LOS ANGELES Structural steel tubing prices remain steady on the West Coast, with buyers and mills scrutinizing the market for threats to its stability.
"Prices are holding but people are growing uneasy," a market source said, while a service center executive described conditions as "flat, but were not especially comfortable."
Buyers said this week that they are being surveyed by what they describe as nervous mill suppliers for indications that prices are eroding as overall demand continues to remain flat.
Prices for truckload shipments (about 20 tons) of core sizes of A500 Grade B hollow structural sections (HSS) in the Los Angeles market remain in an estimated range of $970 to $990 per ton ($48.50 to $49.50 per hundredweight). Although pricing in some outlying western markets have declined by perhaps $1 per cwt in recent weeks, most market sources said it is too early to predict the start of a regional trend.
Few people on the West Coast were surprised by the failure so far of a $20-per-ton increase announced by producers east of the Rockies effective with Feb. 17 shipments. California tube makers failed to post a similar increase, believing that their own market wasnt ready for a hike and skeptical that the rest of the country would accept one. The last time California mills raised prices was a $40-per-ton increase in November (amm.com, Dec. 4).
But the potential impact of imports worries some mills as South Korean offers show little sign of moving above a reported range of $38 to $39 per cwt ex-dock on commodity sizes for expected arrival in May or June. This has raised concern that a substantial amount of foreign tubing could arrive in the months ahead, although some buyers argue that their own cautious outlook leaves them disinclined to load up on tubing beyond their immediate requirements despite imports price advantage.
Market sources also pointed out that the chances for prices firming were not helped by this weeks preliminary decision by the U.S. Commerce Departments International Trade Administration not to assess anti-dumping duties on Korean oil country tubular goods (OCTG) shipments (amm.com, Feb. 18).
While structural tubing and OCTG are sold in different customer markets, these sources nevertheless believed it was likely that any ruling against OCTG could have convinced Korean HSS mills to temper their aggressive pricing.