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Steel import market looks steady: AIIS survey

Keywords: Tags  steel traders, importers, foreign steel, David Phelps, AIIS, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — Steel traders anticipate a steady market in the upcoming months, with many agreeing that steel import volumes are unlikely to change in the near term.

The majority of respondents in an American Institute for International Steel (AIIS) market survey said that, based on orders currently being placed, imports will remain the same for the next three to five months.

But 96 percent of respondents expect hot-rolled sheet imports to increase in the next two months, based on already-placed orders, although 78 percent expect orders will remain the same in the next three to five months.

A number of traders told AMM in the past that hot-rolled deals have been very difficult on the spot market due to softening domestic prices.

“Things are just more or less the same. Business is just the same as it’s always been,” one trader said. “It hasn’t been easy to sell imports all along.”

Some 64 percent of survey participants said cold-rolled imports would remain unchanged, 96 percent said cut-to-length plate orders would stay the same and 100 percent said corrosion-resistant steel and wire rod volumes would remain steady for the next three to five months.

“Business is OK for us. Orders are smaller and I’m afraid my inventory is losing value,” said one flat-rolled buyer, adding that there is little incentive currently to buy imported material since prices are so close to domestic prices. “I hear that domestic mills are lowering their coated product prices. To the market, that means things are softening. What I can tell you is that it means our inventory is going down, too.”

Comparing booking prices, 100 percent of survey participants said that corrosion-resistant steel prices remain stable compared with one to two months ago, while 96 percent of respondents said that cut-to-length plate prices remain stable.

While domestic players and importers usually enjoy a healthy uptick at the start of the year, the expected bump seems to have been delayed, according to David Phelps, president of the AIIS.

“Some believe a seasonality uptick is on its way. But it’s hard to know where we are and when it will happen,” he told AMM. “It usually happens in January or February, but a lot of people think it’s going to be delayed.”

Some 2.2 million tonnes of steel were expected to hit U.S. shores in December, a 12-month low, according to license data from the Commerce Department’s Import Administration.

But just because things are steady, traders said, doesn’t mean that business conditions look good. In fact, traders say that selling foreign steel has not got any easier.

“I don’t think anything has ‘zip’ at all. In fact, everything is just blah,” a second trader said. “There’s no zip in the spot market and it’s just as dull as can be. I may be a broken record, but it’s really just dull.”

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