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Sheet prices stay steady in tight market

Keywords: Tags  steel sheet, hot-rolled steel, cold-rolled steel, steel prices, Nucor Berkeley, ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel, steel demand steel supply

NEW YORK — Steel sheet prices stayed steady this week as market participants reported an uptick in activity, defying a traditional  seasonal slowdown in August.

"Business has been decent, and our shipping rate has been higher than it was a year ago," said one Midwest service center source. "Demand hasn’t faltered in the August period like it can in a typical summer. Some people are thinking that September and October could be a little better, and it very well might be. The market is reasonably tight and mills are kind of holding their own on the pricing front."

Hot-rolled band remained steady at $33 per hundredweight ($660 per ton) while cold-rolled marked time at $38 per cwt ($760 per ton), although larger tonnages could be had at closer to $37.50 per cwt ($750 per ton).

While booking activity has picked up for service centers, margins remain tight on the back of oversupply at the distribution level. With end customers unwilling to accept some of the higher pricing that’s been sustained since May, buyers and sellers are unsure what will happen in the fall.

"All our end customers believe that pricing drops in the fall because that’s what has happened in the last four years," said one northern service center source. "The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. But, we have to get out of that mindset. The entire supply chain needs to make money."

Others agreed and said that margins have been squeezed despite an uptick in volumes because too many service centers are chasing the same pockets of demand.

"Business is stable, but the competition has remained very aggressive in my market," said a second Midwest service center source.

Some reasoned that the market has continued to remain strong in the latter part of August due to lingering supply-side constraints. While a number of such issues have been resolved, the market may stay taunt due to the ongoing lockout at U.S. Steel Corp.’s Lake Erie Works in Nanticoke, Ontario, (, Aug. 9) coupled with an unplanned blast furnace outage at ArcelorMittal USA LLC’s Indiana Harbor facility (, Aug. 14), ArcelorMittal’s Cleveland facility (, June 19) heading into a reline next month and an upgrade in the coming months at Nucor Corp.’s Berkeley mill in Charleston, S.C., (, July 19).

"The major issue is availability; if you don’t have product on the floor, you can’t buy it anywhere. Any orders you have booked right now are late because things have tightened," said one Northeast service center source. "We have customers who have given us blanket orders through October and we just don’t have the steel. I think (mill) prices will remain strong through October and early November, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess."

Import activity has also picked up, a number of traders said, particularly on competitively priced cold-rolled and coated materials, although hot-rolled deals were quiet.

"Things have been pretty good and steady," said one trader. "Demand and shipments look good across the board. Our booking activity has been steady lately and I’ve actually been busy."

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