ArcelorMittal SA, Africa’s biggest steel producer, says sales of the alloy fell 10.1% in the three months to end-March because of weak demand in SA and a decline in exports.

Domestic sales volumes fell 5% as the weaker economy led to lower consumption, and because of “a short burst of imports as customers took advantage of the sudden price drops seen in international markets in the fourth quarter of 2018”.

Export sales fell 23.1% compared to a “very buoyant global market” a year before “and a more cautious seaborne market in the first quarter of 2019 following the sudden price drops”.

Analysts have cautioned that steel demand could be affected by the trade war between the US and China.

ArcelorMittal SA said liquid steel production was marginally higher in the quarter, though this meant its capacity utilisation rate fell to 80% from 85%.

Commercial coke and tar sales fell 38.8% “due to higher imports into the country together with an increase in internal consumption”, it said.

In February, ArcelorMittal SA said it returned to profit in the year to end-December 2018 after selling its investment in Macsteel International Holdings.

In November 2018, the company completed the sale of its 50% stake in Macsteel in a deal valued at $220m. ArcelorMittal SA said at the time it would use the funds to reduce debt and help it become “a sustainable and profitable company”.