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Sheet prices steady despite strong demand

Keywords: Tags  hot-rolled sheet, cold-rolled sheet, plate, steel prices, steel imports, Metals Service Center Institute, MSCI, Thorsten Schier

NEW YORK — Sheet steel prices held steady this past week amid what sources described as surprisingly robust demand during the typically slower summer months.

"Our customers are doing better. So when they do well, we do well," one mill source said.

AMM’s hot-rolled sheet price remained unchanged at $675 per ton ($33.75 per hundredweight), with some transactions also reported in the $680-per-ton ($34-per-cwt) range and significant volumes and areas with import competition seeing lower prices. Cold-rolled prices held at $795 per ton ($39.75 per cwt).

While import levels for both products have been relatively high in recent months, it has not translated to a drop in domestic prices due to solid demand and a variety of production crimps at U.S. mills, including unplanned outages (, July 29).

"Imports have kind of just been filling that gap," one Midwest distributor said.

Distributor inventories also are at relatively low levels considering demand, sources said, spurring buying activity.

The head of a national service center chain recently said that he thought many distributors had misread the market earlier in the year and postponed buying, only to see prices rise (, Aug. 14).

In coated products, large domestic mills are reportedly following Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp.’s lead in increasing galvanizing extras due to high zinc costs and robust automotive demand (, Aug. 8).

"We’re telling customers that we’re going to have new extras soon," the mill source said, citing similar informal arrangements from other large domestic players.

The move was "essentially a price increase on its own," the Midwest source said.

On the import front, talk was ongoing that the suspension agreement on Russian hot-rolled products might be revoked, with one trader expressing surprise that at least one large commodity company was reportedly still offering hot-rolled product from the country.

"When the ax falls, it’s going to hurt. It could happen any day because it’s not like a trade case," he said.

The American Institute for International Steel (AIIS) recently warned that Russia’s move to impose agricultural sanctions on the United States could hasten the revocation (, Aug. 8).

AMM’s assessment for offshore hot-rolled product increased this past week to $600 to $620 per ton ($30 to $31 per cwt) from $590 to $610 per ton ($29.50 to $30.50 per cwt) previously.

The bottom of the offshore cold-rolled sheet market is also said to be firming due to ongoing talk of a trade case on cold-rolled and coated sheet products from China and India (, July 22) and potentially other Asian countries.

However, India was less susceptible to a cold-rolled case due to its relatively low level of imports for the product, the trader said.

AMM’s assessment for imported cold-rolled sheet inched up to $650 to $680 per ton ($32.50 to $34 per cwt) from $640 to $680 per ton ($32 to $34 per cwt) previously.

One East Coast service center source said that his company continues to buy cold-rolled product offshore due to the significant spread to domestic prices.

"We’re not that smart, we just don’t have a choice," he said.

Sources said prices for imported plate have also risen as a result of strong demand and what has been a wide spread to domestic pricing, with offshore mills recognizing that they can get more for their product in what is a robust market.

AMM’s price for imported medium plate increased to $730 to $760 per ton ($36.50 to $38 per cwt) from $720 to $740 per ton ($36 to $37 per cwt) previously.

However, imports are still coming in at a fairly sizeable clip despite the increase, as "there’s a significant large enough gap that people continue to consider it," a second mill source said.

Meanwhile, AMM’s domestic plate price has held steady at $860 per ton ($43 per cwt) for nearly two months despite high import levels. Sources attributed this to robust demand, particularly from the energy and transportation sectors.

"We’re still waiting to see the impact of these four to five months of elevated imports," the mill source said.

Meanwhile, U.S. service centers’ steel shipments increased 6.9 percent in July compared with the same month last year, while inventories jumped 11.4 percent year on year, according to the latest Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI) data. Canadian service centers’ steel shipments rose 5 percent, while inventories climbed 0.4 percent in the same comparison.

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