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US-import plate price spread widens on W. Coast

Keywords: Tags  steel, plate, West Coast, Evraz, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — Energy-related business and its domestic melt requirements continue to drive West Coast steel plate demand while distributors battle in what some describe as a separate market where pricing is dominated by lower import tags.

Recent domestic mill increases of $30 per ton ($1.50 per hundredweight) have raised delivered prices on domestic plate shipped from east of the Rockies to an estimated $48 to $50 per cwt for warehouse grades and sizes, depending on the buyer and local market.

But even though imported plate has largely moved to a base price above $40 per cwt, the spread between domestic and imported material continues to widen.

"In some cases we’ve seen a $5-per-cwt difference between domestic and import," said a source at one fabricator, most of whose customers in energy continue to insist on structures built from domestic steel.

Nevertheless, some observers believe this gap can’t be sustained very long into 2015.

"One day this spread will be hard to support," said a distributor source, noting that once scheduled maintenance shutdowns are taken into account, domestic mill lead times appear to have reached their peak.

The West Coast’s only significant producer of discrete plate is the Portland, Ore., facility of Evraz Inc. North America, which also raised its prices by $30 per ton recently, according to market sources. An Evraz spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment.

Market sources pointed out that Chicago-based Evraz rolls most of its plate from imported slab, which doesn’t qualify for domestic melt requirements.

"I think we’ll see at least one more price increase on plate," said a source at another fabricator whose business is strong into the first quarter. "Every part of the economy that we serve is picking up."

The West Coast’s major sources of offshore plate are South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, whose mills recently have been undercutting Korean prices in some fabricator business, according to sources.

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