Titanium sponge imports have plummeted this year, underscoring
the rising role of scrap in the U.S. titanium melt.
U.S. titanium sponge
imports fell to 3,390 tonnes in the second quarter, down 39.5
percent from 5,600 tonnes in the first three months of this
year and 62.6 percent below 9,060 tonnes in the second quarter
of 2012, according to the latest data from the U.S. Geological
The decline in sponge imports was attributed by most industry
sources to a drop in scrap prices, which has made scrap an
increasingly attractive alternative. Estimated dealer buying
prices for unprepared bulk weldables have declined steadily to
$2 per pound or less recently from about $5.50 in mid-2011. But
theres some speculation the decline may be over.
"Were two and a
half years into this (decline) but I think weve finally
bottomed out," one scrap industry source said.
Japan was the largest
supplier of sponge to the United States in the second quarter
at 2,070 tonnes, or 61.1 percent of U.S. imports compared with
56.1 percent of U.S. imports for all of 2012, followed by China
(738 tonnes) and Ukraine (348 tonnes).
In fourth place was
Kazakhstan, which supplied an estimated 120 tonnes in the
second quarter. Kazakhstan supplied 8,150 tonnes to the United
States last year, behind only Japan, but the country
increasingly has directed its sponge output into its own
recently built melting capacity.
Growing use of scrap
instead of sponge has been evident in U.S. titanium
producers financial results. Pittsburgh-based RTI
International Metals Inc. said last week that low scrap costs
contributed to a big jump in third-quarter net income (
amm.com, Nov. 7).
Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies Inc. pointed out that
it was running its Rowley, Utah, plant at a higher level than
might be economically justified in a low-priced scrap
environment in order for the facility to qualify for
premium-quality sponge used for rotating engine parts (
amm.com, Oct. 25).