Author Archives: Lisa Reisman

Steel and stainless steel buying organizations have expressed concern to MetalMiner about the potential outcome of the current Section 232 steel investigation led U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

According to a recent Reuters article, Ross, when discussing the Section 232 steel investigation told a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee last week that, “there is a genuine national security issue,” suggesting his agency would make recommendations that would potentially curb steel imports.

He went on to suggest several potential policy recommendations, including: “Imposing tariffs above the current, country-specific anti-dumping and anti-dumping duties on steel products; imposing quotas limiting the volume of steel imports; and a hybrid ‘tariff-rate quota’ option that would include quotas on specific products with new tariffs for imports above those levels,” and intimated that this last option would help mitigate price risk for steel consumers. Ross made several additional comments to allay consumers’ concerns regarding price increases.

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U.S. domestic prices of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) fell this past month, continuing the roller coaster ride of price increases and decreases in the GOES M3 index since the start of this year.

GOES prices do not tend to follow general steel price trends, nor does simple fundamental (supply and demand) analysis help explain price trends.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Globally, for example, GOES prices are on the rise, on the back of several developments.

Demand for electric cars

An increased demand for electric cars that use high-quality non-oriented electrical steel (NOES), is one such development. MetalMiner has reviewed market growth data supplied by an automotive manufacturer indicating that demand for electric vehicles is anticipated to take about 8% market share away from internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles by 2020, with battery electric vehicles (BEV) taking up the largest share of electric vehicle (EV) growth.

NOES is required to get the power from the battery to the motor. How does this impact GOES prices? High-quality NOES often needs to run on GOES product lines, thereby limiting GOES capacity.

In theory, this should cause prices to rise.

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Last month we reported that in March, U.S. domestic steel prices generally rose while the GOES M3 price fell. This month, we can safely report the exact opposite price change. U.S. domestic steel prices fell while GOES prices rose in April.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

In our April update, MetalMiner indicated that GOES prices might find a price floor on the back of a large 20,000/mt tender from Bharat Heavy Electricals. That indeed appears to have happened. Moreover, according to a recent TEX Report, GOES prices have continued to climb in China as Baoshan Iron & Steel needs to service the domestic market due to anti-dumping cases preventing Japanese and Korean imports to that market.

The TEX Report also suggests that global inventories remain low and that many countries have come into the market all at the same time, requiring material. This could lead to higher prices, particularly from the Japanese mills for contracts awarded during the second half of the year.

The Gorilla in the Room

The real challenge for domestic GOES prices, however, rests on the results of the Section 232 steel product investigation launched by the Trump administration in late April. The results will likely not come much before January 22, 2018, assuming the Secretary of Commerce takes the allowable 270 days to present findings to the President. At its core, the investigation seeks to address the issue of

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International trade hasn’t been this contentious since before the Great Depression, and it is causing free traders much concern. We’ve seen a number of trade cases affect some U.S. imports such that the U.S. steel industry effectively implemented a full ground stop on many steel products (though that ground stop has been short-lived). Some political appointments have caused a backlash amongst some free-trade Republicans, importers, traders and manufacturers.

FREE REPORT: How Circumvention Impacts Both Downstream, Value-Added Manufacturing

This administration’s stance on trade has helped galvanize both the case for and against trade. These arguments are centered on several themes related to the notion that China’s loss is U.S. value-added manufacturers’ gain — if China chooses to “dump” its products at a loss, then shouldn’t value-added manufacturers take the opportunity to purchase [steel and/or other commodities] to increase their overall cost competitiveness on finished goods?

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This is the final of a three-part series on MetalMiner Benchmark. Here’s part one and part two if you missed them.

We recently launched MetalMiner Benchmark. Source: MetalMiner.

One question we often field from readers is this one: “how are other companies buying their X and how well are we buying X?” We have previously written that many buying organizations fall into one of several different “buy” scenarios that include the following:

  1. The pure spot buyer (e.g. otherwise known as 3 bids in a box): Here, the buying organization goes out to market with a specific requirement, obtains three bids and typically places the award with the most competitive supplier who can meet delivery and quality requirements.
  2. The contract buyer: Prefers nearly the opposite type arrangement. He or she likes to “lock in” all or close to all known requirements or use some formula based on 80% of last year’s demand. The contract buyer often uses a price contracting mechanism known as an index whereby the price adjusts quarterly or monthly to the index depending on the agreed-upon arrangement.
  3. The hybrid buyer: This buyer is more strategic in that he/she buys both on the spot market and also contracts for forward buys or hedges when prices warrant that action.

Pros and cons exist for each scenario. Often times, the contract buyer in scenario two actually looks more like the spot buyer in scenario one because when a buying organization uses an index like CRU Group‘s, they do, in fact, pay the market price. They don’t actually pay less than the market or avoid a cost run-up if prices rise. In that sense, the scenario two buyer is actually a spot buyer — ultimately paying the market price.

We’d argue there are tools today that allow the buying organization to take their metals purchasing to the next level. Innovative practices such as benchmarking can actually allow the buying organization to reduce its average or budgeted purchase price. Let’s see how.

There are a number of ways to this. We have identified a few below:

  1. By benchmarking your company’s current monthly metal spend, and by doing so regularly, buying organizations can walk into a supplier negotiation armed with current market price data and knowledge of how well the company buys vis-à-vis the market. Access to superior metal price intelligence gives the buying organization a leg up in negotiations and the ability to lower costs.
  2. By pairing the benchmark report with forecasting, buying organizations can better time contract purchases both to avoid significant price increases as well as to “float” when prices are dropping. In this way, the buying organization can apply a more strategic hybrid approach to metals purchasing thereby lowering average costs.
  3. Think of benchmarking as laser surgery. Buying organizations now have the means of pinpointing specific SKU-level opportunity areas while leaving other areas untouched.
  4. Stop wasting time on metal sourcing projects that have little to no ROI. Conversely, identify high-ROI metal sourcing projects. Educate your executive team with where and how the procurement organization plans on creating value within some of the largest metals purchase areas.
  5. Conduct alternative supplier identification on the fly by seeing alternative suppliers within your geography for the form/alloy/grade/size you buy. By conducting these types of analyses quickly and efficiently the long cycle time of implementing savings can be streamlined and shortened.

Try Benchmarking for free with self-service!

Bonus benefit: improve your ISO certification scores by using benchmarking, which enables a fact-based approach to decision-making, a key requirement of certification.

The most innovative metal buying organizations will become the early adopters of this type of benchmarking capability. Just as Progressive Insurance and Kelley Blue Book created market access to greater pricing visibility, metal price transparency appears within reach. This innovation should significantly improve metal buying strategies.

This is the second of a three-part series on MetalMiner Benchmark. Here’s part one if you missed it.

If data is the new natural resource in business, then when examining the landscape of third-party metal price tools, indexes and services, it’s safe to say that most of them fall into one of three categories:

  1. They report out the exchange-traded metal (meaning the metal that is traded on a formal exchange, typically a raw material form of the metal)
  2. Some report alloying elements and minor metals — important for mills and producers but less relevant to OEMs and most metal buying organizations
  3. They report out only a parameter or two such as alloy and form, e.g. cold-rolled coil (and typically a geography) but don’t get more specific than that

Our own MetalMiner IndX(SM), which we are no longer actively marketing, reports out most of the above and in some cases, by multiple geographies. Helpful? Sure, but limited in a number of key respects.

Limitations of Current Metal Price Indexes

Based on our own analysis and analyses conducted by our readers and shared with us, the three primary limitations of current metal price indexes (including our own) are as follows:

  1. They aren’t correlated enough with the metal prices buying organizations actually pay. The London Metal Exchange three-month aluminum price plus the Midwest premium certainly goes a long way in helping buying organizations understand the general aluminum price trend, but that still leaves some portion of the price a company actually pays out of the equation.

For example, the 3003 H14 .020 x 48” x 120” sheet that a company actually buys from a service center includes more than what current indexes supply:

  • LME three-month aluminum price + MW premium + Conversion Premium + margin + delivery to the customer.

CRU Group publishes a weekly CRC, HRC, HDG and Plate price for several geographies in the midwest but that CRC price is still not the same price as the price for 100,000 pounds of 1011 12 gauge x 48” coil.

  1. In some cases, other metal price indexes have the form, alloy and grade-level data (see stainless prices from MetalBulletin). American Metal Market also publishes form/alloy/grade data but it may not include specific sizes, quantity breaks or price differences based on those parameters. In addition, some of these may only be updated monthly.
  1. Current price indexes are all one-sided — They go from the publication out to the reader/user. There is no two-way method of giving your data and getting something back that allows you to compare your purchase price against others in your industry.

Benchmarking is always free with self-service!

Why Form/Alloy/Grade/Size Matter

By providing a means to identify the market price at the granular level of form/alloy/grade/size, buying organizations can now effectively compare the actual industrial prices paid against peers as well as the market as a whole. This capability also allows buying organizations to identify alternative suppliers, pinpoint specific SKUs and areas of opportunity, and strengthen existing supplier relationships.

It’s clear that, indeed, “data is the “new” natural resource in business. In our next post we’ll cover how buying organizations can use these types of resources to lower their average cost.

Click here to see a sample enterprise benchmark report.

Global steel prices tend to find a floor based on the price of Chinese steel. If Chinese prices fall, domestic U.S. prices also tend to fall. However, grain-oriented electrical steel continues to beat to its own drum, often not aligned with underlying steel prices.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

March is no exception.

Although U.S. domestic steel prices continued to rise in March, the GOES M3 price fell and fell rather significantly dropping by nearly 7%.

GOES MMI

Meanwhile, according to a couple of recent TEX Reports, GOES prices from Baosteel increased by $38/metric ton in April after increases of $168/mt from January through March. Baosteel acts as the price leader and according to a recent report, and will likely stand pat until or unless others also increase their prices. Those “others” may have a near-term opportunity to do so as a large tender from Bharat Heavy Electricals for 20,000 mt will bring in the global GOES producer community. As China tends to set the “market floor” for global steel prices, the TEX Report suggests that this tender will serve as the global price floor for GOES for the balance of 2017.

Supporting the rising price theory, TEX Report also suggests that prices have risen by $200-300 per mt in the Middle East and India.

Ironically, prices for steel rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange have declined by 5% according to a recent MetalMiner story on the back of declining coking coal (4%) and declining coke prices (5%), as well as falling iron ore futures. Some, including MetalMiner, believe the price declines are due to speculators unwinding bullish bets.

Chinese HRC

Source: MetalMiner Forecasting

Regardless, Chinese prices for hot-rolled coil are falling and though GOES prices often diverge from underlying steel market trends, upward price movements may be elusive.

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If “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then perhaps being labeled a “disruptor” and compared to the likes of Amazon by an industry luminary isn’t such a bad thing either. Referring to the recent launch of MetalMiner (SM) Benchmark, Denny Oates, CEO and President of Universal Stainless named MetalMiner as a potential “threat” to the industry [stainless] at the recent Specialty Metals Conference hosted by MSCI in March.  

I guess it all depends on your perspective. When it comes to the inevitable arrival of price transparency in metals markets you can see the proverbial glass as half empty or as half full. We (and a growing number of other industry leaders) view it in a far more positive light. It’s simple really — when it comes to consumer demand for transparency, the choice is  pretty clear — get on the train or get run over by it. As former Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army, General Eric Shinseki, put it less delicately:  “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

It’s natural to view any change to the status quo as potentially threatening but that most basic of human instincts — to fear something new — can often prevent you from seeing the opportunities that change brings. This, the first of a multi-part series on MetalMiner (SM) Benchmark, will attempt to shed light on this crowd-sourced application and show metal buying organizations as well as service centers and producers how this new capability can serve as an enabler creating trust between buyers and sellers, accentuating often overlooked value added capability, quality and on time delivery.  It also reduces uncertainty, speculation, and risk for all parties.

First, let’s set aside emotion and take a look at the facts — what has price transparency really meant in other industries? Let’s begin with the problem because most new solutions and innovations come from addressing an actual problem. In this case, the number one problem we hear from our audience always involves a version of “where can I get the price of (fill in the blank)?” And that “fill in the blank” typically covers aluminum, steel, stainless steel, copper, tinplate and GOES (grain-oriented electrical steel). In our world, if a customer wants something, figuring out how to give it to them is a good thing.

We’d argue that buying organizations constantly want to know:

  • the price of the specific metal they are buying (form/alloy/grade/thickness)
  • the forecast for that specific metal they are buying
  • the historical price for that specific metal they are buying
  • what other people are paying for that specific metal they are buying
  • what the drivers are for the specific metals that they are buying

In that same presentation by Denny Oates, he argues wisely (below) the different strategies industry players, both mills and service centers will have to take in order to succeed.

Benchmarking

The role of the “trusted advisor” appears prescient, except that we’d argue that being transparent with customers on what constitutes a “fair and reasonable market price” is something service centers need to embrace not fear. Trust between supplier and buyer is the currency of business in the new, high information, digital world in which we live. A case in point: An Accenture study of B2B sales suggests that 94% of B2B buyers say they conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product. For large corporate purchases of more than $5,000, 34% spend over three hours researching products. Metals price benchmarking does not change buyer behavior, it simply makes it easier.  What’s interesting, though, is what happens when sellers embrace transparency and use it to endear customers to them.   Read more

U.S. M3 grain-oriented electrical steel prices dropped slightly with the M3 index moving from 200 to 197.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Though U.S. prices dipped slightly, China’s Baosteel announced a price hike for GOES close to $40 per metric ton, according to a recent TEX Report. Although the Chinese have led recent GOES and other steel product price hikes, others have not necessarily followed. Nevertheless, Chinese steel prices set the floor for global steel prices.

GOES MMI

Now that the Trump administration has begun to settle in, market observers have paid close attention to trade actions within the metals industry, particularly the cold-rolled coil circumvention case and most recently a case filed by the Aluminum Association against China involving aluminum foil. Both the domestic steel and aluminum industries have pursued trade cases to address overcapacity concerns.

GOES Prices and NAFTA

GOES markets follow some of these same patterns. Back in 2013, GOES from China accounted for about 10% of total U.S. GOES imports (by tonnage). Clearly, the trade cases filed by the domestic producers at the time limited Chinese imports, but that trade case sought to stop other countries’ imports as much as China’s.

Herein lies a big difference between the GOES case and the aluminum case as well as the prior flat-rolled product steel cases. The GOES trade case did not result in any finding of injury, so no anti-dumping and countervailing duties were assessed. Instead, domestic power equipment manufacturers shifted their global supply chains to source GOES globally and purchase transformer parts and wound cores from NAFTA countries.

Some have speculated that two years ago, the addition of two new harmonized tariff codes for both transformer parts (8504.90.9546) and wound cores (8504.90.9542) would set the stage for future trade cases brought by the lone domestic GOES producer. We think this looks like a “stretch” and, legally, we’re not even sure there is a case to be had as AK Steel currently does not manufacture transformer parts or wound cores.

Import volumes for wound cores have modestly increased, but imports for transformer parts have actually declined:

GOES imports from 2015 to today

GOES imports from 2015 to today. Source: Lisa Reisman/MetalMiner.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: Adding GOES Price Benchmarking Soon!

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The GOES M3 MMI took another jump this past month moving from 192 to 200 for a 4+% increase. Last month the index made a 5% gain.

Last month, MetalMiner examined the Trump administration’s stance on trade policy and likely impact on GOES markets (and concluded that GOES prices would not see too much of an impact since most of the imported GOES material comes from Japan, Russia and the U.K.) In other words, even in a trade war with China, we don’t expect that to drive GOES price momentum.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

However, and as one of our readers pointed out, our story failed to address “Buy America” requirements which, indeed, could impact GOES markets.

We know President Trump implemented Buy America requirements for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines including all new pipelines and retrofits (even slab imports are disqualified for domestic producers with only rolling operations here in the U.S.) Could Trump implement Buy America requirements for transformers? The answer to that question: absolutely! It’s clear that Trump will act aggressively to promote Buy America requirements. These requirements will serve as a bullish indicator for GOES prices.

In the aftermath of the GOES domestic anti-dumping case, many large equipment manufacturers moved production of stacked and wound cores as well as laminations to suppliers in Mexico and Canada in anticipation of significant duties being placed on GOES imports here in the U.S. Those duties did not materialize. Nevertheless, production moved to NAFTA countries anyway.

Which brings us to NAFTA. President Trump has promised to renegotiate NAFTA. But in truth, NAFTA has not been bad for the domestic steel industry. It remains unclear what specific changes the President will attempt to renegotiate. Furthermore, AK Steel could find itself in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, from an overall perspective, AK Steel has probably benefited from NAFTA as the agreement currently stands, though its GOES business, in particular, may have suffered as AK customers moved operations to Canada and Mexico. As the sole remaining domestic GOES producer, AK Steel may need to walk a fine line between what it lobbies for in terms of Buy America and what it has gained with NAFTA.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Meanwhile, the industry should pay close attention to Big River Steel which reported record first-month production for a flat-rolled mini mill. BRS has publicly stated that they will add GOES capacity at a later stage. Aperam South America has started a GOES line out of Brazil. Imports from South America could increase just as BRS is starting its GOES line.

Meanwhile, what’s driving GOES price momentum right now?

According to a recent TEX report, orders that are typically placed during the summer months did not get placed which created a surplus. Since January, buying organizations have come back into the market including: Chinese, Korean and U.S. customers. In addition, a large tender for the Middle East will soak up some extra capacity which has caused market entrants to secure material before that tender is released. This has likely caused some price momentum as Baosteel raised prices for February shipments.

U.S. import levels have also increased during January supporting the notion that demand has increased.

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