LOS ANGELES Demand for
flat-rolled steel remains unspectacular but nevertheless
consistent on the West Coast as mills continue to push for
Service centers in particular
described their traffic as "slow but steady." For many of them,
thats an improvement over a market in which demand had
been lagging badly in recent months.
Both of the regions major
flat-rolled producers announced price hikes effective Jan. 24.
California Steel Industries Inc. (CSI), Fontana, Calif.,
boosted cold-rolled and galvanized sheet by $45 per ton ($2.25
per hundredweight) and hot-rolled by $30 per ton ($1.50 per
cwt), while USS-Posco Industries Inc., Pittsburg, Calif.,
boosted tags on cold-rolled, galvanized and pickled and oiled
sheet by $45 per ton.
"The increases have had kind of
a lukewarm reception, but at least we stopped any bleeding,"
one buyer said. Moreover, he and others noted that the West
Coast didnt see flat-rolled prices decline as much as the
rest of the country did early this year.
"If you need a decent amount of
tons, its probably still a buyers market," a market
source said, noting that early this week lead times for
rollings at mills east of the Rockies were less than two
CSI told customers this week
that it had closed its March order book for galvanized sheet,
according to market sources. A CSI spokeswoman couldnt be
reached for comment Feb. 14.
Hot-rolled coil is reported in a
range of $670 to $700 per ton ($33.50 to $35 per cwt)
delivered, depending on the size of the buyer and its history
with the mill.
Meanwhile, the price advantage
of Chinese cold-rolled coil over domestic cold rolled appears
to be narrowing even further. Quotes for April shipment rose 50
cents to $1 per cwt over previous offers to $35 to $35.50 per
cwt ex-dock, a spread some buyers estimated at only about $20
to $30 per ton less than the lowest-priced domestic cold-rolled
available. In contrast, Chinese mills had an advantage as great
as $120 per ton over domestic mills at one point last year.
However, market sources caution
that many players in China are still on vacation for the Lunar
New Year, and its not clear just how competitive traders
might become once they return and start bargaining in earnest.
Some recent flat-rolled offers from South Korea also represent
price hikes that narrow the gap with domestic product.
"Im not seeing any imports
that I consider very attractive," one hot-rolled buyer said,
although he noted that previously ordered low-priced material
had yet to arrive at West Coast ports. Also, some larger buyers
have taken advantage of Mexican hot-rolled for April delivery
priced to larger buyers at an estimated $620 to $640 per ton
($31 to $32 per cwt).
For others, paying $10 to $15
per ton (50 to 75 cents per cwt) more on higher-cost items such
as galvanized is a workable option.
"We have the luxury today of
balancing out our inventory by making spot buys of just a
couple of truckloads" of domestic material, a buyer said,
noting that during periods of more-robust demand it often
wasnt possible to buy just 40 to 50 tons at the mill.