NEW YORK The domestic steel plate market continued to soften this past week as a result of oversupply and lackluster demand, despite a recent uptick in steel sheet prices.
Domestic mills are said to be quoting around $37 per hundredweight ($740 per ton) for discrete carbon plate in the Midwest and Southeast, down from reported mid-January quotes of around $38 per cwt ($760 per ton). Actual sales prices are lower, however, with most market players reporting spot transactions this past week at around $36 per cwt ($720 per ton) f.o.b. Midwest mill, with some noting $35.50 ($710 per ton) was possible with minimal negotiation.
The weakening plate prices come at a time when a number of sheet mills are looking to raise prices, signaling mixed moves in the flat-rolled steel sector.
A number of domestic millsled by West Chester, Ohio-based AK Steel Corp.hiked published sheet prices $2 to $2.50 per hundredweight ($40 to $50 per ton) in late January (amm.com, Jan. 24).
Those announcements led some in the plate market, which at times mirrors moves in the sheet market, to wonder if they would see a similar increase. However, that hasnt been the case, with plate quotes and transaction prices actually decreasing this past week.
"As for discrete plate, Ive seen about a $1-per-cwt decrease this week. I had an inquiry out to get a couple of truckloads, and I didnt really have to work all that hard to get a lower price," one Midwest service center source said. "I dont think demand is there, and the mills all have fairly substantial inventories."
U.S. plate buyers had said in mid-January that the market was facing downward pressure and that prices would likely soften in coming weeks (amm.com, Jan. 18).
Some steel plate buyers said they were worried that an expected seasonal uptick had not yet arrived.
"Usually, this is our busiest time of yearJanuary, February, Marchand we make the majority of our money," a second Midwest service center source said. "Thats not happening right now. Pricing is usually skyrocketing, but demand isnt there."
Market participants also said that domestic mills continue to carry "substantial" volumes of inventory in regular sizes, contributing to short lead times. As a result, buyers are hesitant to buy more than whats needed.
"Lead times are still very short, and theres no reason to buy in bulk," a third Midwest service center source said. "Things are changing so quickly."
Plate imports have had little traction on the East Coast as a result of downward domestic prices, sources said, although the West Coast continues to be a relatively attractive destination for imported plate.
"Imports right now are not a consideration if it takes three months (for imported) vs. two to four weeks (for domestic) material to arrive," the second service center source added. "If its not at a substantial savings, its not worth it."
Medium plate prices at the Port of Houston have remained steady at $35.50 to $36.50 per cwt ($710 to $730 per ton), sources said.
"Things are coming along, but it isnt easy," one steel trader said. "There are some bright spots in plate, but its been spotty. The interest weve seen is in thicker gauges. And as for pricing, our buyers are saying there are lots of negotiations but its a wait-and-see period."
While its unclear whether prices will continue to soften, buyers cant quite seem to agree on how things look moving forward.
"The plate market has been clogged with cheap domestic product, and I dont think the mills can raise prices right now," a Southern service center source said. "The last couple of weeks in this month havent been bad, although the first couple were awful."