steel price

scrap steel

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) ticked up 2.0% for this month’s index reading, as the pace of steel price rises has started to slow.

The MetalMiner team will be presenting a commodity forecast for copper, aluminum, stainless and carbon steel on Wednesday, March 24, at 10 a.m. CDT:

Steel price gains appear to slow

Steel price rises have continued, much to the chagrin of buyers battling for hard-to-get supply.

However, the pace of the price gains has started to slow.

“The percentage of increase week over week seems to be getting smaller,” said Don Hauser, MetalMiner vice president of business solutions. “This may be a sign the peak is near. Short term, it is likely going to continue to rise, just at a slower pace. Steel prices may remain supported unless/until new production capacity comes back onstream, and some will get added this year.” 

Overall, it’s a difficult time for buyers.

“Unforecasted material is still nearly impossible to find unless it’s by chance,” Hauser added. “Even forecasted material can be difficult to receive on time.”

Capacity utilization hits 77.4%

Speaking of supply and the steel price, steel capacity utilization reached 77.4% for the week ending March 6, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported.

The US steel sector churned out 1.76 million net tons of steel during the week, up 0.3% from the previous week but down 0.3% year over year.

Production for the year to date totaled 16.11 million net tons, or down 7.6% compared with the same time frame the year before. (Notably, this period in 2020 does not yet cover the beginning of lockdown restrictions related to the pandemic.)

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China steel plant

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Many areas, industries (including the China steel sector) and, indeed, societies are under threat from pollution.

In many emerging markets, economic growth has come at the stark price of appalling levels of pollution.

But the Financial Times suggested that in China, home of the largest steel and aluminum industries in the world by far, steel output is under threat from Beijing’s “war on pollution.”

Grab your coffee and hear MetalMiner’s latest forecast for aluminum, copper, stainless and carbon steel on Wednesday, March 24, at 10 a.m. CDT

China steel and the ‘war on pollution’

During the winter season in recent years, power production that runs on coal and polluting industries such as steel and cement, many of which are not only large emitters themselves but also draw electricity from polluting sources of power generation, have been closed in phased programs to reduce air pollution.

But this is much more than those short-term remedies to peak smog levels.

The Financial Times suggests Beijing’s new Five Year Plan focuses on pollution. The plan will require legislation that will result in an unavoidable decline in steel output.

Apparently, local governments have already begun to impose curbs.

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hard hat sitting on US banknotes

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The Construction Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose by 3.2% this month, as January 2021 construction spending picked up.

March 2021 Construction MMI chart

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Construction spending

US construction spending in January reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,521.5 billion, the Census Bureau reported this week.

The January rate marked an increase of 1.7% from the previous month. Furthermore, the January rate rose 5.8% compared with January 2020.

Private construction rose 1.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,160.0 billion. Within private construction, residential construction rose 2.5% to $713.0 billion in January. Nonresidential construction ticked up by 0.4% to $447.0 billion.

Meanwhile, US public construction spending rose 1.7% to $361.5 billion. Educational construction dipped 0.1% to $89.9 billion. Highway construction rose 5.8% to $107.8 billion.

ABI moves up but remains low

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), released monthly by the American Institute of Architects, reached a January reading of 44.9.

The January reading marked an increase from 42.3 the previous month. However, any reading less than 50 indicates a contraction in billings.

Meanwhile, the design contracts index moved up from 47.0 to 48.8.

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US steel mills churned out metal at a steel capacity utilization rate of 77.2% for the week ending Feb. 27, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported.

See why technical analysis is a superior forecasting methodology over fundamental analysis and why it matters for your steel buy.

Steel capacity utilization gains

Last week’s rate marked a slight increase from the previous week, when steel capacity utilization reached 77.0%.

Production last week reached 1.75 million net tons.

The production total marked a 7.0% decrease from the same period in the previous year. Furthermore, capacity utilization during the same period in 2020 reached 81.3%.

In addition, production for the week ending Feb. 27, 2021, increased 0.2% from the previous week. Production during the week ending Feb. 20, 2021, reached 1.745 million net tons at a steel capacity utilization rate of 77.0%.

Meanwhile, adjusted year-to-date production through Feb. 27, 2021, totaled 14.36 million net tons at a capacity utilization rate of 76.5%. Output is down 8.4% year over year.

At the same point last year, steel capacity utilization had reached 81.9%.

By region, production during the week ending Feb. 27, 2021, totaled:

  • Northeast: 155,000 net tons
  • Great Lakes: 624,000 net tons
  • Midwest: 181,000 net tons
  • Southern: 715,000 net tons
  • Western: 74,000 net tons

Steel prices

Steel prices continue to rise in the US, as buyers struggle to secure supply (even despite slowly gaining capacity utilization rates).

US hot rolled coil closed Monday at $1,204 per short ton, or up 9.65% from a month ago.

Meanwhile, US cold rolled coil rose 8.87% to $1,375 per short ton.

US hot dipped galvanized is up 7.12% to $1,475 per short ton.

Plate is up 9.77% to $1,079 per short ton.

Volatility is the name of the game. Do you have a steel buying strategy that can handle the ups and downs?

earnings sign

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This morning in metals news: Arconic reported its fourth quarter and full-year 2020 financial results; meanwhile, the Census Bureau reported steel import totals; and, finally, hot rolled coil steel prices continue to rise.

Arconic reports Q4, 2020 financial results

Pittsburgh-based Arconic reported Q4 2020 revenues of $1.5 billion, up 3% from the previous quarter. However, the Q4 total marked a year-over-year decline of 14%.

Weaker aerospace volumes contributed to the decline, the manufacturer said. Growth in the industrial and packaging end markets partially offset the decline.

For the full year, revenues of $5.7 billion marked a 22% year-over-year decline.

The company attributed the slide to COVID-19 impacts and production declines due to delays associated with the Boeing 737 MAX.

“Our fourth quarter results demonstrate a steady climb in revenue since the onset of the pandemic as several indicators point to growing customer demand in many of the markets we serve, particularly in the ground transportation and industrial sectors,” Arconic CEO Tim Myers said.

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

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hot rolled steel

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The US steel sector capacity utilization rate ticked up to 77.0% for the week ending Feb. 20, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported.

Steel capacity utilization gains

US steel production during the week ending Feb. 20 totaled 1.75 million net tons, AISI reported.

The total marked a 7.2% year-over-year decline. Furthermore, the weekly output total dipped 0.1% from the previous week.

Capacity utilization the previous week reached 76.9%. Meanwhile, for the same week in 2020, steel capacity utilization reached 81.3%.

Furthermore, production through Feb. 20, 2021, totaled 12.6 million net tons. Capacity utilization during the period reached 76.1%.

The output total marked an 8.5% year-over-year decline from the same period in 2020, when the rate reached 81.9%.

By region, production for the week ending Feb. 20, 2021, totaled:

  • Northeast: 153,000 net tons
  • Great Lakes: 637,000 net tons
  • Midwest: 183,000 net tons
  • Southern: 700,000 net tons
  • Western: 72,000 net tons

Stop obsessing about the actual forecasted steel price. It’s more important to spot the trend

Raw steel production index continues to rise

The Federal Reserve’s industrial production index for raw steel has been gaining since bottoming out last May.

The index fell to a 2020 low of 65.6795 in May (an index reading of 100 is equivalent to 2012 activity).

raw steel industrial production chart from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Industrial Production: Manufacturing: Durable Goods: Raw Steel

In December, the index reached 92.1730.

In Q4 2018, the index reached over 106.4, its highest level since Q4 2011.

Steel price gains

Steel prices have continued to gain, as some end users deal with challenges in securing supply for their operations.

HRC, CRC and HDG prices have continued to increase in recent weeks. The US HRC price reached $1,168/st, up 8.25% from the previous month. Similarly, the CRC price increased 13.25% to $1,342/st. The HDG price jumped 8.0% to 1,458/st. 

Meanwhile, plate rose by 4.23% to $984/st $1,036/st. Wire rod fell 1.26% to $39.27/cwt. 

Want more from MetalMiner? We offer exclusive analyst commentary in our weekly updates – all metals, no sales fluff. 

list of commodities prices

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Investment banks love a super cycle.

It spurs irrational investment and sucks in unwary investors. Furthermore, it encourages passive funds to up their allocation, even if only by fractions of a percent.

But with some $14 trillion invested in US equities alone, even a modest increase in passive investments into ETFs would reap significant rewards in fees.

As such, it may be not surprising that the big boys — like JP Morgan, as reported in Bloomberg, and Goldman Sachs, as reported in the Financial Times (admittedly focused more on oil) — are calling the start of the next commodities super cycle.

Cut-to-length adders. Width and gauge adders. Coatings. Feel confident in knowing what you should be paying for metal with MetalMiner should-cost models.

Commodities super cycle?

On the face of it, they appear to have some foundation.

As a separate post in the Financial Times observes, metals, agricultural and oil commodity indices have risen up to 40% since last July.

In part, this is due to a surge of interest in green-energy projects.

The EU, US and China have all promised to spend big. Hydrogen projects alone could receive €30 billion from the EU.

Copper has rallied to eight-year highs, around $8,375 per ton. The metal is benefiting from strong Chinese demand and the prospects for a more rapid transition to electric vehicles gains momentum. Glencore is quoted as saying world copper demand will double by 2050 and that mine investment is insufficient,

All of that certainly makes for a bullish landscape.

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earnings sign

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While the first half of 2020 posed significant challenges for metals manufacturers and end users alike, some firms have showed signs of recovery in the ensuing months and into 2021.

In the second quarter, steel demand suffered. Automotive manufacturers idled production in North America for a period of about two months last year, beginning in the tail end of the of the first quarter.

Nucor forecasts strong Q1 2021

The Charlotte-based steelmaker said it expects its first-quarter earnings could exceed $900 million.

By comparison, Nucor reported net earnings of $20.3 million in Q1 2020. In Q2 2020, the steelmaker reported net earnings of $108.9 million.

“We are encouraged by positive economic trends and the robust demand we are seeing across our markets,” Nucor President and CEO Leon Topalian said. “We currently expect our first quarter 2021 results to significantly exceed Nucor’s previous record for quarterly net earnings, set in 2008. As we move through 2021, we remain focused on building on our momentum, meeting and exceeding our customers’ needs, and delivering sustainable value creation for Nucor stockholders.”

Cut-to-length adders. Width and gauge adders. Coatings. Feel confident in knowing what you should be paying for metal with MetalMiner should-cost models.

Rising prices

Earlier this month, Nucor Tubular Products announced a price hike in a letter to customers.

The company announced an at least 12% hike for sprinkler pipe products. In addition, A53 products would rise by at least $140.

“This increase is a result of rising raw material costs, strong demand, and volatility of transportation costs,” Nucor said in the price increase notice. “New orders, quotes and contracts not previously confirmed by Nucor will be subject to this increase.”

Overall, this quarter will likely prove much stronger than Q4 2020.

“The Company’s sheet, plate, bar and structural mills continue to forecast increased profitability in the first quarter of 2021 as compared to the fourth quarter of 2020,” Nucor reported. “Realized prices and shipment volumes have increased for Nucor’s steel mills in the first quarter as compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.”

In addition, Nucor said rising raw materials prices will boost the performance of that segment. Nucor owns the David J. Joseph Company, a scrap brokerage. The steelmaker also produces direct reduced iron (DRI), a steelmaking input.

US steel price gains

US steel prices have continued to rise well into 2021.

Hot rolled coil (HRC) closed Wednesday at $1,156 per short ton, or up 9.78% from a month ago. Meanwhile, cold rolled coil (CRC) is up 15.24% to $1,331 per short ton. Hot dipped galvanized (HDG) is up 11.29% to $1,439 per short ton.

Plate price gains have not been as significant; however, plate is up 5.28% to $1,036 per short ton.

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The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) increased for the ninth consecutive month, rising by 0.5% as US steel prices continued to rise.

Buying organizations should continue to buy as needed, as prices remain at all-time highs.

February 2021 Raw Steels MMI chart

Cut-to-length adders. Width and gauge adders. Coatings. Feel confident in knowing what you should be paying for metal with MetalMiner should-cost models.

US steel market

Universal Steel Products, along with four other American steel importing companies, challenged the 25% steel tariff imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

On Feb. 4, the United States Court of International Trade moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden reinstated tariffs on aluminum imported from the UAE. Trump had rescinded the tariffs on his last day in office. Biden’s decision seems to signal that the new administration sides with primary producers in view of ongoing global overcapacity.

Tariff supporters argue it promotes steel investment, newer technology, increases domestic market share, provides security of supply for steel customers and generates employment. Meanwhile, detractors believe the tariffs directly impact US steel prices.

The graph below, however, shows the correlation between US steel prices and tariffs is not particularly strong.

Rather, the bullish market drives steel prices (as it did in 2018).

Today, steel prices have increased on the back of a bull market. In addition, capacity reductions have led to material shortages, as we see now.

HRC and CRC price comparison chart

US HRC and CRC prices (MetalMiner Insights data)

Chinese steel prices decline

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import tariff

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This morning in metals news: the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users called on the Biden administration to rescind the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs; meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration forecasts US energy-related CO2 emissions to rise after the mid-2030s; and, lastly, US President Joe Biden spoke this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

CAMMU urges Biden to ends Section 232 tariffs

The Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users (CAMMU) sent President Joe Biden a letter Wednesday urging him remove the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs of 25% for steel and 10% for aluminum.

“By taking action to terminate the Trump tariffs, your Administration can prevent U.S. manufacturers from shutting down production lines, laying off workers, and potentially even closing their doors,” CAMMU said in the letter. “By contrast, the ripple effects of allowing these Section 232 tariffs to remain are substantial. Our member companies report not only record steel prices, but also delivery times stretching 12-16 weeks, causing significant disruptions.”

As we noted previously, however, Biden reversed Trump’s decision to rescind the tariff on aluminum from the UAE (a move he made on his final day in office).

See why technical analysis is a superior forecasting methodology over fundamental analysis and why it matters for your aluminum buy.

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