Steel Products Prices North America

Flat, Long, and Semi-Finished Imports through March 2015

Written by Peter Wright

Licensed data for March was updated on April 7th through the Steel Import Monitoring System of the US Commerce Department. The SMU publishes several import reports ranging from this very early look using licensed data to the very detailed analysis of final volumes by district of entry and source nation which is available to our premium members. The early look, the latest of which you are reading now has been based on three month moving averages, (3MMA) using March licensed data and January and February final data.

We recognize that the license data is subject to revisions but believe that by combining it with earlier months in this way gives a reasonably accurate assessment of volume trends by product as early as possible. The main issue with the license data is that the month in which the tonnage arrives is often not the same month in which the license was recorded. In 2014 we completed a full 12 months of investigations in which we examined the relationship between licensed tonnage and month of arrival. The result was that for the full year the reported licensed tonnage of all carbon and low alloy products was 2.3 percent less than actually receipts, close enough we believe to confidently include licensed data in this current update. Total rolled product licensed imports in the single month of March were 3,152,382 short tons which was 12.5 percent higher than February.

Figure 1 shows the 3MMA through March licenses for semi-finished, flat and long products. Flat includes all hot and cold rolled sheet and strip plus all coated sheet products including tin-plate plus both discrete and coiled plate. The import surge took a breather for flat rolled in December, the downward trend continued through February with March experiencing a small increase. Semi-finished has been declining since October. Long products surged in March, the 3MMA being up by 19 percent from February and by 25.7 percent from March last year.

Figure 2 shows the trend of sheet and strip products since January 2011 as three month moving averages. Of the big three tonnage items, HR, CR and HDG, hot rolled and cold rolled have been declining since November, hot dipped galvanized imports increased in both February and March. All other metallic coated (mainly Galvalume), has been declining since mid-2014 but there was an increase of 7.4 percent in March compared to February. Tin plate had been trending up for all of 2014 but has been flat this year. Electro-galvanized keeps on rolling along with little change in three years. In the single month of March hot rolled sheet and strip licenses were 326,000 tons, up 1.1 percent from February, HDG was 351,000 tons, up by 16.3 percent and cold rolled came in at 191,000 tons, down by 14.8 percent.

Table 1 provides an analysis of major product group and of sheet products in detail and compares the average monthly tonnage in the latest three months through March with both the same period last year (Y/Y) and with three months through December, (3M/3M). Semi-finished slabs and billets were down by 16.0 percent 3M/3M and by 20.4 percent Y/Y. The total tonnage of hot worked products was 3,132,599 tons in March on a 3MMA basis, down by 839,954 tons from March last year. The three moving average was up by 4.8 percent from the average of three months through December and by 36.6 percent from a year ago. On the same basis flat rolled products were down by 7.2 percent and up by 49.0 percent. Long products were down by 4.5 percent and up by 36.5 percent. Table 1 shows the tonnage and percent change for sheet products in detail for which the total March tonnage was 227,276 tons higher than March last year. Sheet tonnage was down 7.2 percent in three months through March compared to three months through December and up by 26.1 percent year over year.

Table 2 shows the same analysis for long products. For total long products the tonnage was up by 15.6 percent, 3M/3M and by 25.7 percent y/y. There was a tremendous surge in rebar in the Q1 of this year when the volume was up by 51.1 percent compared to the Q4 2014. With the exception of wire rod, other long products declined in the 1st quarter. Imports of pipe and tube continue to surge but rail fell by 37.3 percent in the 1st quarter.

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