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Beam prices hold steady, buyers still cautious

Keywords: Tags  steel, beams, wide-flange beams, beam prices, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — Structural steel pricing has remained flat for the fifth consecutive month as buyers saw nothing that would suggest a change in wide-flange beams.

"There’s been zero movement" in pricing during the past month, one Midwest distributor said, noting that published and transaction prices have held steady.

Published f.o.b. mill prices on core sizes of wide-flange beams have remained at $765 per ton ($38.25 per hundredweight) since May. However, discounts on a delivered basis have ranged from $40 to $60 per ton, depending on local market conditions and the size of the buyer, according to market sources. While some of these discounts are viewed as foreign-fighter offers, especially on the coasts, price cutting has also occurred in local markets that aren’t heavily influenced by imports, sources said.

Some sources think a reported demand improvement in Europe and the euro’s recent relative strength vs. the dollar is discouraging aggressive U.S. sales efforts by European mills.

Overall, U.S. beam consumption appears to be running about 8 to 10 percent ahead of last year’s 3.9 million tons, although it is unclear if this pace will continue through year-end, market sources told AMM.

"Beam demand actually isn’t that bad," a western center executive said, although his view wasn’t shared by some of his counterparts who are still waiting for an upturn in nonresidential construction.

Buyers believe any price increase would likely be based on factors that aren’t necessarily tied to beam consumption—scrap prices and inventories, particularly stocks at the mills. The scrap market has reportedly been anticipating upward movement, primarily for seasonal reasons, while there are also indications that producer floor stocks are declining.

"I’m being forced more and more to wait for scheduled rollings instead of buying off the mill floor, as I’ve been able to do in the past," a service center buyer said about his recent orders.

Some buyers said that while their mill suppliers haven’t locked-in prices through the end of the year, producers concede there is little reason to expect a hike until next year, when scrap prices might show a sustained increase.

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