BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Profits at China's large steel mills slumped 98 percent in 2012, as slower economic growth hit steel demand in the world's largest consumer, the China Iron & Steel Association (CISA) said on Thursday, but it reiterated a slightly improved outlook this year.
In a statement, the industry association said 2012 profits reported by its members, which include more than 70 large steel mills, fell to 1.6 billion yuan ($257.2 million). The largest firms account for about 80 percent of the total steel output in China, which is also the world's largest steel producer.
A few large Chinese steelmakers suffered big losses last year as slower demand growth and a rapid decline in steel prices hurt their business.
Angang Steel Co Ltd , the listed unit of China's second-largest steelmaker, Anshan Iron & Steel Group Corp, posted a loss of 4.16 billion yuan in 2012, after losing 2.15 billion yuan in 2011, it said in an exchange filing late on Wednesday.
Maanshan Iron & Steel Co Ltd , the listed unit of Magang Group, reported a preliminary loss of 3.7 billion to 4 billion yuan last year.
Baoshan Iron & Steel (Baosteel), China's largest listed steelmaker, said earlier this month that its 2012 net profit likely rose by about 40 percent to 10.3 billion yuan ($1.65 billion), helped by the sale of some assets.
However, it said operating profit before one-off items was likely to show a decline of 33 percent to 6.2 billion yuan.
CISA expects an improved outlook for the country's steel sector this year, although that will be tempered by an oversupply of built-up inventory, high raw materials costs and a likely slow pickup in consumption.
The industry body previously said it expected Chinese steel demand to rise by 3.1 percent in 2013, 0.6 percentage point higher than last year as the economy recovers.
A Reuters poll forecast that steel output would rise to 749 million tonnes this year, up 4.5 percent on the year.
($1 = 6.2204 Chinese yuan)