SMU Data and Models

Steel Mill Lead Times: Shorter...Even for Plate

Written by Tim Triplett

Mill lead times for spot orders of flat rolled steel continued to shrink this month. Even plate, which has been in short supply, is showing signs of loosening with its average lead time dipping to less than six weeks from more than seven weeks at the beginning of January.

Lead times for steel delivery are a measure of demand at the mill level. The shorter the lead time, the less busy the mills. The less busy the mills, the more likely they are to negotiate on price. At less than three and a half weeks for hot rolled, around five and a half weeks for cold rolled, and less than six weeks for coated products, average lead times have not been this short since fall 2017.

Lead times for spot orders of plate steel now average 5.93 weeks, down from 7.14 weeks at the beginning of the new year. For most of last year, customers had to wait nearly eight weeks and settle for what they could get as the mills had orders on allocation. The latest SMU data is the first sign that supply and demand may finally be equalizing in the plate market.

Hot rolled lead times now average 3.38 weeks, down from 3.78 weeks in early January. Current lead times for hot rolled are below the 4.50 weeks at this time last year and more than two weeks shorter than the past year’s peak of 5.73 weeks.

Cold rolled orders currently have a lead time of 5.33 weeks, down from 5.58 weeks around Jan. 1. Cold rolled lead times have been under six weeks on only a few occasions in the past two years.

Similarly, over the past two weeks, lead times for galvanized steel dipped from 6.15 to 5.88 weeks. Galvalume lead times declined to 5.71 weeks from 6.33 weeks.

Note: These lead times are based on the average from manufacturers and steel service centers who participated in this week’s SMU market trends analysis. Our lead times do not predict what any individual may get from any specific mill supplier. Look to your mill rep for actual lead times. Our lead times are meant only to identify trends and changes in the marketplace. To see an interactive history of our Steel Mill Lead Times data, visit our website here.

Latest in SMU Data and Models