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West Coast steel plate hikes eroding

Keywords: Tags  steel, carbon plate, West Coast, price increases, Frank haflich

LOS ANGELES — A brief uptick in commodity-grade carbon steel plate prices on the West Coast appears to be coming to an end as $60-per-ton domestic hikes announced in the first quarter are eroding, market sources said.

"The mills are now giving back the increase they got earlier this year, and it’s happening faster than usual," said a California service center source, noting that, except for recently, plate pricing cycles on the West Coast usually last a bit longer than they do in other parts of the country.

"Last year, it took six months for them to give back their increases," he said.

Delivered prices for warehouse grades and sizes of domestic plate—which at one time had reached a peak of $840 to $860 per ton ($42 to $43 per hundredweight) on a delivered basis to medium and large service centers—have fallen in recent weeks to an estimated range of $800 to $820 per ton ($40 to $41 per cwt), depending on the buyer’s size, location and history with specific mills, according to market sources.

A possible contributor to the pricing fallback is the fact that mills can no longer take advantage of maintenance outages that had temporarily pushed out delivery lead times, which are reportedly now coming in with the end of the outages.

One plate buyer noted that while domestic producers insist they’ll be able to maintain recent hikes, he’s nevertheless getting quotes that represent price cuts.

Another buyer pointed to lowered expectations created by price erosion. "The mills were telling us the second half of the year should be better than the first, but now ... "

Meanwhile, while the West Coast region had been plagued with heavy warehouse inventories in late 2012 and into the first quarter—much of it representing foreign steel—some market sources now see local distributor stocks declining to the point where certain common sizes aren’t readily available for buyout by other service centers. Other sources have said that increasing volumes of plate are being offered in the West Coast market by distributors east of the Rockies.

Moreover, imports being quoted for June and July shipment from Asia are reportedly in a range of $725 to $735 per ton ($36.25 to $36.75 per cwt), with Mexican material around $720 per ton ($36 per cwt) for delivery sooner.

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