LOS ANGELES U.S. imports of wide-flange beams from South Korea, widely expected to taper off in February, are instead surging past January levels.
Import permit applications for Korean wide-flange beams due to arrive this month totaled 20,068 tonnes as of Feb. 26, up 63.3 percent from 12,291 tonnes for all of January, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Departments Import Administration division.
South Korea, which accounted for 92.6 percent of the total 21,665 tonnes of wide-flange beam permit applications submitted thus far in February, also took the top spot in January at 12,291 tonnes, accounting for 62 percent of the total 19,821 tonnes last month and far surpassing runner-up Spain at 3,576 tonnes.
The second-largest import applicant in February, Luxembourg, lagged far behind Korea, with wide-flange beam import applications of 1,144 tonnes through Feb. 26.
For the first two months of the year, Korea accounted for 78 percent of the year-to-date total of 41,486 tonnes of wide-flange beam permit applications.
But many observers had expected Korean applications to decline in February, in line with an earlier pattern of arrivals front-loaded into the first month of a quarter.
While the import data might not yet be cause for panic in the domestic industry, it nevertheless is a "surprise to see back-to-back months so high" from Korea, one market source said.
The West Coast is generally considered the primary market for Korean beams, but market sources said the tonnages involved in this years initial data might be too great to be absorbed by that region alone.
Korean wide-flange beams now arriving at West Coast docks were probably sold to many distributors last year at $760 to $780 per ton ($38 to $39 per hundredweight) ex-dock, market sources said, although a limited number of large service centers might have paid a lower price. This compares with a current published domestic f.o.b. mill price of $39 per cwt for core beam sizes, not including freight of $4 per cwt or more to the West Coast. Prices for imported beams were recently quoted in the Gulf Coast market for second-quarter arrival at about $36 per cwt, market sources said.