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Plate prices feel pinch of oversupplied market

Keywords: Tags  plate prices, steel prices, Midwest, sheet, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — The domestic steel plate market continues to face downward pressure as buyers remain wary of quiet end markets, sources have told AMM.

“It’s been kind of quiet. Nothing has changed on the plate side. We’re all waiting for something to explode, for something to get going,” said one Midwest buyer. “A jumpstart to this economy, big contracts to be awarded, something major to happen—but it’s just not happening.”

Market participants said discrete plate prices slid slightly to $35.50 per hundredweight ($710 per ton) f.o.b. Midwest mill this past week, down from the prior week’s prices of $36 per cwt ($720 per ton) from mills said to be carrying plentiful supply. Plate in the South and Northeast is said to be priced lower at $35 per cwt ($700 per ton), sources said.

Much of the reason for the depressed plate prices continues to be domestic mills carrying oversupplied prime-grade inventories, while others added that February’s lowered ferrous scrap levels do not add much room to support higher, and even steady, prices.

“Prices seem to be under pressure. Lead times are down—even to three weeks—and it shows that the market isn’t there at all,” said one mill source. “My feeling is that things won’t pick up until the early second quarter. The first quarter is a washout and service centers are really quiet.”

While a number of domestic mills hiked sheet prices in late January by some $40 to $50 a ton, plate mills—which at times mirror moves in the sheet market—have not followed suit, buyers reported earlier this month (, Feb. 1). The plate market, others added, has remained very competitive.

“There is some business out there, but things are very competitive on the pricing (in the end markets), so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with what domestic mills want,” said a second Midwest buyer. “Usually, the first quarter is our strongest. But that’s definitely not the case this year. This is usually the time with the strongest uptick in pricing and demand, but we’re not seeing any of that in the Midwest.”

Buyers also reported that prices for heavier-gauge plate seem to have “dropped quite substantially.”

Some said there are bright spots, including the agriculture and heavy machinery sectors. However, they added that mills remain hungry for business.

“Things are good and steady right now. (However), the mills have been responding really quickly (to my inquiries). And they’re quick to respond with their quotes,” said a third Midwest buyer.

Imports, on the other hand, have continued to slow, as some 46,622 tonnes of cut-to-length plate were scheduled to hit U.S. shores in January, according to import license application data from the Commerce Department’s Import Administration. That compares to the 101,151 tonnes of plate that arrived in the same month of 2011.

Imported plate prices have hovered around $35.50 to $36.50 per cwt ($710 to $730 per ton) to the Port of Houston, causing difficulty in the spot market, traders say.

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