Steel Products Prices North America

Service Centers Frustrated as End Users Balk at Paying Higher Prices

Written by John Packard

A certain level of frustration appears to be hitting the service centers in both the spot and contract markets. In the spot market we have heard from a number of service centers that their attempts to raise spot steel prices are being met with a certain level of disbelief as end users evaluate how to perceive the current market. A large Midwest flat rolled service center told us in an email:

“With the current market uncertainty, questions arise daily about when, what and how much to buy. The vast majority of our customers do not feel the recent price increases will stick, however, if you solely look at current demand you are only seeing a small piece of the overall puzzle. Inventories are lean, new mill leadership has something to prove, and there are routine outages taking place that will curb capacity. Does anyone realize that we are only one trade case or one unplanned mill outage away from a crisis market?”

A second service center located in the Mid-South told us during a phone conversation, “The question is how much are the OEM’s willing to give. They are going to fight any price increases like hell.”

In the Chicago area we heard from a service center who told us, “The buyers are digging in their heels. We’ve got a number of customers who are waiting and there is no logic behind it.” They went on to tell SMU they had offered roll-over spot prices from last month and their end users have been holding off on placing any orders.

One of the larger service center groups provided SMU with the following insights into how they were seeing negotiations and the market going forward:

“It’s funny; several mills have complained about losing deals for quoting “fair” contract prices – but the winners are being quiet as the majority of reporting says there is discipline. A couple mills have taken obviously tough stands (Severstal & USS), but it seems they are simply sending some of their best customers to their competitors. The misuse of index problem is one that would be great to get resolved, but it seems producers can’t figure which deals hurt and which deals are good. We are disappointed as some of the most problematic programs will continue in 2014.”

We asked what was meant by the comment regarding the “misuse of index problem” and we were told, “From a perspective that wants to see prices at higher levels to create profit for distributors and mills, the continuing problems are fabricators to OEM being aggregated to receive to the OEM direct price and, using a previous period average of CRU (or Platts or anything) to set a fixed forward price. This means there are fewer buyers in the market to pay the spot price, and the market can’t get enough momentum to overcome contract transaction prices.”

Another Midwest service center reported that the domestic mills are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on their company to commit to pricing but their end users are not yet willing to make a commitment. They are asking is there more risk to own $640 hot rolled in late 4th Quarter and hope prices continue to rise, thus making it easier to close 1st Quarter business, or, do you wait to see if “market fundamentals” come into play?

That seems to be the question of the month…

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