The pendulum has been swinging in the direction of the suppliers of flat-rolled stainless steel suppliers for all of this year.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Base prices have increased three times since the beginning of 2016. Stainless buyers have already been paying a steady increase in base prices in the transactional market. By now, most contract stainless buyers are at base prices higher than their prior contract period. Master distributors are extracting premiums as metal buyers scramble to fill in any gaps in their supply chains. Another base price increase is expected to be announced after the September anti-dumping duty determination on Chinese cold-rolled, flat stainless steel.

US Mills Enjoying Price Increases

The U.S. mills have the momentum to capture another base price increase. Domestic mills have strong order backlogs. Domestic lead times continue to be longer than the normal six to eight weeks. The impact of the anti-dumping and countervailing duty lawsuits against Chinese cold-rolled stainless has finally occurred.

The latest U.S. Census statistics showed cold-rolled stainless imports into the U.S. from China dropped to under 2,000 metric tons in May, compared to almost 10,000 mt in April. Other Asian importing countries have not significantly increased activity into the U.S.  Increased imports into the U.S. from Europe have amounted to less than a 1,500 mt-per-month increase.

The threat of trade cases has made many importers cautious about the U.S. market. Whether domestic or import, the metal buyer should expect to be paying higher overall prices in the upcoming months. Since publishing our July monthly outlook, nickel prices have climbed 12%.

Cover Your Volumes

Even though prices are on the uptick, stainless buyers need to ensure that their volumes are covered. Any manufacturer with spikes in stainless demand may have difficulty in procuring additional material quickly, especially in bright-annealed, polished and thicknesses less than .030 inches.

Free Download: The July 2016 MMI Report

I strongly urge metal buyers to review stainless flat-rolled requirements to ensure that adequate volumes are secured with your suppliers. Whether import or domestic sources need to be utilized, your suppliers need more transparency than ever before in your flat-rolled stainless steel needs.

Total crude steel output in the first five months of 2016 fell by 2% from the same period last year. Total crude steel production stood at 659.9 million metric tons in the first months of 2016, a slight decline from the 673.2 mmt in 2015, according to latest data from the World Steel Association.

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China also missed its goal to reduce steel production in the first half, achieving only a third of what it promised.

Baosteel and Wuhan’s Troubled Merger

Listed units of Baosteel Group, the second-largest Chinese steelmaker, and Wuhan Iron and Steel Group, the sixth-largest, said in separate stock exchange announcements on June 26 that they are planning on restructuring together.

While the two state-owned enterprises didn’t provide any details on what that entailed, industry experts say one possibility is that Baosteel may have been ordered by Beijing to take over all or a majority of Wuhan Steel amid a broader push to reduce the number of state-owned enterprises.

Free Download: The July 2016 MMI Report

The way in which the restructuring is done will be a major indication of how the government plans to transform other smoke-stack sectors of the economy where SOEs dominate. Investors will, in particular, be watching whether Baosteel is allowed to shutter much of the high-cost production at Wuhan Steel or whether profits have to be sacrificed to jobs retention as the government seeks to avoid any threat to social stability.