NEW YORK A slow start to
2013 has left some North American flat-rolled steel buyers less
than certain that January will register the previously expected
boost in demand.
"I feel like nothing has changed
much. Theres (still) going to be a struggle between input
costs and demand. Thats going to define the month of
January," one Midwest service center source said.
January traditionally offers the
steel sector a welcome pick-up in demand after year-end
destocking, and while its too early to say whether that
will be the case this year, indications for the first few days
of 2013 suggest a substantial boost may not materialize this
month, sources said.
"A lot of buyers are off until
Monday," a second Midwest service center source said Wednesday.
And while some customers have placed orders, they have not yet
authorized all the shipments, he said.
Other steel buyers said they had
begun negotiating some spot buys to be placed in the first or
second week of January, but so far most of their
customers needs have been met with existing inventories
and contractual agreements.
As a result, some steel buyers
said they think the recent trend of stagnating or sliding
flat-rolled spot pricing is poised to continue.
"(Mills are) trying to hold the
market; they dont want it to slip," the second Midwest
distributor source said of his negotiations with mill sales
representatives so far this year. But if prices do resume the
backslide seen in early December, "the message then will be how
weak the market really is."
The price of hot-rolled sheet
f.o.b. Midwest mill fell at the beginning of December to an
average of $32 per hundredweight ($640 per ton), down slightly
from $32.25 per cwt ($645 per ton) previously, and remained
there throughout the month amid minimal activity.
The slow kick-off to 2013 has
left some buyers hesitant to try to forecast demand.
"We dont have a lot of
information yet," a third Midwest service center source said.
"Shipments were slower in December, and what will happen this
month I dont even know. ... I think we wont really
see whats going to happen until maybe by the end of next
week, (when) youll get a feel for what shipments will
really be like."