LOS ANGELES Steel beam imports were set to rise in March, up 25.1 percent from the prior month as Russia was due to make its largest appearance of the year in U.S. ports.
Combined permit applications for standard and wide-flange beams in March rose to 26,492 tonnes from 21,179 tonnes for all of February, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Departments Enforcement and Compliance division through March 25.
Permit applications for Russian standard beams in March rose to 7,125 tonnes from 1,221 tonnes in February. The beams are widely believed to be produced by a Russian facility of London-based Evraz Plc.
South Korea logged a 1.6-percent increase to 6,193 tonnes of wide-flange beams in March, but applications from Luxembourg were down 42 percent at 2,669 tonnes from 4,605 tonnes, while Mexicos applications fell 83.4 percent to 567 tonnes from 3,436 tonnes in the same comparison.
The average unit value of the Russian beams, roughly comparable to cost of production, was $655 per tonne, the lowest of any of the countries listed on the Commerce data. Market sources estimated the beams arriving this month were probably sold late last year for as low as $700 per ton ex-dock on the West Coast, although some material may have ended up in the Gulf.
But March applications are still lagging the 33,587-tonnes pace set in the same month of last year. The main question going forward is whether rising domestic beam pricesreflected by increases in published tags and by mills efforts to reduce certain discountswill encourage more imports later this year, market sources said.
"Were not there yet," a service center buyer source said, noting the gap between import and U.S. beams isnt great enough to get him to switch. "Domestic prices would have to be still higheror imports lower."
However, he and other market sources have little doubt U.S. producers would like to bring prices beyond the current published f.o.b. mill level of $820 per ton ($41 per hundredweight), following $20-per-ton ($1-per-cwt) increases earlier this month (amm.com, March 10).