NEW ORLEANS The Port of
New Orleans is seeing renewed growth in steel imports due to
the strengthening housing and automotive sectors.
"Steel has been very good for us
in the past two years, and 2012 was better than 2011," Robert
M. Landry, chief commercial officer of the port, told
AMM on the sidelines of the Critical Commodities
Conference hosted by the American Institute for International
Steel and the Port of New Orleans. "Its not where we
should be (historically), but with the good trends were
seeing, we think this bodes well for the future."
The port earlier this week said
that it had seen steel imports grow 38 percent to 1.92 million
tons last year from 1.39 million tons in 2011.
Much of the steel that arrives
at the port is reinforcing bar, steel pipe and steel coil.
While the energy sector has remained strong and automotive has
rebounded, construction was hit particularly hard during the
"In 2008, things fell off a
cliff. ... Our imported steel (figures) dropped from around 3.5
million tons to under 1 million tons," Landry said. "Were
seeing very encouraging signs in the housing market, which is
good, and were also seeing appliances being built. Much
of the coil we get, particularly from Japan, is loaded onto
barge and goes upriver to the automobile plants."
Looking ahead, the market
remains difficult, particularly as foreign steel has looked
less attractive to buyers amid soft U.S. prices and short lead
times, according to industry players.
"I think well continue to
see steel increase. From what Ive been told, the market
is just so fragile right now. Margins are very thin and
inventories are very thin," Landry said. "Weve even
talked to pipe manufacturers who can name different projects
that need pipe, but they will not put any pipe on the water
because they fear (some uncertainty). Most people are very
The Port of New Orleans last
month gave its approval for work to begin on an intermodal
railyard, expected to help intermodal container transfers
become more efficient (
amm.com, March 25). While the upgrade should have
an immediate impact on containerized cargo, it also will help
the movement of general cargo, such as steel, become more
efficient, Landry said.
The Lower Mississippi River port
is one of the few shipping hubs in the United States that has
easy access to the inland barge system, providing cost
advantages over traditional import-heavy hubs.