NEW YORK Carbon steel plate prices have held steady for three straight weeks, and unless a seasonal uptick in demand materializes or ferrous scrap prices rise, pricing appears unlikely to see any upward momentum in the near-term, market sources said.
Steel plate buyers said they have continued to hold off purchasing in recent weeks, having seen limited customer activity in the first week of the new year and short mill lead times from most suppliers.
"People who might have been a bit slow because of inventory and the year-endthey need to have steel ... but I believe with the short lead times, people feel comfortable in not making immediate decisions," one mill source told AMM.
Distributors and fabricators agreed with that bearish assessment.
"I dont think service centers are taking many positions on inventory," one Midwest distributor said. "Most of us are in a holding pattern to see how things shake out."
He said that without the certainty that he can pass along rising costs to his customers, he will refrain from purchasing any new material.
In addition to the short lead times, buyers reported readily available inventories at some mills.
"They still have a lot of inventory on the floor," a second Midwest service center source said, citing inventory lists sent Thursday from major domestic plate mills. "You can still get mill lead times through the end of this month."
Meanwhile, mill and distributor sources said they have received inquiries from customers in the opening days of the new year, but its still too soon to determine whether demand will be strong enough to support an increase in prices, they said.
"Ive seen some inquiries, but (customers are) digging out from paperwork, too," one fabricator said, noting that he, like many, was out during the holiday season.
As a result of the low order entry rate, the price of discrete plate remained unchanged at about $37 per hundredweight ($740 per ton) f.o.b. Midwest mill this past week amid limited activity.
Domestic mills have been quoting higher prices following two rounds of price hike announcements last quarter, but they have only achieved about $60 of the full $100-per-ton increase on published prices (amm.com, Dec. 21).
The direction of the January scrap market will also be key in determining whether prices will rise any higher. "I would expect itll really depend on scrap," the second Midwest distributor said.
On Wednesday, one Chicago mill entered the scrap market at flat prices, leading some to speculate the market might be sideways in January.