NEW YORK Lengthening lead times at U.S. copper and brass
product mills are encouraging more buyers to consider imports,
but at least one major domestic mill source said hes
optimistic the trend will be short-lived.
The recent extension of lead
times for copper and brass productsout to as far as 18
weeks for some productshad led service centers to
speculate that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may turn
to imports to meet their customers demands, which could
take business away from domestic mills (
amm.com, March 26).
Imports of copper sheet and
strip may hit U.S. shores for a few months, although one
domestic mill source said it will be short-lived. "There might
be a short-term trend," he told AMM. "We dont
want that to happen. Of course we dont want to see
business go somewhere else. But we understand how it can happen
in the short term."
Lead times for medium-gauge
copper products are anywhere from eight to 14 weeks, out from
four to six weeks previously, while lead times for light-gauge
material are as long as 18 weeks vs. 12 weeks previously.
Similarly, brass product lead times have stretched to 16 to 17
weeks from eight weeks, market participants told AMM
in late March.
Service centers attribute
drawn-out copper strip lead times to strong automotive demand
and a recovering housing sector, while the brass is being
consumed largely by ammunition makers as consumers continue to
stock up on bullets fearing stricter gun laws on the
A service center source
confirmed that mills are talking about imports and how they
will impact their business. "Theyre talking to us about
almost every product," he said, noting that imports of a
variety of copper and brass products, including copper rod,
sheet and strip, likely will increase in the next few
Although the mill source
believes lead times "will straighten themselves out" after the
"natural drop-off in demand" in the summer, he said domestic
mills are still evaluating if its worth adding staff or
boosting capacity to avoid losing business to imports.
Aurubis Buffalo Inc. told
AMM earlier this year that it was considering hiring
more workers at its Buffalo, N.Y. mill (
amm.com, Feb. 11).
These are not decisions mills
make lightly, however, the mill source said. "You can restart
existing equipment, you can add personnel. But you always have
to be wary. Its expensive to restart machines and hire
staff. And if the demand doesnt stay, youre caught
having to go the other way, and its also expensive to get
rid of people and mothball equipment. Thats the dilemma
for a supplier. Will demand last? Is it worth starting up
capacity and hiring more people? Or is it better to restrict it
and be happy with a full plant?"
Not everyone believes OEMs will
turn to imports.
"There may be some pickup in
business where imports are actually quicker than domestic
(material), but I think everyone is attune to the scheduling to
meet their requirements," a second service center source said.
"Its not like this just happened overnight."
Imports of copper and brass
sheet, strip, plate and foil products dipped to 8.89 million
pounds in January from 12.73 million pounds in December,
according to Copper and Brass Fabricators Council