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Sheet steel prices increase in busy summer

Keywords: Tags  steel, steel prices, hot-rolled, cold-rolled, hot-rolled coil, trade petition, oil country tubular goods, OCTG Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Sheet steel prices edged up this past week as domestic mills continued to drive for higher prices and some buyers reported stronger-than-usual summer activity.

AMM’s hot-rolled coil price assessment rose to $33.75 per hundredweight ($675 per ton) from $33.50 per cwt ($670 per ton) previously, while cold-rolled tags increased to $39.75 per cwt ($795 per ton) from $39.50 per cwt ($790 per ton).

Some domestic mills were said to be pushing for hot band prices of $34.50 per cwt ($690 per ton) but reportedly were settling for numbers closer to $34 per cwt ($680 per ton).

The price gains came after several steel consumers said that July—usually the second-slowest month of the year behind December—had been among their busiest so far this year, and several predicted an even stronger market in the second half of the year.

Bullishness on steel prices was driven in part by customers restocking—or expected to restock—ahead of the seasonally busier weeks after Labor Day. Increased demand from the automotive sector also continued to soak up flat-rolled tons, and the strong auto demand for galvanized material and high zinc prices also led to a push to boost coating extras (, Aug. 7).

Some service centers catering to buyers outside the strong automotive and energy sectors reported limited or even little recovery in their business, but said they nonetheless expect steel prices to firm as a rising automotive tide lifts steel prices across the board.

Other buyers noted that increased consolidation among domestic mills also might be playing a role in prices firming and predicted more-difficult 2015 contract negotiations in coming months, with Dearborn, Mich.-based Severstal NA Inc. (, July 21) expected to be out of the market and AM/NS Calvert LLC aiming to purge lower-priced contracts from the former ThyssenKrupp AG plant in Calvert, Ala. (, Feb. 28).

In addition, a potential wave of flat-rolled trade complaints could be causing more orders to be placed with domestic mills, market sources said.

U.S. steelmakers are said to be collecting information for potential trade cases against imports of cold-rolled, coated and painted steel, including Galvalume (, July 22), at the same time that the U.S. suspension agreement with Russia is being challenged (, July 10)

The trade case fireworks could begin after a scheduled Aug. 25 final ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on a landmark oil country tubular goods (OCTG) case (, July 11), some market sources said.

However, others said it was too early to say whether further price hikes and trade cases were coming. The ITC most likely will find that OCTG imports have caused injury to domestic producers, but they cautioned that it is not a foregone conclusion, citing the commission’s decision on a much-smaller and less-contentious trade case on steel threaded rod from India (, Aug. 6).

The ITC voted unanimously that imports of threaded rod from India were not injuring or threatening to injure U.S. industry, nullifying dumping and subsidy margins assessed by the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (, July 8).

Still others said it’s too early to say what the impact of duties on South Korean OCTG shipments will be even if the ITC finds injury, noting continued high imports from a country that has no home market.

Pipe and tube sources also complained of flat-rolled mills trying to push up prices despite lower or flat iron ore and scrap tags—thus benefitting from increased margins at the same time that those for tubular products remain narrow.

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