NEW YORK Steel sheet prices have held steady this week as business conditions remain stable though difficult.
"Stability works for us right now. Were not very busy, and were not seeing any prices go up," one buyer said. "Prices are steady and no one is discounting deeper. But in our business, no one talks past the end of their noses in terms of timing. Overall, theres no crystal ball."
Hot-rolled sheet was unchanged from last week at $630 per ton ($31.50 per hundredweight) f.o.b. Midwest mill, although prices closer to $620 per ton ($31 per cwt) were possible for larger tonnages. Cold-rolled sheet was steady at $730 per ton ($36.50 per cwt) f.o.b. Midwest mill, although buyers reported prices closer to $710 to $720 per ton ($35.50 to $36 per cwt) for larger tonnages.
However, business conditions have remained difficult. Market participants said domestic mill sales representatives were calling customers more frequently, a possible indication of weak order books.
"I think (mills) bookings are as strong as they want to see them, and they still have openings in them," a second buyer said. "All that being said, I dont think were backing up (on pricing), but were also not making any leaps forward. Business is at a level that weve learned to live with."
Others, though, said business had picked up slightly this week compared with January, possibly due to pent-up demand from recent weakness.
"Orders have been flying. The last two weeks in December and most of January (werent) great for a lot of people, but that business is finally starting to hit, slowly but surely," a third buyer said. "January is usually a fantastic month from a profit and volume standpoint, but we underperformed this year. Things have gotten a little better and prices are steady."
However, most agree that buying on an as-needed basis is the best way to navigate in the sheet sector. "Most people are ordering when they need it," a fourth buyer said. "There is very little speculation out there."
Corinna Petry, Chicago, contributed to this story.