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Plate market steady but imports threaten

Keywords: Tags  steel plate, plate imports, discrete plate, plate prices, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — The steel plate market continues to be even-keeled, sources indicate, although wariness about import pressure has some mills starting to become concerned again.

"Strange enough, things have been the same for the last two to three months," one mill source said. "We’ve been prodding along and there have been no upswings or downswings. But there’s a healthy gap between imports and domestic, so we’re looking at that."

In what is described as a "very steady" domestic market, plate mills have experienced longer lead times and steady pricing since late last year. But more competitive import offers recently could put some downward pressure on pricing in the near term, some indicated.

Discrete plate held steady this past week at $39.50 per hundredweight ($790 per ton) f.o.b. Midwest mill, sources said, while pricing in the South was closer to $39 per cwt ($780 per ton). Meanwhile, imported material was in a range of $35 to $36 per cwt ($700 to $720 per ton) c.i.f. Port of Houston, with some citing prices as low as $34.50 per cwt ($690 per ton).

But some trading sources said that import business in regions outside of the Gulf hasn’t been very strong.

"The (foreign) plate market has softened a little," one trader said. "We’ve done some decent business lately, but the spread hasn’t been fantastic."

Import license data from the Commerce Department’s Enforcement and Compliance division show that imports of cut-to-length plate totaled 114,995 tonnes in March, up 21.4 percent from the previous month and 89.7 percent higher than a year earlier. Much of the month-on-month growth was attributed to increases from Brazil, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

The strength in the plate market "keeps on going," a second trader said, although sourcing supply has been an issue more recently because "Brazil remains quiet" and "some of the European numbers aren’t working out."

Domestically, most of the major mills have seen lead times continue to push out, with most mills quoting lead times out to the end of May and into the first few weeks of June. With extended lead times and steady business, some say that the holding pattern is set to continue.

"Plate is good and business is fine," one East Coast service center source said. "Things are steady, so I’m not complaining."

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