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Flat-rolled steel import market reports uptick

Keywords: Tags  steel traders, flat-rolled steel, hot-rolled coil, cold-rolled coil, medium plate, carbon plate, imported steel, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — The flat-rolled steel import market is seeing a slight pickup in activity, aided by rising domestic prices and first-quarter contract orders, market participants told AMM.

"Business seems to be slowly on the rebound. We’ve definitely seen a slight uptick in orders," one trader said. "We’re seeing some interest on certain products—like cold-rolled and galvanized, and even some plate—but things are moving slowly, and there are still people who are very, very nervous."

A number of domestic mills have raised prices by $40 and $50 per ton in recent weeks in response to increased raw material costs (, Nov. 7). With higher domestic prices, the overall pricing benchmarks have moved up, traders said.

"The really ugly deals—where you could get some super-discounted material at the domestic level—are now gone," a second trader said. "But if you never got that deal, chances are your prices haven’t changed all that much. The import pricing has been sort of the same now for months. What’s changed is that the domestic mills have gone up and down some $100, and you have wild gyrations overlaid by steady import pricing—so, sometimes business is good and sometimes it’s bad."

Transactions for imported hot-rolled coil into the Port of Houston have been rare and stand at around $580 to $600 per ton, sources said, compared with domestic prices of about $630 per ton f.o.b. Midwest mill. Transactions for imported cold-rolled coil remain at $660 to $680 per ton compared with domestic prices of $730 per ton f.o.b. Midwest mill.

Chinese cold-rolled, which had previously gained traction in the U.S. market, has been more difficult to sell as a result of increased Chinese prices and falling U.S. tags just prior to the recent increases (, Nov. 8).

"Business isn’t great. It isn’t awful. It’s just kind of plodding along. There’s no real excitement to it right now and no one is hedging the market by buying lots of imports," the second trader said.

Medium plate transactions are between $700 and $720 per ton compared with domestic carbon steel plate prices of $680 per ton f.o.b. mill Midwest.

Buyers who are still concerned about economic direction following the presidential election said that buying activity hasn’t picked up since the beginning of November.

"Anyone who said the elections were going to change their buying patterns—well, they basically were dreaming a fairy tale," one buyer said.

But despite the rhetoric of domestic overcapacity and long lead times for foreign product, others were certain that the economy would get better in the near term.

"Everyone is so afraid to buy anything. Add to that there aren’t that many countries that have interest in shipping here anymore," a third trader said. "But overall, the economy is continuing to heal and will get better. I think steel demand will also get better, which will be good for traders if the mills would only keep production down and prices up."

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