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Plate market mixed, prices face pressure

Keywords: Tags  steel plate, ArcelorMittal, SSAB, Nucor, hot-rolled coils, lead times, scrap, plate prices Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — The steel plate market remained steady this past week, although sources are mixed on the direction prices are headed given shortened lead times and anticipated downward pressure on raw materials.

"The mills are almost game playing right now (in terms of the increases)," a Midwest service center source said. "I’m supportive of higher costs from the mills, but only if the market supports it. The problem is that demand is down significantly year over year."

Nucor Corp., SSAB Americas and ArcelorMittal USA LLC have all hiked plate prices by $60 per ton ($3 per hundredweight) since the beginning of the year (, March 8). Sources told AMM this past week that prices remained steady at $720 per ton ($36 per cwt).

"Overall, demand hasn’t changed all that drastically, but business has improved in the last two weeks for sure," one mill source said. "The signal, though, is that people who have delayed decisions to buy are finally buying. We feel like the market has moved up at least some $20 to $25 per ton from before the increases."

However, the mill source added that an expected fall in raw material costs next month could exert downward pressure on prices.

"Our expectation is that quarter two will be the traditional quarter one since quarter one was a failure," the mill source said. "We’re seeing hot-rolled coils under pressure again, which might mean plate will feel pressure too. There’s a bit of downward pressure on pricing going forward (since) I think scrap isn’t looking very stable."

Shipbuilding, along with the heavy material handling sectors, has seen some strengthening, sources added.

"February was strong for us, especially for a shortened month. Things have ebbed and flowed—one day it’s nice and the next it’s stormy. Everyone is sitting on the edge of their seat scared about what’s going to happen next," a Southeast buyer source said.

Offerings of commodity plate from South Korea and heavy-gauge plate from Turkey are also beginning to enter the market, sources noted. Imported plate has largely remained uncompetitive since the start of the year on the back of softened prices, traders said, but that could change if the plate price hikes stick.

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