NEW YORK Extended lead times and the replenishment of lean inventories are helping boost the steel plate market, according to buy- and sell-side sources, with most predicting rising prices in the near term.
Those factors likely will have a large effect on the market, as will a rise in raw material costs as well as a leading move by SSAB Americas this week to hike minimum base prices on plate by $30 per ton (amm.com, Jan. 14).
"Weve continued to have good booking days where were booking more than we need to for that week," one mill source said, citing increasingly long lead times. "I dont want to get too far ahead of myself, but things are looking pretty good. Were obviously still concerned where pricing ends up with imports, but in the near term the flow is stronger and we think things are going to keep moving up."
The outlook for higher pricing is logical, sources said, particularly with rising raw material costs, which some said have offset most plate increases announced since mid-October. Others indicated that with Evraz Inc. North Americas Claymont, Del., facility offline, the market looked a little tighter.
"The mills need some money in their pockets," one southern service center source said. "Certain mills are fairly strong, especially because of Evraz (Claymont) shutting down."
A Northeast service center source agreed, saying that the "plate market is looking fairly strong."
At bay is competition from imports, which although lower than domestic pricing have not been attractive enough to garner too much attention from buyers.
A few sources said medium plate offers from Turkey and South Korea have made the rounds in the past week, mainly at around $34 to $35 per hundredweight ($680 to $700 per ton) c.i.f. Port of Houston but some reportedly as low as $33 per cwt ($660 per ton), compared with Midwest f.o.b. mill prices of $38.50 to $39 per cwt ($770 to $780 per ton).
"Its fine, but its nothing to write home about," the southern service center source said.
Others, though, indicated that the most recent domestic price hike could make foreign material more viable. However, with domestic pricing increasing, foreign mills may choose to also raise their own export pricing, which would maintain a good, but not particularly attractive, spread.
Its uncertain, though, why activity and lead times have picked up, particularly when the plate market was fairly lackluster just a few months ago.
"Honestly, when we look at our order books its not like we got a bunch of new people and its not like a bunch of people started to book ridiculously," the first mill source said.
Others, though, expect the excitement in the plate market will be short lived, particularly with an expected increase in import activity.
"Im expecting a definite correction in early April," a second mill source said. "Most lead times are into late February or March right now, but then again imports were low for the last couple of months."
Market sources said its likely other mills will follow Lisle, Ill.-based SSABs leading move, and with that solidarity, pricing will push upward.
"I realize prices are going up and I think the most recent hike will stick," one Midwest service center source said. "Ive already told my guys to start looking into buying."