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Sheet mart quiet; prices seen on upward trek

Keywords: Tags  steel sheet, hot-rolled coil, cold-rolled coil, steel prices, sheet prices, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — The steel sheet market remained quiet in the days leading up to Christmas, with buy- and sell-side sources signaling high expectations for the first quarter of 2014.

"Looking at last year vs. this year the pricing is in the same range, but the trajectory is very different," one Mid-Atlantic service center source said. "Last year, prices were looking to sag into the first quarter. But this year, things are looking on the upside."

Hot-rolled coil remained unchanged this past week at $33.75 per hundredweight ($675 per ton), with larger tonnage buyers as well as those in more competitive regions like the East Coast and South reporting transactions closer to $33 to $33.50 per ton. This compares with $32 per cwt ($640 per ton) a year ago.

Cold-rolled coil was also unchanged at $39 per cwt ($780 per ton) compared with $37 per cwt ($740 per ton) a year ago.

While business this week remained slow, some sources cautioned that it might be too early to tell how strong the first quarter will be, although the signs look positive.

"Right now, we’re in a wait-and-see period. ... December is always a ho-hum kind of month. But (mills are) more or less booked out for January, and a lot of people have been caught short inventory. The economy is starting to grow and it looks like the rising tide is raising all ships," one northern service center source said.

A handful of service center sources said that the resale market is closing in quickly or is matching replacement costs. They were concerned, however, about how the most recent increases by some U.S. mills—including USS-Posco Industries Inc., Pittsburg, Calif.; California Steel Industries Inc., Fontana, Calif.; and Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp.—would be received in the resale market (, Dec. 16).

One service center source said he expects prices to point upward in 2014 due to likely gains in raw material costs. "I expect pricing to soften just a little bit in March," he added.

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