NEW YORK At least five domestic steel mills have increased sheet prices as market participants cite steady activity and an anticipated rise in ferrous scrap prices next month.
U.S. Steel Corp. appeared to lead the move, hiking its published base prices for all carbon flat-rolled steel products by $50 per ton ($2.50 per hundredweight) effective immediately, according to an internal memo dated Feb. 26 (amm.com, Feb. 27).
West Chester, Ohio-based AK Steel Corp., Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp. and Portage, Ind.-based NLMK USA Inc. quickly followed suit, announcing on Feb. 27 their own $50-per-ton base price increases on all new orders.
ArcelorMittal USA LLC was also calling customers to set a new minimum base price for April shipments, sources said.
Other steelmakers, including those on the West Coast, were said to be mulling similar moves.
While none of the mills cited reasons for the increase, market sources said an expected rise in March scrap prices is likely one factor behind the pricing push. Next months scrap prices have yet to settle, but steel mill buyers and ferrous scrap suppliers told AMM last week that they expected scrap prices to inch back up to January levels due to increased supply tightness (amm.com, Feb. 19).
"In theory, if scrap goes up itll make everyone more comfortable," one steel mill source said.
An improving demand situation could also help lend the sheet price increases some real traction, sources said.
"Im scratching my head right now, but it looks like the pendulum may have swung a little bit," a southern service center source said. "Demand isnt horrid and this could gain a little traction."
Last month, a number of mills hiked prices by $40 to $50 per ton ($2 to $2.50 per cwt), prompting a temporary uptick in prices. However, most of that upward momentum appeared to give way in early February as demand stalled out, sources said (amm.com, Feb. 13), with most transactions this week reported at $620 per ton ($31 per cwt) or lower.
SteelBenchmarkers latest report, released Feb. 27, also showed a recent softening, with U.S. hot-rolled band prices down 2.9 percent to $676 per tonne ($614 per ton) from $696 per tonne ($631 per ton) two weeks earlier.
But with demand once again picking up, sources said this round of increases could have more legs.
"Overall, February business was a lot better than January," one Midwest service center source said. "I was surprised to see an announcement this early, because I thought mills would plan one for the beginning of March. Theyll have a hard time as long as these lead times are this short ... (but) businesswise things are picking up in the construction sector and will through spring."
The mill source agreed that demand again appeared to be on an upswing.
"Demand is very delicate right now and prices have been going down. Were getting too close (to that breakeven number) and we have to make money," he said. "Ive been seeing, however, a lot of inquiries in the past week. Bookings have been OK, so well have to see more inquiries before bookings start."
However, others expressed hesitation about the new prices sticking, especially as some service center buyers continue to sit out of the market.
"The increases out there are highly questionable. Its like the last one that happened in Januaryitll be a wait-and-see period," a second Midwest service center source said.