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W. Coast plate buyers eye Japanese offers

Keywords: Tags  steel, plate prices, West Coast plate, Japanese plate, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — West Coast buyers of commodity steel plate who are already concerned about what they fear are growing stocks in the region’s warehouses are beginning to see offers from yet another unexpected offshore source: Japan.

Until recently, offers of A36 and other commodity-grade plate from Japan hadn’t been seen on a significant scale in years, with most Japanese business focused on value-added products like abrasion-resistant grades.

However, late last year—despite opposition from domestic steel producers—the U.S. International Trade Commission voted to revoke anti-dumping duties on cut-to-length plate from Japan and Italy, leading to what some buyers say has been a pickup in offers.

Sources estimate that prices for warehouse grades and sizes of Japanese plate are as low as $42 to $43 per hundredweight ($840 to $860 per ton) for arrival in late July and August, making Japanese material competitive with plate from South Korea, which has been considered the major foreign source to the region. Plate from Taiwan has also been available to West Coast buyers, although the size and thickness range is considered more limited.

That compares with domestic West Coast tags that are significantly higher, with domestic price hike announcements bringing the delivered plate price in the region to as high as $52 per cwt ($1,040 per ton). However, some large service center sources said they’ve seen the price drop below $50 per cwt ($1,000 per ton) in competitive situations.

The reported pickup in Japanese offers comes at a time of growing inventories in the region, sources said. "It’s going to be an interesting summer," one distributor said.

On the demand side, however, plate remains one of the strongest of the major carbon steel segments. Energy-related business such as tank fabrication for refineries remains healthy, while a number of bridge projects are expected to move forward soon, especially in the Northwest. The next major project up for bid is reportedly the replacement of a segment of a Portland, Ore., bridge, whose requirement for weathering-grade plate could reach 5,000 tons.

"If you’re adding value, the outlook is good—there are a lot of jobs out there," according to one distributor, whose company recently added new processing equipment. "But still, there’s an awful lot of plate in the market today."

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