Steel Products Prices North America

SIMA: Rolled Steel Imports Decline in May

Written by Peter Wright

Total rolled steel product imports declined in May, but increased by 24.1 percent from March through May, compared with the prior three-month period.

Total rolled steel product imports in May declined by 18.8 percent following April’s 17.0 percent increase. Sheet products were down by 22.6 percent, longs were down by 8.9 percent and tubular goods were down by 26.1 percent. Semi-finished blooms billets and slabs were down by 41.8 percent, according to Steel Market Update’s analysis of federal Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) data.

This import analysis includes all major steel sectors: sheet, plate, longs and tubulars, with a total of 18 subsectors. We now also publish an import market share analysis for the same 18 steel product groups. Together, these two reports should give an accurate view of the effect of the Section 232 trade legislation. See the end of this piece for an explanation of the methodology. All volumes in this analysis are reported in short tons. We use three-month moving averages (3MMAs) rather than single-month results to smooth out the variability.

Figure 1 shows the tonnage of total rolled steel and semi-finished imports through May on both a 3MMA basis and on a monthly basis. In this June update, for the first time, we have included both measures on the same chart because they are currently moving in opposite directions to an unusual degree. The 3MMA is trending up and the monthly values are down significantly. The 3MMA of total rolled product import volume in July 2017 was 2,722,567 tons, the highest since May 2015. Imports declined every month on this basis through February 2018 when they reached 1,977,871 tons. This was the first time the figure dipped below two million tons since May 2016. The 3MMA of rolled product imports increased in March, April and May to 2,175,838 and 2,350,144 and 2,455,150 tons, respectively. Semi-finished imports also increased in March, April and May from February’s very low volume to the highest level since August last year on a 3MMA basis. 

There are three tables in this report. In each of them, we show the 3MMA of the tonnage in May 2018 and 2017 with the year-over-year change. We then calculate the percentage change in volume in the most recent three months with the previous three months. This month, we are comparing March/April/May with December/January/February (3M/3M). The next column to the right shows the year-over-year change as a percentage. Declines are color coded green and increases are coded red. Finally, in the far-right column, we subtract the 12-month change from the three-month change. This is a way of describing the magnitude of the recent trend as a percentage. In many cases, the color code of the trend can be the opposite of the two timeframe analyses.

Table 1 describes the imports of all major sectors of the sheet and plate markets. In the flat rolled sectors shown in Table 1, all sheet and plate products except tinplate had double-digit increases 3M/3M ranging from 12.8 percent for electrogalvanized to 55.5 percent for coiled plate. Figures 2 and 3 show the history of sheet and plate product imports since January 2004. 

Table 2 shows the same analysis for long products where 3M/3M imports were up by 31.8 percent, led by rebar up 134.6 percent. Figure 4 shows the history of long product imports.

Table 3 shows that for total tubular products the 3M /3M volume was up by 15.9 percent and the year-over-year volume was up by 4.8 percent. OCTG had the lowest 3M/3M increase at 9.4 percent; line pipe had the greatest increase at 25.5 percent.  Figure 5 shows the history of tubular imports since 2004.

Explanation: SMU publishes several import reports ranging from this very early look using license data to the very detailed analysis of final volumes by product, by district of entry and by source nation, which is available in the premium member section of our website. The early look is based on three-month moving averages using the latest license data, either the preliminary or final data for the previous month and final data for earlier months. We recognize that the license data is subject to revisions, but believe that by combining it with earlier months 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 not always the same month in which the license was recorded. In 2014, we conducted a 12-month analysis to evaluate the accuracy of the license data compared to final receipts. This analysis showed that the licensed tonnage of all carbon and low alloy products was 2.3 percent less than actual receipts, close enough to confidently include license data in this current update. The discrepancy declined continuously during the 12-month evaluation as a longer period was considered.

Statement from the Department of Commerce: The Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) system of the Department of Commerce collects and publishes data of steel mill product imports. By design, this information gives stakeholders valuable information on steel trade with the United States. This is achieved through two tools: the steel licensing program and the steel import monitor. All steel mill imports into the United States require a license issued by the SIMA office. The SIMA Licensing System is an online system for importers to register, apply for and receive licenses in a timely manner. In addition to managing the licensing system, SIMA publishes near-real-time aggregate data on steel mill imports into the United States. These data incorporate information collected from steel license applications and publicly released Census data. The data are displayed in tables and graphs for users to analyze. Additionally, SIMA provides data on U.S. steel mill exports, as well as imports and exports of select downstream steel products.

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