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Inventories weighing on W. Coast plate market

Keywords: Tags  steel, carbon plate, West Coast plate market, South Korea plate, Japan plate, plate imports, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — A glut of carbon steel plate inventory could continue to drag the West Coast market down through year-end.

"There’s still just too much plate hanging around here, and unfortunately too much of that is lying in my warehouse," one distributor said, estimating it could take at least a month to work off the surplus.

Not including the latest announced round of $50-per-ton hikes, the quoted base price for warehouse grades and sizes of discrete plate from domestic mills east of the Rockies to medium-sized service centers is estimated at $830 to $850 per ton ($41.50 to $42.50 per hundredweight) delivered. However, for many distributors, buying has slowed to a trickle in a resale market that they say continues to be weighed down by heavy import inventories.

Moreover, plate rolled on the West Coast from foreign slabs—which normally don’t fall under domestic-melt "Buy America" restrictions—has reportedly been offered at $760 to $780 per ton ($38 to $39 per cwt).

Market sources also said they’re no longer getting quotes on a regular basis from South Korea, the region’s largest offshore plate supplier, amid indications that its mills fear possible trade actions by domestic producers stemming from aggressive import pricing earlier in the year.

The pace of imports on the West Coast this year—which peaked at 22,079 tons in June—continued to lose steam in September to log its greatest month-on-month decline, with total arrivals of cut-to-length plate falling 53.5 percent to 9,974 tons from 21,431 tons in August, according to SteelFacts.

Moreover, imports from South Korea plummeted to 1,461 tons in September, down 78.2 percent from 6,704 tons the prior month. Imports from Japan, while also down sharply, were still greater than South Korea’s. Shipments to the region from Japan totaled 2,391 tons in September, down 69.3 percent from 7,795 tons in August.

West Coast imports of cut-to-length plate totaled 147,053 tons during the first nine months of the year, up 46.6 percent from 100,275 tons in the same 2011 period.

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