SMU Data and Models

Steel Mill Lead Times: Moving Out

Written by Tim Triplett

Mill lead times for spot orders of flat rolled steel continue to inch out as market momentum shifts toward strengthening steel prices.

Lead times for steel delivery are a measure of demand at the mill level. The longer the lead time, the busier the mills. The busier the mills, the less likely they are to negotiate on price. At nearly four weeks for hot rolled, just under six weeks for cold rolled, and over six weeks for coated products, average lead times, while still relatively short, appear to be lengthening.

Hot rolled lead times now average 3.83 weeks, up from 3.38 weeks in mid-January. Current lead times for hot rolled are still well below the 4.95 weeks at this time last year and about two weeks shorter than the past year’s peak of 5.73 weeks.

Cold rolled orders currently have a lead time of 5.92 weeks, up from 5.33 weeks around Jan. 15. Cold rolled lead times were at 7.09 weeks at this time last year.

Similarly, over the past month, lead times for galvanized steel inched up to 6.36 weeks from 5.88 weeks in mid-January. Galvalume lead times rose to 6.14 weeks from 5.71 weeks during the same period.

Lead times for spot orders of plate steel now average 6.33 weeks, up from 5.93 weeks last month. Plate lead times have normalized considerably from the nearly eight weeks customers had to wait for delivery for much of last year.

“Inventories are relatively low and quoting activity is through the roof, which is the precursor to orders placed and longer lead-times,” commented one service center executive. “I firmly we believe we have hit the floor. I’m not sure what kind of longevity the pricing will have, but my thinking is we will see $700-$730 for the next 90 days or so.”

“I think there may be a bit of ‘fudging’ in lead-time reports, but I don’t necessarily blame the mills. They’re trying to drum up a narrative,” added another distributor. “I personally think that if things are indeed changing, we’ll see a convergence of extended lead-times out into April soon.”

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