NEW YORK U.S. steel exports continued to slide in December, falling to their lowest level in more than a year on major decreases to Canada and Mexico, although full-year figures were higher than in 2011.
Steel leaving U.S. ports totaled 879,053 tonnes in December, down 2.9 percent from 905,404 tonnes the previous month and 19.3 percent below nearly 1.09 million tonnes in December 2011.
Most of the decrease was seen in exports to Canada, which totaled 447,861 tonnes in December, down 11.1 percent from 503,766 tonnes the previous month, and U.S. steel shipments to Mexico fell to 233,125 tonnes, down 12 percent from 265,055 tonnes in November.
However, exports to the Dominican Republic saw a major bounce, with shipments of semifinished material jumping to 14,969 tonnes from less than 20 tonnes in November, while Brazil took 10,269 tonnes of standard rail products, up from 10 tonnes in November, and Panama increased its line pipe purchases to 16,502 tonnes from 390 tonnes in the same comparison.
In carbon and alloy products, most of the decrease was logged by hot-dipped galvanized sheet and strip, which dropped 19.8 percent from November to 74,070 tonnes, while exports of line pipe fell 14.4 percent to 39,304 tonnes.
But increases were logged for heavy structural shapes, which jumped 12.6 percent to 104,742 tonnes in December, while exports of semifinished material soared to 17,096 tonnes from 2,371 tonnes in November.
For the full year, U.S. steel exports totaled 13.7 million tonnes, climbing 2.2 percent from 2011 to beat the 2008 record, according to the American Institute for International Steel (AIIS).
"Weaker conditions at the end of 2012 showed up in the year-to-year comparisons of 2012 vs. 2011, with the growing Mexican market posting the best results, increasing nearly 700,000 tons," AIIS president David Phelps said in a statement. "While setting a record for exports of U.S.-made steel is gratifying, the slump at the end of the year is cause for concern, at least about early 2013 export business opportunities."
But Phelps said the signs that "some pundits see for improved conditions later in the first quarter give some reason for (very) cautious optimism at this point."