toby Chopra)
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Updated Date: Jan 26, 2019 00:05:33 IST