LOS ANGELES Steel beam imports were in line to more than double in January from December, but were still down compared with last year.
Import permit applications for standard and wide-flange beams totaled 17,719 tonnes, up from 8,316 tonnes in December but down 43 percent from 31,075 tonnes in the same month last year, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Departments Enforcement and Compliance division.
South Korea led the way, with January import applications for 7,489 tonnes of wide-flange beams with an average unit value (roughly equivalent to cost of production) of $685 per tonne, the lowest among wide-flange products. Despite its continuing leading role, South Koreas latest wide-flange import license tally was down 39.1 percent from 12,291 tonnes in the same period last year.
Most South Korean wide-flange beams come into the West Coast, according to market sources, and are dominated by a large service center chain.
Mexico was the runner up, with permit applications for a combined 5,100 tonnes of standard and wide-flange beams.
Spain showed the largest decline, with only a negligible amount of imports due to arrive in January compared with 9,490 tonnes of standard and wide-flange beams in the corresponding period last year.
Domestic mills willingness to meet foreign competition with so-called foreign-fighter discount programs in import-heavy markets, such as the Gulf and West Coast, has helped keep imports at bay, while offshore producers are increasingly wary of possible trade complaints, market sources said.
Domestic beam prices have seen less of an increase in recent months compared with other long products. Just last week, Tampa, Fla.-based Gerdau Long Steel North America called off a $30-per-ton beam increase that had been due with Feb. 1 shipments after other U.S. mills failed to join its move (amm.com, Jan. 31).
"I think the (domestic) mills just want stability," an eastern distributor said, adding that recovery of beams primary market, nonresidential construction, continued to be slow through late 2013.