* Will shut 1 blast furnace in Kimitsu from mid-May
* Suspensions of 4 furnaces will cut 25% in its furnaces’ volume
* Steel demand slumping in automobile, construction segments (Adds comments of spokesman, background on steel industry)
By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO, April 21 (Reuters) - Nippon Steel Corp, Japan’s biggest steelmaker, said on Tuesday it will temporarily shut a third blast furnace in Japan in mid-May to cope with slumping demand from automakers and construction projects amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The shutdown follows its recent decision to halt two other blast furnaces from this month and its suspension of another blast furnace in February due to causes unrelated to the pandemic, bringing the total reduction in its furnaces’ volume to about 25%, a spokesman said.
Faced with deteriorating demand, the world’s third-ranked steelmaker by crude steel output will temporarily shut a blast furnace at Kimitsu, in eastern Japan, from the middle of next month.
A source at a group company told Reuters last week that the company was considering halting a furnace in Kimitsu.
Only two weeks ago, Nippon Steel said it will temporarily suspend two blast furnaces in April to meet slumping demand amid the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic hit local demand, the company idled a blast furnace in Kure in western Japan in mid-February to reflect weaker industrial demand in light of the U.S.-China trade war.
“We have been taking various measures to reduce output to meet falling steel demand, but we have decided to take additional actions to cope with the immediate deeper decline in demand,” the spokesman said.
Demand has been hit especially in areas like steel used for automobiles at home and abroad, hot-rolled steel sheet for exports and steel sheet used for local construction projects, he said.
Nippon Steel will also temporarily suspend some of the coke ovens at Kimitsu.
Japan’s second-biggest steelmaker JFE Steel, owned by JFE Holdings, said last week that it will halt two blast furnaces in western Japan because of a coronavirus-related slump in demand, temporarily cutting 25% of its capacity.
A collapse in demand from industry forced to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic has also spurred a wave of closures of steel plants in Europe. (Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Muralikumar Anantharaman)