Steel Price Trends: An Upcoming Top?

U.S. domestic steel prices steadily increased after the release of the Section 232 report and President Donald Trump’s formal proclamation. However, the pace of the increases has started to slow down, signaling a possible top.
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After what now looks like sluggish steel momentum in 2017, the current steel price rally appears to have no end. Prices climbed to more than seven-year highs. However, MetalMiner previously reported on a possible top for steel prices.

U.S. HRC and CRC prices. Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

So far, steel prices have not dropped. In fact, HRC and CRC prices have moved closer toward the $900/st and $1,000/st, respectively. Also, the approaching date of May 1, when several countries’ tariff exemptions expire, could still add support to domestic steel prices. This expiration date involves the Section 232 country exemptions for the EU, Argentina, Brazil and Australia.
The only exception is South Korea, which is exempted from steel imports under the bilateral trade deal, KORUS. The agreement with South Korea removes steel tariffs permanently but replaces that with a quota. The steel quota is equivalent to 70% of South Korea’s average exports to the U.S. from 2015-2017. In return, South Korea has agreed to improve access for U.S. automakers, who can now export up to 50,000 vehicles per OEM per year. South Korean aluminum tariffs however will go into effect after May 1, similar to the other countries listed above.
Whether the countries remain exempted or not may affect U.S. domestic steel prices. The country exemption could create downward price pressure on steel. However, steel prices could stay well supported if the country exemptions go away.

Global Steel Demand

According to the World Steel Association, global steel demand is forecasted to grow by 1.8% in 2018 and 0.7% in 2019. Despite the steel markets’ risks from current trade tensions (Section 232 tariffs, Section 301), the world’s favorable economic momentum may drive actual demand growth. Global steel demand in 2018 is forecasted to reach 1.616 billion tons, increasing to 1.627 billion tons next year.
A forecasted increase in demand acts as a support for domestic steel prices. The higher the demand, the more prices may remain holding at their new, higher price levels.
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On the flip side, the current rally seems to have lost some its previous steam. Buying organizations may want to understand how to adapt their buying strategy to the current market changes.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

As steel price dynamics showed a strong upward momentum this month, buying organizations may want to understand price movements to decide when to commit mid- and long-term purchases. Buying organizations looking for more clarity on when to buy and how much to buy of their steel products may want to take a free trial now to our Monthly Metal Buying Outlook.

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