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DiMicco urges 'proactive' measures on imports

Keywords: Tags  Nucor, steel imports, Dan DiMicco, steel trade, counter measures, steel imports surge, steel long products, steel sheet steel plate

NEW YORK — The recent surge in steel imports that has been weighing down the domestic long products segment is starting to trickle over to flat-rolled products as well, further highlighting the need for a "proactive" government response, said Nucor Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Daniel DiMicco.

"We have a global economy that is sputtering. We have a domestic economy that is growing at a snail’s pace. And there’s massive oversupply in some products here in the United States and around the world, created in this country by both domestic overcapacity based on the demand levels we’re seeing—not based on peak demand—and the influx of imports," DiMicco told investors during an earnings call Thursday. "In particular, we’ve seen a significant, serious flood of imports from Turkey, (including) reinforcing bar and a little bit on merchant. And we’re starting to see it on sheet and we’re concerned about that."

The pickup in long product imports has been evident for months, with 161,666 tonnes of rebar licensed to arrive in March, nearly triple the 56,490 tonnes imported in the same month last year, U.S. Commerce Department import data show.

"Clearly, this flood of imports is not being driven by demand. It’s an excess supply push on the part of the global steel industry and the trading environment, and as such it usually leads to distortions in pricing and cost," DiMicco said.

But the influx of imports is no longer limited to long products, he said. According to Commerce data, license applications for hot-rolled sheet totaled 191,525 tonnes in the first 17 days of April, up from 177,087 tonnes for all of March. Cut-to-length plate import licenses do not appear to have spiked in April—with only 47,105 tonnes licensed to date vs. 97,593 tonnes licensed for all of March—but domestic plate sources have suggested they may look more closely at foreign material if domestic plate price increases prove successful (AMM, April 13).

"It’s a serious issue. It affects all the products eventually," DiMicco said of the import surge. "It’s been more so in the long products, rebar business and in the sheet business, (but) we’re starting to see some of that in plate.

"There’s no way—if competing on a level playing field, all things being equal—that an industry running at 78 percent or less needs a 36-percent increase in (finished steel) imports to satisfy demand. And it doesn’t come in here unless it is underpriced, and many times priced below the cost to produce. So those issues are with us," he added.

Nucor and other domestic steelmakers have been successful in past cycles in their attempts to thwart many low-priced imports with the imposition of countervailing and anti-dumping duties, but that reactive approach may not be the best option, DiMicco said.

"We continue to win, (but) it’s unfortunate that we cannot have something that’s more proactive in dealing with these surges on the part of our government," he said, adding that the government is "working on that as we speak."

Asked to elaborate on what that might entail, DiMicco declined to provide specifics. "We are working on coming up with tools that allow our government to be more proactive—i.e., to respond much quicker to floods of imports. Other than that, I won’t go any further."

Meanwhile, as imports rise, Nucor’s exports have inched down slightly in recent months. According to president and chief operating officer John Ferriola, Nucor exported about 7 to 8 percent of its output in the first quarter, down from an average quarterly shipment rate of around 10 percent and almost half the 13-percent export rate logged in the third quarter of last year.

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