LOS ANGELES West Coast producers of structural steel tubing and their service center customers are looking for signs that the market is ready to firm, but prices have instead been slipping.
For the first time in more than a year, prices for A500 Grade B hollow structural sections (HSS) have in some cases fallen below $50 per hundredweight ($1,000 per ton) from a more recent range of $50 to $51 per cwt.
The decline has occurred despite the fact that a number of tubing mills east of the Rockies recently announced they were raising tags by $30 per ton.
However, California tubing mills, in particular, havent followed these attempts by their counterparts in the Midwest and South, who have lost credibility over the past two years as a number of their published hikes have either fallen flat or been deeply discounted as soon as they were posted.
Several market sources in the West said theyre refusing to take these announcements seriously until theyre convinced the market is actually strengthening.
Some sources argue that while tubing demand is still far from its pre-2009 construction-fueled strength, it hasnt declined appreciably this year and certain small and mid-sized projects continue to move forward.
But even the most optimistic agree that prices have felt the impact of the recent arrival of South Korean tubing into distributor warehouses that was ordered at $42 per cwt ($840 per ton) or less in late 2011 and early 2012. At the time, expectations were that prices would have continued to firm at least through the first half of the year.
"An awful lot of foreign material has come in, and were expecting more," one buyer said.
Moreover, the recent erosion of prices on the mills coil feedstock has made it increasingly difficult for producers to defend a floor price of $50 per cwt, market sources noted.