Steel Products Prices North America

Rolled Steel Imports Trend Up in January

Written by Peter Wright

Rolled product imports increased by 4.5 percent in January, calculated as a three-month moving average (3MMA) year over year.

This early look at January’s import volume is based on Department of Commerce license data (see explanation below). Beginning in January 2018, we expanded this import analysis to include all major steel sectors: sheet, plate, longs and tubulars, with a total of 18 subsectors, and we now publish an import market share analysis for the same 18 steel product groups. All volumes in this analysis are reported in short tons. We use three-month moving averages rather than single-month results to smooth out the variability.

Imports of rolled products in December were the highest since last April, which made January’s 3MMA the highest since last June. Year over year on a 3MMA basis, sheet products were down by 8.1 percent, plate products were down by 3.0 percent, long products were down by 5.3 percent and tubulars were up by 30.6 percent.

For the 12 months of 2018, total rolled product imports were down by 9.9 percent from 2017, but were almost exactly the same as in 2016. We are unable to conclude how much of the decline can be attributed to the Section 232 steel tariffs and how much was the effect of domestic demand, the global surplus or currency variables.   

Figure 1 shows the tonnage of total rolled steel and semi-finished imports through January on a 3MMA basis. Total rolled product volume declined from May through November and picked up in December and January. Evidently Section 232 has had no effect on semi-finished products. Except for early 2016 (when the volume was very low), the import volume of semis on a 3MMA basis has cycled between 490,000 and 930,000 tons per month for the last seven years.

Figure 2 summarizes the import volume of flat rolled, tubular and long products since 2004 on a 3MMA basis. Sheet and longs have experienced an 18-month decline, but tubular goods surged in December and January.  

There are three tables in this report. In each of them we show the 3MMA of the tonnage in January 2019 and 2018 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   November/December/January with August/September/October (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. It is not unusual for the color code of the trend to be the opposite of the two time frame 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, of the big three sheet products, hot rolled is up by 0.1 percent year over year as cold rolled and HDG have declined by 12.8 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively. CTL plate has declined by 1.9 percent year over year as coiled plate has declined by 3.6 percent.  Figures 3 and 4 show the history of sheet and plate product imports since January 2004. 

Table 2 shows the same analysis for long products where the year-over-year volume was down by 6.3 percent in total. Rebar was up slightly, wire rod surged and the other products declined. Figure 5 shows the history of long product imports.

Table 3 shows that for tubular products in total the volume was up by 30.6 percent year over year, driven in particular by line pipe and standard pipe. OCTG and structural tubing declined. Figure 6 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 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 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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