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Steel plate tags slide as mills chase few orders

Keywords: Tags  steel plate, plate prices, Chris Prentice


NEW YORK — U.S. steel plate prices have continued to slide as subdued demand and ample availability of both domestic and imported material hangs over the market.

Minimal ordering helped push cut-to-length plate prices lower this week, with spot prices reaching an average of $39 per hundredweight ($780 per ton) f.o.b. mill. That’s down from about $41 per cwt ($820 per ton) in late July ( amm.com, July 27), although market sources said lower-priced offers continue to be available if buyers are willing to place large orders.

"If you’ve got orders to place, you can negotiate. Especially if you’ve got big tons, the mills will talk to you," one fabricator told AMM.

One mill source said that orders had been slow to trickle in, helping to push prices down. "We do expect that ... mid-August we will see some relief, some demand improving. We are looking forward to it," he said. "Today, I don’t see that."

Some of the slowdown in orders is seasonal, while some is tied to a hesitancy to place orders in a falling market, according to sources.

"I will order to fill holes," one service center source said. "If I don’t think I’m going to need it in the next 30 days, I’m not going to buy it."

However, orders could pick up again if scrap—and hence, steel plate—prices appear to reach a floor.

"We think plate is definitely softening, but if scrap goes up, that may change," a second service center source said.

The mill source agreed that a rising scrap market could help put a floor beneath the falling plate prices, but noted that it would take some time for the renewed scrap price strength to carry over to the steel market.

"There’s a time lag with plate," he said.

Steel plate saw strong first-half demand, but a combination of readily available imported and domestic material and the slower summer months have helped depress prices, sources said. Many plate end-use markets remain at strong or at least at steady levels, especially for heavy machinery, rail cars and the heavier material needs within the automotive market.

Others, however, are said to be slowing. "We haven’t seen as much from the bridge or energy sector," the first service center source said. "That kind of had its run through government incentives."

The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy, for example, is set to expire by year-end. Plate sources have noted that because of the long-term lead times for such energy products, the plate market has already started to see a lag in buying from this sector.


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