Steel imports into the U.S. were down in April and, if the numbers are able to be believed, China is importing more nickel ore than ever before.

Steel Imports Down in April

Based on preliminary Census Bureau data, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported that the U.S. imported a total of 2,456,000 net tons of steel in April 2016, including 2,014,000 nt of finished steel (down  5.6% and  4.1%, respectively, vs. March final data).

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Year-to-date through four months of 2016 total and finished steel imports are 9,982,000 and 8,442,000 nt, respectively, down 34% and 33% vs. the same period in 2015.

Annualized total and finished steel imports in 2016 would be 29.9 and 25.3 million nt, down 23% and 20% respectively vs. 2015. Finished steel import market share was an estimated 24% in April and is estimated at 25% on the year-to-date.

Key finished steel products with a significant import increase in April compared to March are line pipe (up 38%), hot rolled bars (up 35%), structural pipe and tube (up 27%), standard pipe (up 17%) and cold-rolled sheets (up 15%).

Chinese Nickel Imports

China is importing more nickel than ever before. Headline imports of refined metal hit a new all-time record high of 49,012 metric tons in April. The cumulative tally of 157,600 mt over the first four months of the year represents a 115,000-mt increase over the same period of last year.

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Reuters’ Andy Home writes that there is too much going on to get a good idea of what the imports really are and where they’re being used.

stainless-nickel-L1Nickel, along with copper, rallied over the past week due in part to relatively mild demand from the consumer industries.

According to a report from the Business Standard, traders are accounting for scattered demand from these industries leading to the rise in both nickel and copper prices.

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In a recent report from our own Raul de Frutos, all industrial metals have enjoyed a rally-intensive 2016 with the exception of one month: January. That was when the same metals hit new lows. So what is to account for this rebound? Is it worth noting or simply a mirage?

“Some metals — such as steel, zinc and tin — have gained significantly while others such as aluminum, copper, nickel and lead haven’t made much progress yet,” de Frutos wrote. “The price rally is not really being driven by supply cuts but by a combination of a weak dollar and the sugar rush of China’s stimulus, initiated late last year. We could be witnessing the end of this five-year-long commodity bear market, however, there is something rotten about this rally.”

Raul added that China’s stock market is the most accurate barometer for its economy and, ever since 2011, its stock market along with its commodity prices, have fallen. So what could appease our worry about this particular metals rally?

De Frutos concluded: “A good start would be China’s stock market rising above April’s levels. Otherwise, metal bulls can only hope for a choppy market.”

You can find a more in-depth nickel price forecast and outlook in our brand new Monthly Metal Buying Outlook report. Check it out to receive short- and long-term buying strategies with specific price thresholds.