* Q1 core profit (EBITDA) $1.38 bln vs consensus $1.43 bln
* Sees 2015 core profit $6-7 bln from previous $6.5-7 bln
* Cuts global steel market growth view to 0.5-1.5 pct (Adds CFO comments, analyst reaction, share price)
By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS, May 7 (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest producer of steel, on Thursday cut its profit forecast for 2015 due to a more bearish view of the U.S. steel market and the impact of falling iron ore prices on its mining business.
The company said it expected its 2015 core profit to come in between $6 billion and $7 billion. It had previously set a range of $6.5 billion to $7 billion.
In the first quarter, core profit (EBITDA) fell 21 percent to $1.38 million, below the $1.43 million expected in a Reuters poll of nine analysts.
Its steel operations were hit by the U.S. market, where imports increased and demand fell, largely due to destocking of inventories.
“When you look at exports to the United States at the beginning of the year, clearly there was a surge. The main driver was the price differential, there was an enormous incentive to attract imports,” Chief Financial Officer Aditya Mittal told a conference call.
“Since then price levels have corrected and the incentives for imports have also declined,” Aditya added. “Therefore I would expects imports to come down from the peaks of the first quarter in the coming months.”
Core profit margins in the company’s North American business fell to 1.1 percent in the first quarter of 2015 from 5.2 percent in the same period last year.
The group’s shares fell as much as 3.3 percent in early trading on Thursday.
The profit decline was caused by a 74 percent drop in profits at the group’s iron ore mining operations, which suffered from much lower market prices.
The company, which produces 6 to 7 percent of the world’s steel, said it still expected real steel consumption in the United States to be about 3 percent and imports there to subside.
“Macroeconomic activity and GDP growth in the first quarter was weaker than the market had hoped for but the real demand outlook is still good for the United States overall,” said Commerzbank analyst Ingo Schachel.
Weakness in the United States was fully offset, however, by a better performing European business, where the company continues to reap the benefits of a restructuring programme which has seen the closure of several steel operations.
“We are expecting strong automotive growth in Europe in 2015, the machinery sector continues to grow and there’s also growth in the construction sector,” Mittal said.
Net debt stood at $16.6 billion, slightly up from the record low of $15.8 billion at the end of 2014. The CFO said the group should end the year with an even lower debt level.
ArcelorMittal reduced its estimates outlook for global steel consumption including inventory changes, saying consumption would now rise by between 0.5 and 1.5 percent in 2015, compared to a previous forecast of 1.5 and 2 percent.
The company became more pessimistic about market developments in all geographic areas except for Europe, where it kept its forecast unchanged.
Global forecast cuts were especially large for Brazil, the United States and China. The group does not have major exposure to the Chinese market, but outlook for the world’s largest steel consuming country affects the global steel market. (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and William Hardy)