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W. Coast steel plate market resists price hikes

Keywords: Tags  steel, carbon plate, plate prices, West Coast plate market, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — The West Coast carbon steel plate market has failed to respond to mill price hike attempts as service centers, in particular, struggle to maintain levels seen in late 2012.

Delivered prices for warehouse grades and sizes from domestic mills outside the West Coast are estimated at $780 to $800 per ton ($39 to $40 per hundredweight) to larger service centers. That means domestic mills’ late-2012 announced price hikes—which, before the holidays, were given a chance of at least partially catching on—haven’t taken hold and in some cases appear to be giving way to eroding prices.

Depending on the buyer, this represents a price that’s essentially flat with the fourth quarter or possibly down by about $20 per ton ($1 per cwt).

"We really thought that part of that would stick, but no part of it has held," one buyer said of hikes that at one point totaled $100 per ton ($5 per cwt). Lead times from domestic producers are reportedly as short as three to five weeks to rolling, not including shipping from the Midwest, an interval one market observer said was as close to "hand to mouth" as possible.

Imports, considered the main culprit behind a current inventory overhang, are still seen in the market, although South Korea isn’t as active as it was in 2012. Instead, Taiwanese plate has reportedly been offered for March/April shipment at around $740 to $760 per ton ($37 to $38 per cwt), still not enough to attract buyers who are nervous about what they see as continuing oversupply.

Moreover, in some cases it might make sense for buyers to source material from their colleagues rather than from the mill.

"I’m seeing a lot of ‘excess inventory’ " notices from other distributors, one service center buyer said. "When you start seeing those lists, it tells you people still have way too much inventory."

Although the service center market was described as slow, some fabrication segments—including bridge construction and some energy-related sectors—appear firm.

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