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Steel plate prices inch up but Jan. uncertain

Keywords: Tags  steel plate, carbon plate, discrete plate, steel distributors, Chris Prentice

NEW YORK — Domestic steel plate prices have started to inch up, but with orders slow this month, market sources said it remains to be seen where January prices will settle.

Steel buyers said that quotes for material for delivery in the new year are higher now that many mills’ lead times have pushed out into mid-January. But they said steel buyers looking for material right now are buying small tons for December arrival.

"The market’s just not there yet," one mill source told AMM, noting that many consumers were booking smaller tonnages of products, including A36 carbon plate. These volumes have been placed largely to meet specific orders rather than to build inventories, most service center sources said.

Still, average offers for discrete carbon plate are as high as $39 per hundredweight ($780 per ton), f.o.b. Midwest mill, representing the full $100 per ton that domestic mills sought in announcing two back-to-back price increases last month. At the time, the average price of carbon plate was around $34 per cwt ($680 per ton), f.o.b. Midwest mill.

"They don’t seem willing to budge from those. There’s a lot of pressure on the mills to make money," a source at one Midwest distributor said, although he noted that he had placed large buys prior to the mills’ price increases and had not yet paid the higher prices.

"I do need a little," a second Midwest distributor source said. "But it is December; we tend to keep our inventories down."

The price of discrete carbon plate inched up to $36 per hundredweight ($720 per ton) this past week from $35 per cwt ($700 per ton) previously as buyers bought small quantities of material.

Sources agreed that there is a general sentiment that pricing has reached a floor. How much it will rise remains to be seen, however, as demand has tailed off and is likely to remain subdued through the end of the year.

"If we get traction, it’ll be next week," the mill source said.

Domestic mills saw a "flurry of activity" after announcing its first $50-per-ton increase on published prices in early November (, Nov. 7), the second distributor source said. That flurry has tailed off thanks to depressed demand, sources agreed.

"Many of the mills, including us, are full for December rolling based on orders taken last month, and those are at lower numbers," the mill source said. "So, then it’s easier to take a position for January at a higher number."

Still, distributors and fabricators who said they need plate for December delivery said that domestic mills have material available, either direct from certain mills which still have December rolling available or which have on-the-ground inventories in certain locations.

Amid that readily available material, some buyers have said they do not feel compelled yet to book January material at the higher offer levels.

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