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Steel imports rebound as construction returns

Keywords: Tags  steel, Wade Elliott, Tampa Port Authority, wire rod, rebar, hot-rolled, pipe, CSX catherine ngai

NEW YORK — A rebound in steel product imports is in the works, according to the Tampa Port Authority, with a burgeoning domestic real estate sector and new transportation options lending the market some renewed strength.

"We did feel a significant drop off (in steel imports) after the real estate bubble burst during the recession. But we’ve recently seen some new products come through the port, which we haven’t traditionally seen," Wade Elliott, senior director of marketing at the Tampa Port Authority, told AMM during the Port of Tampa’s 24th Annual Steel Conference. "The market seems to be moving in a direction now, overall, that we’re encouraged about. The outlook is pretty bullish."

The Florida hub traditionally is a major destination for construction-related steel products—including wire rod and reinforcing bar—as well as for hot-rolled coil and pipe. More recently, the port has seen other products come through, including pipe for the natural gas industry and aluminum billet from Russia, Elliott said.

The port’s chief executive told AMM last year that early signs of steel imports returning to Florida were apparent, particularly as a result of an uptick in construction as well as container business growth due to the Panama Canal expansion (, Feb. 15, 2012).

"Our steel tonnage was up 19 percent in 2012 vs. 2011. Our import steel products were up 88 percent and our scrap was up 10 percent," Elliott said this month. "The total (growth) was 19 percent. We also saw an 82-percent increase quarter over quarter in steel."

A major boost to the port this year will be the scheduled completion of the Interstate 4/Crosstown Connector highway in November. "It’ll run through downtown Tampa (and) part of that project includes a dedicated truck ramp coming to the port. This will mean that the thousands of trucks moving in and out of the port every day won’t have to meander their way through residential neighborhoods. It’ll make movement more efficient," Elliott said

The port also inaugurated a new rail terminal with CSX Corp. last fall, which will help the port deliver product beyond the "traditional customer base" to "the entire eastern seaboard," he said.

Looking forward, new infrastructure opportunities, along with a growing construction market, will mean strong steel volumes ahead, Elliott said. "To date, we’ve seen good performance in the first quarter. I would attribute it to a couple of things. One, the overall economic recovery. The second is the real estate market and construction growth in Florida."

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