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Steel plate prices soften; outlook unchanged

Keywords: Tags  steel plate, license data, plate prices, hot-rolled, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — Demand in the steel plate market remained flat this week, with sources anticipating continued steadiness into the fourth quarter.

"Things have been very flat, pretty much like all of 2013. There’s no reason for me to believe that we’re going to see a change until maybe the first of the year," one Midwest service center source said. "I don’t see anything happening in the fourth quarter that will change that."

However, despite a steady outlook, mills and service centers said that a softening in steel prices in certain parts of the country this week were due to competitive imports and pressure by service centers because of stiff competition downstream.

"We’re just in a malaise. The only thing that’ll change it for us is if we see some confidence go back into maintaining better inventory," one mill source said. "I think most of our customers, including manufacturers, continue to be very cautious on inventory."

Midwest discrete plate prices softened to $35 per hundredweight ($700 per ton) this week, down from $35.50 per cwt ($710 per ton) last week. Some sources said deals in the $34-per-cwt range were possible with some mills in more competitive regions.

Market sources had previously speculated that the string of sheet price hikes through the summer would lift plate prices. However, while the plate market had a slight uptick for several weeks, much of that strength has dissipated, market participants said.

Some reasoned that the sheet increases were supply constraints rather than demand, which is why it has not translated to the plate market.

"We’re not expecting any big changes one way or another," a Mid-Atlantic service center source said. "Things are very flat."

On the import front, foreign plate has gained little traction. Imports through the summer show volumes close to half of what arrived last year, particularly as U.S. prices were relatively low compared to world prices.

A slight uptick, however, seems likely in September, with about 70,832 tonnes arriving through Sept. 25, license data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Import Administration shows. Foreign material, including about 8,238 tonnes from Italy, about 11,087 tonnes from Turkey and about 14,060 tonnes from France, are poised to hit the United States. While volumes are lower than expected, some said, it may be enough to keep domestic prices at bay.

"Import doesn’t have a big enough price advantage for people to place a lot of tons, but there are enough offerings out there that are continuing to suppress pricing so you can’t raise domestic prices because demand isn’t strong enough," the first mill source said.

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