Shipping and Logistics

Steel Imports Increasing at Gulf Ports

Written by Sandy Williams

U.S. ports contacted by Steel Market Update report steel imports are beginning to increase in recent months after dropping in the first half of the year.

Port of Houston Authority reports that steel imports were down 59 percent through August 2016 for a total of 1.56 million tons. Steel exports also plunged by 45 percent to 61,159 tons.

A port services source reports a recent uptick in imports for flat rolled products in Houston. “Tonnages and frequency of arrivals both seem to be increasing. The market is starting to show strength but no one is prepared to speculate on later part of the 4th quarter.”

Steel inventory levels at warehouses in the Houston area are extremely low, about 35 percent of what they were prior to the recent antidumping determinations, said the SMU source.

“The newly arriving flatroll appears to be coming in larger tonnages and the processors, painters and manufacturers are shipping it out almost as fast as it is coming in,” he added. “This will continue to keep inventory levels minimized at the port and public warehouses.”

The port services firm commented on expectations for fourth quarter and next year: “Mid to late 4th quarter is going to be very difficult for imports into Houston and Savannah with the taxes assessed at the end of each year and most are not sharing what they are expecting imported. As you know it has been a hard year for the steel ports, especially Mobile and Houston because of their heavy reliance on flat rolled products. I think 1st quarter 2017 will be strong, with some trailing off in the 2nd, but that is pure speculation on my part.”

In New Orleans, steel imports have softened for the year. Janine Mansour, Deputy Chief Commercial Officer, Port of New Orleans told SMU, “Break bulk shipments are down 25% compared to last year with steel being 18% lower than year ago levels.” Steel imports for 2016 into the Port of New Orleans are expected to be down 20 percent compared to last year. Mansour noted that aluminum imports are up 130 percent this year.

New Orleans has seen an increase in imports for August and into September. “Vietnam and Russia, with Russia imports being wire rod, are two countries where we are seeing an increase in steel imports,” said Mansour. “Turkey has become a major player. In the past it was mostly the Asian countries.”

On the West Coast, the Port of Los Angeles reports a decrease of steel imports due to steel embargoes from China. Through August 2016, Port of Los Angeles handled 1.3 million metric tons of steel product compared to 1.9 million tonnes in the same period of 2015, a decrease of 31.6 percent.

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