Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Written by John Packard

Happy Holidays!

I expect this week to be a tad on the slow side as buyers and sellers of steel celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas.

John Packard Summit 18One year ago, benchmark hot rolled prices were averaging $745 per ton ($37.25/cwt), down from the cycle peak achieved the week of July 23, 2018, at $915 per ton ($45.75/cwt). Since Christmas 2018 through this past week, prices have dropped $275 per ton ($13.75/cwt). Since late October, when prices bottomed at $470 per ton ($23.50/cwt), the domestic steel mills have managed to claw back $100 per ton, and they continue to push to get HRC prices above $600 per ton.

Scrap prices are poised to move higher in January 2020. If this indeed does happen, scrap pricing would support higher steel prices.

The key going into 2020 is going to be demand. As we have discussed on a number of occasions, economists such as Alan Beaulieu of ITR Economics (who will be one of our keynote speakers at the 2020 SMU Steel Summit Conference) have been forecasting a dip in economic growth during the first and second quarters of 2020. A dip would not be helpful in supporting spot steel prices.

Service center inventories stand at 2.63 months supply, according to the SMU Service Center Inventories and Shipment Data (which is available to Premium members). With an abundance of days of supply on order, unless shipments surprise to the upside, we could be seeing a slowdown in orders come the first quarter from flat rolled service centers.

Mill order books appear to be decent. On the West Coast both California Steel and USS/POSCO opened and closed their February order books within a few days. Even after raising prices by $80-$90 per ton.

Our flat rolled and plate steel market trends analysis (survey) produced this past week has hot rolled average lead times above year-ago levels (about one-half week longer), while cold rolled, galvanized and Galvalume are close to year-ago levels. Plate lead times are greatly reduced compared to where they were at the beginning of the year. Last December, plate lead times averaged more than 7.5 weeks; last week our plate buyers provided us with an average barely above 4.5 weeks.

Both our Current and Future SMU Steel Buyers Sentiment Index have bottomed and are now moving higher, albeit from much lower levels not seen since 2016.

On the events side of our business, we are now taking registrations for the first 2020 Steel 101 workshop on an inquire-only basis. The class is essentially full, but we would consider adding one or two people should the need arise. This workshop will be held in Ontario, Calif., and will include a tour of the California Steel Industries steel mill.

The second Steel 101 workshop will be held on March 31 and April 1, 2020, in Merrillville, Ind., and will include a tour of the NLMK USA Portage, Ind., EAF mill. Registration will begin for this workshop soon.

Registration is open for the 2020 SMU Steel Summit Conference which will be held in Atlanta on Aug. 24-26. We are already closing in on our first 100 registered attendees. We anticipate approximately 1,200 attendees at the 2020 conference. You can register and learn more by clicking on this link.

Christmas TreeEveryone here at Steel Market Update, as well as our parent company the CRU Group, want to wish everyone reading our newsletter Happy Holidays. Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, we want you to enjoy your time with family and friends.

Here at SMU we will be taking some time off for the holidays. We will not publish again until next Sunday, Dec. 29, which will be our last issue of 2019.

As always, your business is truly appreciated by all of us here at Steel Market Update.

John Packard, President & CEO

Tim Triplett, Senior Editor

Sandy Williams, Writer/Editor

Brett Linton, Research Analyst

Peter Wright, Analyst

Mario Briccetti, Steel 101 Instructor

Chuck McDaniels, Steel 101 Instructor

Roger Walburn, Steel 101 Instructor

Sandy Simon, Steel 101 Instructor

Paige Mayhair, Sales/Marketing for SMU

Ray Culley, Coordinator, SMU Steel Summit Conference

Jill Waldman, Sales: Sponsors/Exhibitors, SMU Steel Summit Conference




Latest in Final Thoughts

Final thoughts

Last week was a newsy one for the US sheet market. Nucor’s announcement that it would publish a weekly HR spot price was the talk of the town – whether that was in chatter among colleagues, at the Boy Scouts of America Metals Industry dinner, or in SMU’s latest market survey. Some think that it could Nucor's spot HR price could bring stability to notoriously volatile US sheet prices, according to SMU's latest steel market survey. Others think it’s too early to gauge its impact. And still others said they were leery of any attempt by producers to control prices.