LOS ANGELES A smaller-than-anticipated rise in a key scrap price has steel buyers viewing the chance of an increase in beam prices as a toss-up.
The AMM consumer buying price for shredded automotive scrap in the Chicago market rose to $398 per ton late last week, up $10 but below expected increases.
While market sources were unsure whether structural steel producers will aim for a price increase soon, they nevertheless believe an increase is more likely in beams than in some other long products, such as merchant bar, which continue to see competition from Mexico and offshore sources.
Beam producers raised published prices in early March by $20 per ton ($1 per hundredweight) to $820 per ton ($41 per cwt) f.o.b. mill on core sizes of wide-flange products (amm.com, March 10), and also have been moving to eliminate discounts that have prevailed for well over a year.
But service centers continue to grumble that they are not seeing enough improvement in their own business despite firming prices at the mills.
"Right now, (the mills are) the only ones making money," a distributer source said, claiming that resale prices in some regional markets such as the Northeast are only about $20 per ton under domestic replacement cost.
Service center buyers also stress that, despite the mills claim that structural fabricators backlogs are growing this year, there is not much evidence that this is occurring at the distribution level.
"Beam demand is improving, but its not as good for us as what the producers are telling us theyre seeing," a service center executive said.
Others are more outspoken in their skepticism.
"Beams have been flat over the past few months, and any story that demand direct from the fabricators is up strongly is just, well, fabricated," a steel trader said.
"Were not seeing any dramatic increase even though the weather is starting to improve," a Midwest distributor said, conceding that it may take until May before any impact of a meaningful improvement in nonresidential construction makes its way to the service center level. But if May does not show a significant upturn, he said, then he may begin to worry.
Meanwhile, the Dodge Momentum Index, a measure of monthly nonresidential building projects in planning, fell 0.8 percent in March, according to the McGraw Hill Construction unit of New York-based McGraw Hill Financial Inc.
McGraw Mill said in a statement that the "longer-term trend is still viewed as positive," but it acknowledged that uncertainty over weak employment growth this year may be contributing to "short-term unease."