International Steel Prices

Foreign vs. Domestic Hot Rolled Steel Prices

Written by Brett Linton


The following calculation is used by Steel Market Update to identify the theoretical spread between foreign hot rolled steel prices (delivered to U.S. ports) and domestic hot rolled coil prices (FOB domestic mills). We want our readers to be aware that this is only a “theoretical” calculation as freight costs, trader margin and other costs can fluctuate, ultimately influencing the true market spread.

We are comparing the SMU U.S. hot rolled weekly index to CRU hot rolled weekly indices for Germany, Italy and the Far East (East and Southeast Asian port).

SMU now includes a 25 percent import tariff in our foreign vs. domestic price calculations, effective on foreign prices after March 23, 2018. We then add $90 per ton to the foreign prices in consideration of freight costs, handling, trader margin, etc. This provides an approximate “CIF U.S. ports price” that can then be compared against the SMU U.S. hot rolled price. The difference between the domestic and foreign hot rolled prices is then referred to as the “price spread.” As the price spread narrows, the competitiveness of imported steel into the United States is reduced. If the spread widens, then foreign steel becomes more attractive to U.S. flat rolled steel buyers. A positive spread means foreign steel has a price advantage (U.S. prices are higher than foreign prices), while a negative spread means domestic steel has a price advantage (U.S. prices are less than foreign prices). Note that we do not include any anti-dumping (AD) or countervailing duties (CVD) in this analysis.

As of Wednesday, Dec. 12, the CRU German HRC price was $559 per net ton, down $2 from the previous week and down $4 from two weeks prior. Adding tariffs and import costs, that puts the price at $789 per ton from Germany delivered to the U.S. The latest Steel Market Update hot rolled price average is $760 per ton for domestic steel, down $5 over last week, and down $25 from two weeks ago. The spread between the German and U.S. HR price is now -$29 per ton, down from -$26 last week, and down from -$9 two weeks ago. The four-week average price spread is now -$25 per ton, down $7 from last week.

CRU published Italian HRC prices at $488 per net ton, down $6 from the previous week and down $8 from two weeks prior. After adding tariffs and import costs, the delivered price of Italian HRC is approximately $700 per ton. Therefore, the spread is now +$60 per ton, up from +$58 last week, but down from +$75 two weeks ago. The four-week average price spread is now +$61 per ton, down $4 from last week.

The CRU Far East HRC price remained unchanged over last week to $445 per net ton, down $13 from two weeks prior. Adding tariffs and import costs, the delivered price of Far East HRC to the U.S. is $646 per ton. The spread is now +$114 per ton, down from +$119 last week, and down from +$123 two weeks ago. The four-week average price spread is now +$113 per ton, up $1 from last week.

The graph below shows all four prices together and points out the effective date of the tariffs. Foreign prices are referred to as “equalized,” meaning they have been adjusted with the tariffs and importing costs for an apples-to-apples comparison against the U.S. price.

Note: Freight is an important part of the final determination on whether to import foreign steel or buy from a domestic mill supplier. Domestic prices are referenced as FOB the producing mill, while foreign prices are FOB the Port (Houston, NOLA, Savannah, Los Angeles, Camden, etc.). Inland freight, from either a domestic mill or from the port, can dramatically impact the competitiveness of both domestic and foreign steel. When considering lead times, a buyer must take into consideration the momentum of pricing both domestically and in the world markets. In most circumstances (but not all), domestic steel will deliver faster than foreign steel ordered on the same day.

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