NEW YORK The steel wire rod and reinforcing bar import sector has been sluggish recently as U.S. mill pricing remains competitive and buyers cautiously eye year-end dynamics.
"Usually around this time of year, people place orders for first-quarter arrival. Some have already booked, but its been going very slowly," one steel trader said. "Buyers dont want to speculate and theyre trying to be conservative. Theyre even willing to pay a larger than normal premium on domestic product if that minimizes their risk."
A second trader agreed. "There isnt a big rush for the first quarter yet," he said. "The domestics are still concerned about filling these last two months."
The slowdown in import activity comes at a time of sluggish domestic market conditions and buyer uncertainty.
"September was a decent month and October was OK. But, were always looking for business," one buyer said.
Of those limited deals being done, wire rod imports into the Port of Houston is now selling at $585 to $600 per ton per ton, sources said, compared with domestic prices of about $670 per ton f.o.b. Midwest mill, while reinforcing bar to the Port of Houston is at $550 to $600 per ton vs. domestic prices of about $650 per ton f.o.b. Midwest mill.
But some speculate domestic mills might soon raise prices after an increase in AMMs consumer buying price for shredded automotive scrap in the Chicago market (amm.com, Nov. 7).
A potential domestic price announcement could tip the scales in favor of importers, sources said.
"There seems to be a lot of expectation on an increase. I sure hope it happens," a third trader said. "Theres still product coming in, and Im hoping that if domestic mills increase, itll help me sell."
The buyer agreed that a price hike could be coming, noting that he was still buying on an as-needed basis as he awaited more clarity.
"Im looking at the landscape now and figuring out what were going to do next. The mills look like theyre rattling their sabers for an increase come the first of December. That will probably happen," the buyer said. "The domestic mills arent super full. Theyre hoping to be more full."
But while imports have slowed down, the reduction in volumes hasnt yet been reflected in Commerce data, which shows arrivals of material ordered about three months prior.
Rebar imports for October looked on course to rise to 70,393 tonnes as material arriving from Turkey jumped to 45,291 tonnes, according to license application data from the Commerce Departments Import Administration. Thats the highest figure since April, and is up from imports of 41,956 tonnes in September, when Turkish arrivals totaled 8,529 tonnes.
Some 78,604 tonnes of wire rod were licensed to hit U.S. shores in October, down from 80,111 tonnes in September.