As coil import arrivals drop off (the arbitrage for speculative tonnage disappeared in 2015, but it takes 3-4 months for physical arrivals to catch up), we expect that metal service centers will be back in the purchasing game over the next quarter.
Crucially however, they do not need to buy in big volume, but expect to see steadier business filling in holes in certain products rather than big blanket buys. That trend would be supported by a stronger economic environment than in Q1.
Carbon Flat-Rolled Inventories
That will mean the initial going for a price increase in hot-rolled or cold-rolled coil will be tough sledding, but we expect prices in the short-term to hit the $470 per ton target by the end of this month.
Despite probable attempts by mills to increase the price again, we believe that coil will fluctuate around this price through the second quarter, as distributors have plentiful inventory and are well-stocked with lower-priced (import) coil that is competitive. Moreover, too aggressive a price move will bring imports back in as there is plenty of cheap coil around.
Once that inventory is cleared, however, thanks to lower imports and cuts in domestic production, we expect a moderate gain in pricing in the second half of the year – back over $500/ton.
One wild card that we would consider a trigger for further price gains is an anti-dumping filing against Chinese, Indian and potentially other sources on CRC and HDG. Chinese supply of CRC was 6% of the US market in 2014 while Chinese and Indian supply of HDG was a combined 8%.
This is not insignificant, but highlights that this will not be a cure-all for the sector, although we suspect that if the US mills do go for a filing, they will blanket the market and try to pick up other suppliers in their net, such as Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Russia that will account for a few more percentage points.
Our view remains that anti-dumping action is “whack-a-mole” to some extent with other non-named suppliers popping up as alternatives. Nevertheless, the removal of China, in particular, would result in some of the really low-priced coil exiting the market and the Chinese are looking to some extent to develop a long-term customer base of end-users that would be detrimental to US mills.
As such, we believe that a filing would help US mill volumes (at least initially), although we believe that the pricing impact would be short-term at best.
Steel-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.