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Sheet prices slide amid market nervousness

Keywords: Tags  steel sheet, AK Steel, sheet pricing, lead times, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — U.S. steel sheet pricing softened this week as market participants remained nervous about the effects on domestic tags of cold weather, falling raw material costs and imports.

Hot-rolled coil slid to $31.75 per hundredweight ($635 per ton) from $32.50 per cwt ($650 per ton) last week, sources said, while cold-rolled fell to $38 per cwt ($760 per ton) from $38.25 per cwt ($765 per ton).

But while a number of buyers were nervous about the future, particularly as short lead times at a number of mills have put some on edge, others said reports that severely cold weather was hurting the market were overblown.

"People have to start taking weather out of it," one mill source said. "It’s causing people to be negative, and the talk about low deals is exacerbating the situation. Our business has been good, with the exception of a couple of spots, but we have a generally good backlog."

West Chester, Ohio-based AK Steel Corp. said earlier this week it was forced to take an unplanned outage at its Ashland, Ky., blast furnace as a result of an unspecified incident (, Feb. 25).

Some steelmakers said their business had seen a slight uptick as a result of the outage, although buyers argue that the outage is not enough of a catalyst to restock.

"The mills are telling us that we’d better start jumping on board because of AK Steel’s furnace being down," a Midwest service center source said. "But that’s not enough of a reason to go out and buy steel, especially since things are taking a nose dive."

A second mill source, however, said business has looked better in the past few days. "I’m optimistic and our order books look good," he said. "Our lead times are stretching out and I feel like this week has been more stable."

Others agreed on the stability in the market, with a second Midwest service center source noting that business is decent and even slightly better year over year, although "nothing is racing off. I’m not seeing anything that indicates some sort of magical boost to the year, but there’s no bad news, either."

But a number of factors remain, sources said, including the higher volume of imports that hit U.S. shores in January and are expected to increase in February and March.

"The mill books seemed to have softened," a West Coast buyer said. "With imports and falling scrap costs, I’m not sure how it looks ahead."

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