With HR coil prices at $450 per ton in mid-April (although big buyers could get $420/ton), HR coil prices had dropped $250/ton since late summer. US mills blamed imports – which is true – but forgot to mention that they had kept steel prices at elevated levels for 9-12 months while prices in the rest of the world were tanking. What did they expect?

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

It is our view that we are now at the bottom and in late April, ArcelorMittal led the industry with a $20/ton increase for June deliveries. Since then, transaction prices have edged up to $460/ton and slightly above. So where do we go from here?

Carbon Flat-Rolled Inventories

Steel_Insight_051515_550

Values in millions of tons (add 000 to the end of each number on the chart). Source: MSCI, Steel-Insight.

Lead times across the industry vary from around 3-5 weeks for hot-rolled coil. The aim of the price increase was to extend those order books and lead times and therefore create momentum for further price gains. It certainly brought some buyers back in with any remaining May tonnage sold out quickly at the lower price.

Inventory Surplus

At this point in the cycle, the inventory situation is critical. Inventories remain elevated, but total flat-rolled stocks appear to have stabilized at just over 6 million tons (around 10-11 weeks of demand) and we expect them to begin to fall steadily over the next few months as service center order levels have been slack for much of 2015 as they received earlier orders – both domestic and import. Data (see chart) suggests that inventories may be topping out, but we would like to see more than a single month of data to confirm that trend and volumes will have to come down significantly from current levels to spur buying. The inventory correction period still has some way to run.

JamesMayheadshot_150Steel-Insight is a steel industry price-forecasting publishing company, based in Toronto. James May, the firm’s managing director, has been a steel industry analyst for 15 years and advises some of the major global steel trading companies, steel producers and steel consumers on the outlook for steel pricing and industry trends. For more information, visit www.steel-insight.com.

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