NEW YORK Concrete reinforcing bar spot prices have slipped back to first-quarter levels after a brief late-March pickup.
A number of sources said they had expected business to improve as winter weather dispersed, but a significant uptick in rebar demand over 2012 has simply not materialized yet for many along the supply chain. Year-to-date business for most sources has been flat this year compared with 2012, when the market saw a milder winter.
"Its been very slow for the first four months of the year," a mill source said. "The slow-to-slight expansion of growth we thought wed see this year has not happened. ... We should be in the busy season and prices are slipping backwards."
Earlier this month, Nucor Corp. and Gerdau Long Steel North America separately lowered their rebar net prices by $15 per ton (75 cents per hundredweight) for mid-April shipments following a $22-per-ton drop in AMMs consumer buying price for shredded automotive scrap in April. Gerdau had earlier announced it would raise rebar transactional prices by $10 per ton (50 cents per cwt) on April 15 in a move that sources perceived as an attempt to firm up the market, but it rescinded that increase following news of Nucors decision to drop net prices (amm.com, April 11).
"Gerdau tried to put out the increase, Nucor waited a few days and said, Thats not what were doing, so they rescinded," a rebar fabricator source in Ohio said.
Market sources confirmed that as a result of spotty demand and the announced price cuts, spot prices have slipped to around $670 per ton ($33.50 per cwt) f.o.b. mill in the past week from around $690 per ton ($34.50 per cwt) at the end of March.
The weaker pricing comes as several sources reported having poor starts this year due to a long winter season, which tightened up purchasing as some construction projects took longer to get off the ground.
"This may be our fourth month in a row of losing money this year," the Ohio rebar fabricator source said. "It was a lingering winter compared to the prior one."
Business in regions that experienced longer winter seasons and poor March weather reported a slower start compared with buyers in warmer areas, like Texas and California, sources said.
"Personally, our business is behind 2012 levels, for the first quarter anyway," a Northeast rebar fabricator source said.
Seasonal demand was particularly depressed in the northern Midwest, where snow and heavy rain continued into April. As a result, rebar fabricators were starved for orders and faced long project-start delays, they said.
"We had the slowest March weve ever had," a rebar fabricator source in Minnesota said. "We have a winter up here (thats) colder than other areas of the country so our peaks and values are lower than in a warmer climate, (but it was) a more severe winter this year."
Meanwhile, order books remain firm in parts of the South and along the West Coast, sources said.
"Overall Im busier but I havent (seen it everywhere)," said a rebar distributor source serving some accounts in Texas. "Its all by regions. I would say this April is better than last years April, and Aprils better than it was in March. Im still knocking em down somehow."