NEW YORK Aluminum billet producers this week reported an uptick in calls from consumers seeking metal.
AMMs spot billet premiums remain in a range of 11 to 13 cents per pound on sales of about 2,500 tonnes of metal.
"Calls are coming in now. It was light (last week), but now bookings are coming in. Id say weve got three or four spot quotes out there that well probably get," one producer told AMM.
"Im starting to get calls this week for people looking for metal," a second producer said. "Most of the extruders Ive talked to have had good bookings and are comfortable with where business is."
Demand from end markets is seen as robust, but several sources attributed the rise in inquiries to the ongoing concerns over Alcoa Inc.s Aluminerie de Becancour (ABI) smelter in Quebec.
Since September, Alcoa and the United Steelworkers union have been trying to renew a labor contract covering some 900 workers at the 400,000-tonne-per-year smelter, leaving some nervous that billet supply will diminish if negotiations turn sour and workers strike or are locked out (amm.com, Jan. 4).
"Some of the spot business we did (this week) are normally ABI customers," the first producer said. "Its not enormous quantities, so I wouldnt call it panic buying. I think theyre just hedging their bets."
As talks continue in Quebec with no signs of a resolution, producers and consumers are taking a closer look at their inventories.
"I wouldnt say the ABI situation is keeping me awake at night, but February is looking stronger. We may need to reshuffle our portfolio," a third producer said.
One ABI customer told AMM he hasnt had to go to the spot market yet, as he loaded up on extra inventory late last year. But this could change if Pittsburgh-based Alcoa and the USW fail to come to a resolution soon.
"We got a bit ahead of that game. Weve carried more inventory since December and are fine through February. If talks still arent settled, well have to decide what to do going forward," the consumer said. "If something does happen, it will make it tough. November is one thing, but going into spring and summer? It will not be good."
Still, while most agree that a lockout or strike at ABI would make North American billet even more scarce this year, others say its not as clear-cut.
"If there is a lockout or a strike, Im sure theyll get people running the facility," the second producer said. "Plus we dont know how much metal theyre sitting on up there."
Imports from the Middle East could also offset any tightness for a couple of months, although a fourth producer said its risky for North American consumers to rely on this metal, which is typically bound for China.