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Steel pipe prices fizzle in face of slack demand

Keywords: Tags  tube, pipe, hollow structural sections, HSS, flat-rolled coil, drill rig count, Thorsten Schier

NEW YORK — Tube and pipe prices have either stayed flat or declined on what sources call surprisingly slack demand early in the year.

"Our phone has not had one call this morning," a source at a West Coast distributor said. "It’s just really slow."

Even sources who have reported seeing a slight uptick in demand said that it was less than they had hoped.

"It’s slightly better than at the end of last year—which it had to be, because the end of last year was horrific," a source at a Mid-Atlantic distributor said.

As a result, prices dropped early this month as mills looked to entice buyers. However, recently announced domestic price hikes and talk of increases from Asian producers have since stabilized tags, sources said.

AMM’s January price for hollow structural sections (HSS) has fallen to $930 per ton ($46.50 per hundredweight), down 1.1 percent from $940 per ton ($47 per cwt) last month and off 7 percent from $1,000 per ton ($50 per cwt) in January last year. Prices for most other tube and pipe products either stayed flat or logged decreases this month.

Any near-term increase in tags will depend on whether the flat-rolled hikes hold, sources said. "If business improves from today’s level, the increases will stick," the Mid-Atlantic source said.

However, all respondents to a recent AMM survey expected tube and pipe prices to be flat in coming weeks and months, citing short lead times and a lack of justification for the flat-rolled increase, since scrap prices are flat and demand lackluster.

"The price increases won’t amount to anything, nor will they stick," a Midwest distributor source said. "We’re going to need another scrap increase before flat-rolled prices go up."

On a positive note for energy tubulars, the U.S. and Canadian drill rig count rose by 24 from a week earlier, according to the latest report from Houston-based Baker Hughes Inc. (, Jan. 28), albeit down 316 rigs from a year ago.

Sources were still wondering about the status of a possible trade case against foreign energy tubular producers, most notably South Korea, after rumors spread that a filing was imminent (, Jan. 16). "We’re all waiting for the damn dumping suit," one trader said.

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