steel price

The Raw Steel Monthly Metals Index (MMI) dropped 1.2% this month, down to an index reading of 80.

Weakness in the index once again came from U.S. domestic steel prices.

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U.S. prices showed weakness of late with HRC, CRC, HDG and plate prices dropping slightly again for the second month in a row.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

This brings prices back down to around February levels, when these four forms of steel initially turned around from recent price declines (after reaching historical highs in April 2018).

A Comparison of U.S. and China Steel Prices

The spread between U.S. HRC and Chinese HRC narrowed between March and April, dropping to $161/st from $183/st in March.

Based on preliminary May numbers, the gap looks poised to close further, with a preliminary drop to $120/st based on early May prices.

U.S. HRC Prices and the U.S.-China Price Spread

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Compared to HRC, the spread between CRC prices remains relatively flat, with a drop of just a few dollars between March and April. However, the gap looks to narrow more significantly based on early May prices, with a gap of $223/st (down from April’s $240/st price difference).

Waning Demand in Steel-Intensive Sectors

Construction and housing showed some weakness recently, according to the most recently available U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Total construction spending for March dropped below February by 0.9%, totaling around $1,228 billion. Additionally, the sector looks flat since last year, with this March’s figure coming in below last March, when expenditures on construction totaled $1,293 billion, marking a 0.8% drop.

Q1 expenditures look essentially flat compared with last year, with a 0.2% increase.

The durable goods sector has showed strength, with new orders up for four of the previous five months through March, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with orders for transportation equipment growing the most.

Reuters reported lower auto sales for April, with the sales decline attributed to rising prices and fewer incentives offered, especially on lower-end models.

In addition, consumers turned to the used market in larger numbers this year due to higher prices, as costs of new vehicles increased this year.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Steel prices showed weakness lately, with the monthly index on a gentle decline during the past two months.

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Actual Raw Steel Prices and Trends

U.S. HRC futures spot and 3-month prices both declined this month, in excess of 5%, both at $654/st.

Korea’s scrap steel price, currently at $150/mt, dropped significantly after a similarly sizable increase last month, with both the increase and subsequent drop in excess of 16%.

Chinese prices showed some strength, although not across the board. Most notably, Chinese HRC prices increased by 5% to around $600/mt, while steel billet increased over 3% to $551/mt.

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This morning in metals news, the Republic of Congo made its first export of iron ore, Korean steelmaker POSCO says elevated iron ore prices will put a damper on steel margins this year and global aluminum production in March hit 5.4 million metric tons.

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Republic of Congo Makes First Iron Ore Export

The Republic of Congo last week made its first shipment of iron ore, S&P Global Platts reported.

The shipment of 22,000 metric tons of iron ore is headed for a Chinese steel mill, according to the report.

Rising Iron Ore Prices to Impact Steel Margins

The price of the steelmaking material iron ore has received several supply-side boosts of late, particularly related to events in Brazil at Vale’s operations and from recent tropical cyclones in Australia.

As such, Korean steelmaker POSCO expects elevated iron ore and coking coal prices to hamper steel margins this year, the Australian Financial Review reported. According to the report, POSCO expects iron ore to trade between $82-$87 per ton for the remainder of the financial year.

March Aluminum Production

The International Aluminum Institute released monthly aluminum production figures Tuesday, showing global production in March hit 5.4 million metric tons.

The March total marked an increase from the 4.9 million metric tons in January, but was down on a daily average basis.

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Production in China hit 3.1 million metric tons, up from 2.8 million metric tons in February.

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Amidst the trade tension that exists between the United States and India, now comes a report that India’s steel exports to the U.S. last year fell by a whopping 49%.

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On the other hand, exports of Indian aluminum went up by 58%.

The report by the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS), which said the value of Indian steel exports to U.S. was down to U.S. $372 million but aluminum was up to $221 million.

The U.S. had imported steel and aluminum products totaling $29.5 billion and $17.6 billion, respectively, in 2018.

Quoting from the CRS report, the Hindu Business Line said the countries to see the largest declines in the value of their steel exports to the U.S. were:

  • South Korea (-$430 million, -15%)
  • Turkey (-$413 million, -35%)
  • India (-$372 million, -49%)

There were major increases in imports from the European Union (+$567 million, +22%), Mexico (+$508 million, +20%) and Canada (+$404 million, +19%).

According to the CSR, the countries seeing the largest declines in their export totals to the U.S. were:

  • China (-$729 million, -40%)
  • Russia (-$676 million, -42%)
  • Canada (-$294 million, – 4%)

Major increases were from:

  • the E.U. (+$ 395 million,+9%)
  • India (+$ 221 million,+58%)
  • Oman (+$186 million, +200%).

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump decided to impose blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which applied to India, as well as other countries (such as China). India then proposed retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agricultural products, including apples and lentils, which experts believed would have had an adverse impact on American exports worth nearly U.S. $900 million.

However, India has continued to defer with respect to this option.

The U.S. president had given temporary exemption to several countries from the tariffs pending negotiations. Later, permanent tariff exemptions in exchange for quantitative limitations on U.S. imports were announced covering steel for Brazil and South Korea, and both steel and aluminum for Argentina.

The latest CRS report pointed out that one of the U.S.’s major concerns was overcapacity in steel and aluminum production led by China.

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The U.S. had imposed extensive anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese steel imports to counter the latter’s unfair trade practices, but experts believe the size of Chinese production continues to depress prices globally, according to the CRS report.

The Chinese government frequently mandates steel production cuts, especially for environmental reasons. But the cuts have also aimed to cut production volume in support of maintaining higher steel prices and, therefore, a healthier domestic industry.

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A recent goal of cutting 150 million metric tons of steel production capacity by 2020 was achieved by the end of 2018, according to the Chinese government. (By the way, no such purely production-focused reduction goal exists for 2019).

According to a recent Reuters article, on the other hand, in June 2018, China’s State Council banned new capacity development for steel, among so2me other primary commodity products, in some key geographic areas, such as Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Yantze River Delta Regions.

The Chinese government mandated that blast furnace steel operations in Tangshan and Handan, China’s largest steelmaking cities, continue production cuts, but at a reduced rate of 20% of total capacity for April-June (compared to the 30% capacity reduction ordered for the November-March period).

These cuts target improvement in air quality by reducing the concentration of PM2.5 particulate matter by a minimum of 5% this year, when compared to 2018. Some production facilities must even leave the region as the government seeks to improve the quality of life in pollution-affected areas, such as Beijing, which is surrounded by Hebei province (the location of multiple steelmaking cities, including Tangshan and Handan).

When prices rise, however, these mandates become more difficult to enforce.

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell by one point this month to 81, a 1.2% decline from the previous month’s MMI value.

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Price weakness in the index came from the U.S. HRC 3-month futures contract, with a 6.3% decline in price this month, while Chinese Dalian coking coal prices declined by 7.2%. The declining prices pulled the index down, in spite of the 16.2% increase in Korean scrap steel prices.

U.S.steel prices generally trended gently upward after stabilizing earlier in the year. CRC prices increased by around 3% on a month-on-month basis, while HDG increased by nearly 3%. HRC prices edged up by just over 1% while plate prices held steady month on month.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Overall, prices stayed firm, in line with seasonal supply and demand factors at work in construction, in particular. Generally stronger-than-expected industrial performance in both the U.S. and China provided price strength.

Similarly, and in line with more positive economic data than generally anticipated, Chinese steel prices increased so far this year, leading the U.S. price increase (as generally expected by technical analysis of steel prices since Chinese prices tend to move first).

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Based on a basic visual comparison of Chinese steel prices with the China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) trendline, as the PMI crosses the threshold over 50, steel prices tend to increase while they tended to fall during months of contractionary sub-50 readings. As we can see the PMI trending upward, we can expect steel prices to rise.

Source: Analysis of data from MetalMiner IndX(™), Yahoo.com and Investing.com

On the other hand, the comparison of trendlines between steel prices and China’s FXI, a large-cap ETF index, shows a relationship that appears weaker, with values moving in opposite directions at times (although still typically following a similar movement).

Given that China’s PMI reading increased recently, this indicates the potential for steel prices to show strength.

A Comparison of U.S. and Chinese Steel Prices

The spread between U.S. HRC and China HRC prices flattened out for the last couple readings after falling for a few months now, with a price differential in early April of $181/st.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

This month, U.S. CRC prices outpaced China CRC prices. The spread once again trended slightly upward between the two after trending more or less downward since July 2018, with the current price differential of around $255/st.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Iron ore prices increased again this month, after some moderation in price increases from earlier this year. Weather issues stemming from Tropical Cyclone Veronica in Australia last month kept prices higher, in addition to a general improvement in the industrial outlook in China, which could support higher iron ore prices, and therefore higher steel prices. Coking coal prices, on the other hand, have generally fallen so far in 2019, which may exert downward pressure on steel prices.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Even with the lower index value this month, some forms of steel still showed upward momentum, indicating prices could be on the rise once again; that is, at least for the short term, supported by stronger-than-expected economic performance in the U.S. and China.

Like last month, plate prices continue to sit at high levels. Plate prices sit near $1,000/st, rising again after briefly falling back to $993/st in late March.

With prices still somewhat higher and other factors indicating some potential to increase further, buying organizations need to watch the market carefully for the right time to buy.

For more specific pricing guidance, try our Monthly Metal Miner Outlook Report on us – free for the first two months.

Actual Raw Steel Prices and Trends

U.S. shredded scrap prices stayed flat during March while the U.S. HRC futures contract 3-month price fell 6.3%.

Chinese Dalian coking coal prices were down 7.2%, falling the most of all the metals tracked in the Raw Steels MMI basket.

The price of Korean scrap steel increased the most, jumping 16.25%. Other price movements in the basket were much more modest, oscillating around the plus or minus 1% mark.

[Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on steel supply and prices. Revisit Part 1 here.]

Actual Chinese Steel Prices

Looking at longer-term trends in Chinese steel prices, we can see after hitting a low during mid-to-late 2015, prices trended upward overall (with some ups and downs along the way). For example, prices dipped in summer 2016, in spring 2017 and somewhat less so in spring 2018.

More recently, prices dropped off last fall:

Includes partial March price data through the 12th. Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

HRC and CRC prices trended very similarly, with the price gap narrowing over time. In fact, Chinese CRC prices stood higher in August 2014 than today’s prices. However, prices for CRC have remained above 4,000 RMB since August 2017.

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HRC prices increased slightly, while plate prices started out lower but trended higher than CRC. Over time, the price differential for HDG increased; however, the price trends reliably with HRC and CRC, especially since August 2017.

U.S. HRC Versus Chinese HRC Prices

Chinese HRC prices turned around in February and have gained momentum in March.

Includes partial March price data through the 12th. Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Prices moved similarly for both U.S. and Chinese HRC late in February and into March.

Meanwhile, the price gap between Chinese and U.S. prices narrowed into the early months of 2019:

Source: Analysis of MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™), including price data through March 12

U.S. CRC Prices Versus Chinese CRC Prices

China CRC prices have also increased in the early months of 2019.

Includes partial March price data through the 12th. Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The price gap between Chinese and U.S. prices narrowed, but still remains wider than prior to imposition of the U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs of March 2018.

However, with the shrinking price gap, U.S. purchases of U.S. domestic CRC, like U.S. domestic HRC, became relatively more attractive again:

Includes partial March price data through the 12th. Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

Implications for Buying Organizations

What can we expect from the Chinese government in terms of production reductions?

Why do high-level goals, such as reduced production, fail?

“The profit gained from selling one ton of steel is less than the profit from selling one dish of fried pork,” Shen Wenrong, chairman of the largest private steel company in China, was quoted as saying in a 2015 Bloomberg article. This points to a lack of actual willingness of Chinese domestic producers to throttle production.

China’s stated policy of production reduction has not happened on a net basis, even after environmental protocols paused production at times. At any rate, production and export figures continue to rise out of China, even as the domestic economy apparently weakens.

Given that global production capacity for steels continues to increase, we can expect this to have a depressing effect on steel prices overall.

On the other hand, if Chinese production moves upstream, it is realistic to expect price increases that stick as production becomes more advanced.

Even with China’s continued increase in production, U.S. imports of steel from all global markets decreased by 11.5% in 2018 over the year prior, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Revenue also improved overall for U.S. steelmakers, according to government data.

However, what happens in China price-wise, will not stay in China.

Pricing impacts in China continue to affect global prices given the country’s consistent global share of production numbers at around the 50% over the past few years.

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As the Chinese government pushes the steel industry toward more advanced production, we can expect no less from domestic industry players in the U.S. As newer production facilities come online, we can expect to see closures of older production facilities. On a net basis, that is a good thing. If the U.S. industry continues to revitalize itself toward building long-term sustainable competitive advantages, it could avoid the so-called “Steelmageddon.”

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U.S. steel mills produced 1.93 million net tons of raw steel during the week ending March 16, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

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Production for the week — which came at a capacity utilization rate of 82.9% — was up 5.7% compared with the same week the previous year but down 0.6% from the previous week.

Adjusted year-to-date production through March 16 reached 20.3 million net tons — up 6.7% compared with the same period in 2018 — at a capacity rate of 81.4%. For the same period in 2018, mills produced 19.0 million tons at a capacity utilization rate of 76.6%.

By region, the Great Lakes holds the top spot in terms of steel production for the year through March 16:

  • North East: 226,000 net tons
  • Great Lakes: 729,000 net tons
  • Midwest: 205,000 net tons
  • Southern: 711,000 net tons
  • Western: 59,000 net tons

The U.S. steel sector’s capacity rate continues to climb on the heels of the Trump administration’s Section 232 action last year. In general, a capacity rate of 80% is considered a mark of a healthy industry.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

U.S. steelmakers increased production in 2018, as they were able to compete against reduced import levels (steel imports into the U.S. were down 12% year over year in 2018).

According to the World Steel Association, the U.S. produced 86.7 million tons of crude steel in 2018, up from 81.6 million tons in 2017.

According to Bank of America Research Analyst Timna Tanners, Steelmageddon looms on the horizon due to massive planned capacity increases in the U.S. steel industry.

Her analysis indicates the equivalent of around a 20% capacity increase when aggregating investments across companies and production methodologies over the next few years. Due to the massive ramp-up, the Steelmageddon theory predicts 2022 or so as the time when we may see greatly suppressed prices, and therefore rampant mill closures, due to a steel supply glut in the U.S.

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Meanwhile, in recent years, the Chinese government policy for the steel industry focused on capacity reduction and shutting down outdated plants. These closures resulted in an estimated reduction of 300 million metric tons of China’s steelmaking capacity.

In addition to these outdated blast furnace steelmaking facilities closing during the past few years, others still in operation face ongoing production restrictions during pollution alert periods. While some outdated capacity closed, other facilities with the latest technology brought new capacity onstream.

This “upgrade strategy,” if we could call it that, could have profound ramifications.

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This morning in metals news, the Canadian government announced it is rolling out $100 million in funding for its domestic steel and aluminum industries, copper moves toward a seven-month high, and Vietnam’s steel exports to the U.S. increased in 2018.

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Canadian Steel, Aluminum Get a Boost

The Canadian government has announced it will offer $100 million in funding to small- and medium-sized aluminum and steel firms in the country, the CBC reported.

The U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum remain in place for NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico. Those tariffs are the primary point of contention as the successor to NAFTA — the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — still needs to be ratified by the three countries’ legislatures.

Copper Continues Hot Streak

The copper price moved toward a seven-month high on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

LME copper jumped 1% to $6,472.50 per ton, according to the report.

Vietnam Steel Sector Grows

Despite the U.S.’s aforementioned Section 232 tariffs, one southeast Asian country saw its steel exports to the U.S. rise last year.

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According to an S&P Global Platts report, Vietnam’s finished steel exports to the U.S. surged 48% in 2018 compared to 2017.

Global crude steel production growth slowed in January, hitting its lowest level since August.

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According to the World Steel Association, global crude steel production rose 1.0% year over year in January, down from 3.8% growth in December. Global steel production in January hit 146.7 million tons (MT).

Crude steel production growth for China (in red) and the world. Source: worldsteel.org

As usual, China led the way in crude steel production, churning out 75.0 MT, marking a year-over-year increase of 4.3%. India, which recently passed Japan as the world’s second-largest steel producer, produced 9.2 MT, which was down 1.9% year over year. The country India passed in the steel production standings, Japan, saw its production fall 9.8% to 8.1 MT, while South Korea’s production fell 1.5% to 6.2 MT.

The U.S. produced 7.6 MT in January 2019, marking an 11.0% year-over-year increase. U.S. steel mills continue to fill an incrementally larger share of total capacity. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, U.S. steel mills churned out steel at a capacity utilization rate of 80.9% through Feb. 23 of this year, up from 75.7% for the same period in 2018.

By tonnage, U.S. steel mills produced 14.6 million net tons in the year through Feb. 23, which marked an 8.0% increase over the same period in 2018.

In Europe, Italy’s crude steel production fell 3.6% to 2.0 MT, which France’s dropped 9.7% to 1.2 MT. Spain also produced 1.2 MT, marking an increase of 5.9%.

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Crude steel production in Ukraine hit 1.9 MT, down 4.9%, while Brazil’s crude steel production rose 2.3% to 2.9 MT.

Turkey’s steel sector continues to face challenges, with 2.6 MT in January marking a 19.5% year-over-year decline. Turkey’s steel remains subject to the U.S.’s Section 232 steel tariff, which the Trump administration increased to 50% from 25% last year amid diplomatic tensions. In addition, another Turkish export market, the E.U., recently imposed new steel safeguards in an effort to curb diverted steel supplies (which it sees as an outcome of the U.S.’s Section 232 action).