steel price

MetalMiner's basket of industrial metals used by the auto industry, the monthly Automotive MMI®, registered a value of 85 in June, a decrease of 2.3% from 87 in May.

Automotive_Chart_June-2015_FNLAs the chart shows, this move basically undoes May's gains and puts the automotive metals index back where it was in April. The loss nearly erased the 2.4% gain last month as palladium and platinum prices either fell or traded sideways and the other metals tracked in the index weren't really responsible for the recent movement, anyway.

Robust Car/Truck/SUV Sales

While automotive sales remain strong in the US and abroad, those sales are not creating the necessary demand for automotive materials to move the needle this year – even as companies such as Alcoa, Novelis, ArcelorMittal and others invest heavily in automotive aluminum and steel facilities worldwide.

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US car buyers bought new cars and trucks at the fastest pace in nearly a decade in May, US auto sales data released by the automakers showed. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Honda reported increases. Toyota, Nissan and Ford saw declines.

Americans bought about 1.63 million new vehicles in May, up 1.6% from about 1.61 million in the same month last year, according to automotive statistics provider Motor Intelligence. Industry forecasts had expected a 1% decline in sales, to 1.59 million, in part because May was one sales-day shorter than it was last year.

May’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate came in at 17.8 million, well past analysts expected 17.3 million.

Steel Inventories Still High

The big drag on the index continues to be the price of steel, which reached another new low this month. Cheap imports and high inventories are to blame in that market, and those high inventories will continue to make the road just as hard to ride for automotive.

Domestic steel producers have filed anti-dumping and countervailing duty petitions against five countries related to corrosion-resistant steel, the type used in automotive applications.

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The petitions charge that unfairly traded imports of corrosion-resistant steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan are causing material injury to the domestic steel industry. The petitions further charge that significant subsidies have been provided to the foreign producers by the governments of those countries.

It will take months to know if this action produces significant relief of the cheap imports and, even then, the anti-dumping and CVD determinations might not be high enough to have an effect. The end-use automotive market and its much of its material supply chain is intrinsically tied to the steel market.

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The price forecast for US steel markets, much like me after contracting salmonella poisoning last week, has been quite lethargic lately.

An imminent pullout from the doldrums doesn't look all too likely due to several major factors, which we'll dive into shortly, and is supported by MetalMiner's monthly Raw Steels MMI® clocking in with a value of 59 in June, a 1.7% drop from 60 in May.

steel price index chart june 2015

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The monthly Raw Steels MMI® – a price sub-index tracking a basket of finished steel and raw material prices from all corners of the globe – has been unhealthy for quite a while, and (after undergoing a slight recalibration at the end of 2014) has hit a new all-time low this month. Why?

Today's Steel Market: Some Factoids to Consider

Here are a few elements to take into account:

  • Imports are a huge issue for the US domestic market. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), for the first 5 months of 2015 (including May Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis and April preliminary data), total and finished steel imports were 18,636,000 net tons and 15,365,000 net tons, respectively, up 7% and 20% from the same period in 2014. China plays an outsize role in this: according to data compiled by James May of Steel-Insight.com, Chinese supply of CRC was 6% of the US market in 2014 while Chinese and Indian supply of HDG was a combined 8%. Construction markets in China have stagnated, and rather than shutter mill capacity, the Chinese just ship it out to foreign shores. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang has been quoted as taking a defensive line, saying the rise in steel exports is due to higher global demand and is a result of Chinese steel products having strong "export competitiveness" – but we have our doubts.
  • Therefore, capacity has been dinged. According to AISI, adjusted year-to-date steel production through May 16, 2015 was 33,210,000 net tons, at a capability utilization rate of 72.3%. That is down 7.2%from the same period last year, when the capacity utilization rate was 77%.
  • Distributors are well-stocked with inventory. Until inventories (which are nicely loaded with that imported steel we mentioned) are drawn down, it will be hard to make price increases stick in the near term.

[caption id="attachment_69511" align="alignnone" width="550"]Steel_Insight_051515_550 Carbon flat-rolled inventories. Values in millions of tons (add 000 to the end of each number on the chart). Source: MSCI, Steel-Insight. Chart courtesy of Steel-Insight.[/caption]

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Tomorrow's Steel Prices: Wild Cards to Watch

  • Anti-dumping filings may help steel prices – but "may" being the operative word, and if so, only in the short term. Filings against imported Chinese coil products may succeed in removing some of that low-priced steel from the US inventory pool, thereby helping US mill volumes, but again, from what we're hearing, that's simply a temporary "Band-Aid" solution.
  • What will happen with scrap pricing? As part of this month's Raw Steels MMI®, our shredded scrap price rose 1.6% over last month, and is in a 3-month uptrend. According to industry sources, scrap is expected to rise anywhere from $10 to as much as $30 per gross ton, depending on the region and product. We'll have to wait and see where prices end up by the end of June, as that may clue us further into where finished steel pricing is headed.
  • And a last longer-term bit of news from China...An announcement made at the recent Singapore Iron Ore Week, hailed by some as a gamechanger, indicated that steps are being taken toward international trader/broker access to Dalian iron ore. If this indeed goes down, it would signal a big move toward internationalization of China's futures markets.

Steel Price Outlook: HRC, CRC, HDG, Plate

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The US price of hot-rolled steel coil (HRC) has recently bumped up near the end of May on our IndX, which indicates more broadly that HRC, as well as CRC and HDG steel, seem to be stabilizing after falling for over a year. However, it seems early to call for a bottom. While commodity markets remain bearish and the dollar holds, we don’t expect HRC, CRC or HDG prices to make significant upside moves.

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We here at MetalMiner have very cautiously been pointing out the underlying strength of the US construction market and have been dutifully chalking up falling and flat Construction MMI® numbers to low oil prices and cautious banks for nearly a year now.

Construction_Chart_June_2015_FNL

The monthly Construction MMI® registered a value of 75 in June, an increase of 1.4% from 74 in May, not gangbusters construction activity by any stretch of the imagination but perhaps the beginning of a break in the down-to-flat trend the market has been mired in since last year.

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There are several good reasons to believe this is a turning point in the price of construction materials such as H-beams, steel rebar and shredded scrap. Reasons that go far beyond our belief that a bad weather, higher break-even points for energy projects and a lack of willingness from lenders are what has held them back thus far.

First, in April construction spending jumped 2.2% to an annual rate of $1 trillion, the highest level since November 2008, the Commerce Department said on Monday. The percentage increase was the largest since May 2012. March’s outlays were revised to show a 0.5% increase instead of the previously reported 0.6% fall. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending rising 0.7% in April.

Oil as Fuel and as Project Breaker

With spending on construction up and beating expectations, it's reasonable to expect prices to follow, but that's not the only indicator of a strong summer building season. My colleague, Stuart Burns, wrote this week that, at least in the US, oil prices are actually going up and inventories are falling.

"For the first time in six months," Burns wrote, "the US oil market is flirting with backwardation, where the spot price is higher than one- or three-month dated delivery – a sign of a tightening market and, potentially, a shortage."

According to another report, prompt-month July contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was 27 cents lower than second-month August this week. That was the narrowest spread since Dec. 19 and compares to a month ago when it was at a $1.50 discount. While prices at the pump are still reasonable, the

Beyond that, the oil and gas industry has come out of this mini-slump leaner and meaner. A Goldman Sachs report said that US oil production will grow by 155,000 barrels per day in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014 as cheap money and more efficient drilling technology allows tight oil producers to continue drilling in spite of OPEC’s best efforts to close them down.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, investments in updating US energy infrastructure alone could generate an estimated $1.14 trillion in capital investments by 2025.

Construction Materials

The cost of construction materials, overall, is poised for an increase. This includes wood and other non-metal construction inputs.

According to the 2015 Q2 Non-Residential Construction Index (NRCI) Report recently released by FMI Corporation, the construction industry is improving despite lukewarm economic conditions. FMI surveys executives at construction companies for their forecasts and, according to the responses, the index component for the cost of construction materials dropped one point to 21.4. The component drops as prices increase. The cost of labor components dropped sharply by 5.2 points to 12.5. Both labor and material cost increases reduced the overall NRCI score. Despite this, the overall score STILL gained, jumping to 64.9 for the quarter.

That score reflects 18 months of improving activity.

"It was a little bit surprising, I would expect them (construction materials) to go up faster," said Phil Warner, research consultant at FMI. "One of my explanations (for the first half of the year) has been substitution. Copper and other materials, where they can be replaced, have been substituted. We are at a point now where prices are so low that I would expect substitution to end and construction-grade materials (metals) to go up faster. We certainly don't expect them to go down as construction will continue rising. Materials are coming around. They will remain at a lower-cost as construction, overall, improves but we likely won't see them falling further."

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Seems that somebody forgot to tell the automotive metals that the bear market was still going on this month. Strong aluminum and high-strength steel demand, and end-user purchases, have again made auto the standout in a field of mostly down markets.

After flattening in April, the monthly automotive MMI® registered a value of 87 in May, an increase of 2.4% from 85 in April. A big factor was the performance of aluminum coil on the index, as its index broke resistance and soared as well.

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China removed export taxes on aluminum, opening more markets up to the automotive-grade sheet and coil prices that automakers in the West have been experimenting with for a decade now. Prices of palladium, lead and even copper also notched strong LME growth filling strong demand from domestic and foreign automakers.

Consumer Sales Rising

In the US market, April new car sales rose by 5% from a year ago, to more than 1.463 million units as predicted in a J.D. Power and LMC Automotive's mid-month auto sales forecast update. April's totals are anticipated to be the highest since April 2005.

SUVs and smaller "crossover utility vehicles" were the main leaders in the sales surge. While not all US automakers posted strong Q1 results, profits were generally up even if they were up lower than some analysts expected. General Motors' results were better than in the same period a year ago, when costs associated with safety recalls limited quarterly profit to $125 million.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a profit of $101.2 million (€92 million) d​uring the first quarter compared with a loss of $173 million (€190 million) during the same period last year.

What This Means for Automotive Buyers

Consumer demand for automobiles traditionally picks up in the summer months, so this could be the beginning of a big turnaround for our Automotive MMI®. Fundamentals continue to look strong as the index had better supply and demand numbers than other metals even when it was losing price ground. Stay tuned.

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Steel prices remain at their lowest levels. Almost every industrial metal price rose in April as a weaker dollar gave a boost to commodity markets. However, steel prices remained quiet, hanging at record lows.

The monthly raw steels MMI® registered a value of 60 in May, on par with April's value.

Raw Materials Undercutting Scrap

Scrap prices are at their lowest levels and we don't really see anything that could give prices significant momentum on the upside, at least until a bigger supply response is seen.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Unless we start seeing the dollar depreciate against other currencies, European scrap exports will keep gaining market share, leaving a supply excess for US steelmakers.

Cheaper to Produce

Moreover, although prices seem low, it's still cheaper to make steel still using iron ore than scrap. Pig iron or billet could substitute some scrap as primary raw material in which case, US exporters would sell more in the domestic market, causing US scrap prices to keep falling lower.

Meanwhile, steel imports keep arriving. Since US prices are no longer inflated compared to the rest of the world ,we would imagine steel imports to start slowing down through the remainder of the year. However, Chinese exports could actually increase due to the recent removal of export tariffs.

Either way, steel demand remains weak, particularly in oil and gas tubular markets while the market remains oversupplied. It doesn't seem likely that steel prices will rise significantly higher this year.

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Outlays for US construction projects fell 0.6% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $967 billion, the US Commerce Department said last week. Commerce also revised February’s result to show almost no change.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

Despite the lower spending, the monthly Construction MMI® registered a value of 74 in May, on par with April's value. Flat is, apparently, the new up until construction starts and spending pick up some steam. The low prices have not yet incentivized developers enough, it would seem, to sign off on new projects or increase purchasing for anything but stockpiling, as credit is still hard to obtain and consumer demand for commercial and residential space remain tepid.

Energy Loans Called In

In fact, banks in the US are cutting credit lines to energy companies and forcing the firms to cough up more collateral to guard against fallout from the fall in oil prices.

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The US International Trade Commission upheld tariffs against both rebar and, more recently, oil country tubular goods (OCTG) from China, but the flood of imports has already done its damage when it comes to both traditional construction and the steel pipes used for oil and gas drilling. Supply is high and demand is simply not high enough to push prices upward.

It's a testament to the resilience of the US construction market that our MMI was even able to hold steady this month. For complete prices, read the complete story – log in or sign up for MetalMiner membership!

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The American Institute of Architects‘ Architecture Billings Index came in positive, again, in March, but its relatively low increase again reflected the weak recovery in both design and construction. The March ABI score was 51.7, up from a mark of 50.4 in February.

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“Business conditions at architecture firms generally are quite healthy across the country. However, billings at firms in the Northeast were set back with the severe weather conditions, and this weakness is apparent in the March figures,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “The multi-family residential market has seen its first occurrence of back-to-back negative months for the first time since 2011, while the institutional and commercial sectors are both on solid footing.”

Multi-Family Weakness

We have reported on the general weakness in multi-family residential and its effect on prices of construction materials such as structural steel and copper for much of the first quarter of 2015.

AIA prepared a video featuring Baker, recorded in a swanky Architect Magazine studio overlooking our nation’s capital, describing the macroeconomic issues facing the construction market, which include the strong dollar and the continuing shortage of skilled construction labor, in Q2 and the rest of the year.

With April's reading, MetalMiner's monthly price index tracking metals used in the automotive industry has stanched its general downward slide – the index dipped below the baseline of 100 in February 2014 and has been trending down since. The monthly Automotive MMI® registered a value of 85 in April, on par with March's value (check out last month's report). But with most base metals markets in a bearish mode, this index may have further to fall.

The downward slide had particularly begun accelerating in Q4 of last year and has continued through Q1 2015, a sign that the auto index's basket of metals has seen the same bearish treatment as the Raw Steels, Stainless and Aluminum MMIs.

US Auto Sales 'n Oil Prices–March 2015

Of the US Big Three, GM and Ford's March sales both dropped this year compared to March 2014, while Chrysler gained nearly 2% in its monthly sales over last year. However, both GM and Chrysler's year-to-date sales so far in 2015 are quite robust over the same amount of time in 2014 (5.3% and 6.5%, respectively), while Ford's YTD sales are also in the green.

Bargain-basement oil prices have helped consumers at the gas pump, which in turn has spurred sales. Light truck sales, for example, have been outpacing car sales for the past 15 months, and have spiked to their highest level in several years in March 2015. Primary metal producers are on the bullish demand bandwagon as well – Alcoa recently received the promise of government cash for lightweight auto-grade aluminum production.

Essentially, the automotive OEMs and their suppliers should be paying close attention to our Automotive MMI® trend – with finished steel, aluminum, platinum and palladium at multi-month lows, while consumer vehicle demand appears to be high, some spot buying could be in order...but we can't say for sure how much further this index has to fall. MetalMiner will, however, be offering an exclusive automotive metal market outlook...

SRM Automotive Summit

If you happen to be in Southeast Michigan in May – and chances are, if you work for an auto OEM or many of their suppliers, you already will be – join MetalMiner Executive Editor Lisa Reisman at the POOL4TOOL SRM Automotive Summit, to be held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham on Friday, May 22.

Lisa will present "Sourcing Strategies for the Automotive Metals: H2 2015." Don't miss out this analysis and a great overall event – register here.

This Month's Actual Metal Prices: Automotive MMI®

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Steel held its price for the first time in seven months, breaking a string of losses that most market observers expected would continue.

The monthly Raw Steels MMI® registered a value of 60 in April, on par with March's value.

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Continuing low prices for iron ore and a generally weak scrap market are causing a deflationary spiral for most grades of steel.

Low Prices, Lower Demand

Steel prices fell sharply during the first quarter and our steel index got a much-needed breather.

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The once-robust global construction market fell further this month as, here in the US, price-cutting by OPEC has caused large oil and gas projects to fall below their breakeven payback points.

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Heavy energy construction as fallen and the fragile single-family home market is not strong enough to pick up the slack.
The monthly Construction MMI® registered a value of 74 in April, a decrease of 1.3% from 75 in March.

Oil is Now Too Cheap to Pull Out of the Ground

The effects of oil and gas drilling suspensions have been felt by producers of steel pipe used in the field (oil country tubular goods) and that lack of production showed up the past two months in the form of canceled or postponed exploration projects.

Without the robust growth in civil drilling projects here in the US, construction spending fell in February as the numbers were also pulled down by a drop in single-family home building. Private spending on construction of single-family homes declined 1.4%.

The pullback in exploration is, however, not just a US problem. A key “supply-based” response to low oil prices has been a sharp decline in rig counts and reductions in 2015 capital expenditure budgets from major oil companies, including ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Hess, and BP. These multinationals spend much of their exploration budgets 0n projects in the US but Brazil and other energy-rich nations could see projects canceled as well

The “power” category of the US Census Bureau — which includes oil and gas facilities — is down by 17.2% year-on-year and 4.5% for the month. That sector of the construction industry is simply going to have to wait until energy prices rise again.

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