Steel beam imports plunged in December in what many observers
see as a seasonal decline as buyers also bide their time before
entering large orders with U.S. mills.
December import permits of wide-flange and standard beams fell
75.4 percent to 8,132 tonnes from 33,002 tonnes in November,
according to data from the U.S. Commerce Departments
Enforcement and Compliance division.
Market observers said
the reduction isnt surprising since service centers often
look to end the year with low stocks, both to reduce their tax
exposure in some states and show a high inventory turn
Mexico led the way,
with import applications for 3,217 tonnes of wide-flange and
standard beams, up 27.1 percent from 2,531 tonnes in November.
Canada also reported increased volumes, although at much lower
tonnage levels, with import applications rising 98 percent to
nearly 815 tonnes in December from 411 tonnes a month
second-place Luxembourg had import license applications of
1,676 tonnes, down 79.3 percent from 8,060 tonnes in November.
South Korea was third, with applications for 1,565 tonnes, down
83.8 percent from 9,645 tonnes in the same comparison.
But market sources
said U.S. mills continue to "stick to their guns" on higher
published prices that indicate an overall increase of $35 per
ton ($1.75 per hundredweight) in posted tags since they began
announcing increases in November and December. However, this
would mean significantly greater increases in transaction
prices, since business was being conducted at discounts
estimated at $2 to $3 per cwt to the prices published for much
of last year.
"I think people are
dragging their feet" before theyll be willing to resume
large-scale purchases, one service center buyer said. Like many
distributors, he purchased or ordered enough material at
earlier, discounted price levels to satisfy his projected
requirements through the first 45 to 60 days of this year.
"We may get stuck
buying a small amount at the new (published) price, but I
dont think anyone is willing yet to reload their
inventory at that level," another buyer said.