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Wire rod market wary as import influx expected

Keywords: Tags  wire rod, imports, steel traders, steel buyers, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — U.S. shores are set to see a large influx of foreign steel over the next few months, and wire rod buyers are waiting to get a better picture of the market before they make decisions about sourcing material.

Major orders of Chinese rod are slated to arrive between now and the end of spring, buyers and traders told AMM, and while domestic prices rose last month, buyers said that those who purchased foreign material stand to benefit.

"If you bought a lot of imports (last year), you rang the bell and grabbed the brass ring," one buyer said. "If you didn’t, you are so screwed. There’s an awful lot of gnashing of teeth right now for the smaller guys who bought domestic."

Market participants said that business was fairly slow over the year-end holiday, and buyers are mulling their next steps as they return to work. "Over the holidays, things got really quiet," one trader said. "Now that we’re getting into the new year, there’s some buying interest. I think everyone is price-checking and waiting on decisions. We’re gearing up (for) that."

However, some buyers warned that demand for foreign material may wane, as some anticipate that a large foreign supply coupled with early signs of scrap moving sideways might lead domestic prices to soften in the near term.

"I think people are now fearful of buying imports because ... people think scrap will move sideways. If it continues like this in January and February, there’s an awfully good chance that it will go down in March, April and even May," a second buyer said. "My perception is that in the winter months, scrap might not go up as it historically has. People are now saying, ‘Wow, I don’t want to buy (foreign) because by the time it gets here the deal may not be quite as good.’"

Buyers said mill lead times have shortened, which could indicate that domestic mills are growing hungry for more business.

"Mill lead times are ridiculously short," the first buyer said. "It takes me longer to buy a six-pack of beer than it takes me to get a load (of steel) from them."

Turkey, a traditional wire rod supplier, has been uncompetitive in the U.S. market since early last year. Other traders said that the price differential between Chinese and Turkish rod is about $2 to $3 per hundredweight, with Turkish prices trending upward.

And with domestic mills hungry and business conditions lackluster, the upward movement may be more difficult than expected, buyers said. "We were dead for December. Wire prices, as we speak, are in free fall. We’re seeing the impact of low-priced material now, and I can see lots of potential scenarios (for the future)," the first buyer said.

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