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Rod market fails to secure full price increase

Keywords: Tags  wire rod, mesh, steel prices, fiscal cliff, China, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — Wire rod prices have risen in recent weeks but a slowdown in demand and pressure from imports have prevented price hikes from being fully realized, sources said.

A round of $50- to $55-a-ton price hikes initiated last month helped push some transaction prices higher but buyers reported that quiet end markets, a lack of real demand and fiscal uncertainty prevented mills from achieving the full amount (, Nov. 14).

Mesh-quality low-carbon wire rod prices transacted at $33.50 per hundredweight ($670 per ton), up from November prices of $32.25 per cwt ($645 per ton), while industrial-quality low-carbon rod transacted at $34 per cwt ($690 per ton), up from $32.60 per cwt ($652 per ton). High-carbon wire rod prices have inched up to $35.25 per cwt ($705 per ton) from $34.90 per cwt ($698 per ton), while cold-heading quality rod is up to $38 per cwt ($760 per ton) from $36 per cwt ($720 per ton).

As domestic steelmakers try to hold on to that $50-a-ton increase, buyers have cited partial success.

“I don’t think anyone can say that the full increase was a hard and fast $50. They’re getting it in some places, but I think people are negotiating hard in particular instances,” said a buyer. “Business has been pretty bad.”

Mill sources also agreed that business has been slow, citing weaker demand and buyers only asking for what they need.

“No one is rushing out to buy inventory. Business has been fairly brisk,” one mill source said. “The only difference is that people are waiting till the last minute to make inventory buys. Other than that, no one wants to go out and load up. We’ve certainly seen demand being smaller.”

Others say imports could be a factor in domestic prices failing to stick. Since the fall, a number of traders and buyers said they anticipated large shipments of Chinese rod to hit U.S. shores, putting downward pressure on steelmakers.

While only 58,218 tonnes of wire rod were set to hit U.S. ports in November, according to license data from Commerce Department’s Import Administration—down from the 68,710 tonnes tallied in October—those numbers are expected to increase, with bookings now being made through early May, traders said.

“I’m trying to figure out if I want to make import buys (right now),” a second buyer said. “Business isn’t that great with the mills and some of them are on fewer shifts.”

The buyer added that when mills ramp back up in the new year, prices will likely increase, allowing for more foreign material to be sold in the market.

But as market participants look ahead to potential issues in the new year—including a potential failure to resolve the fiscal cliff—the primary course of action seems to be wait and see.

“Forecasts say it’ll get better, but that hasn’t materialized,” the first buyer added. “We’re seeing slight positive signs out there ...but we’re not going to start building inventory on wire rod just to take advantage of something that we don’t know will be there.”

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