Steel Products Prices North America

Import Market Share for Sheet, Plate, Longs and Tubulars

Written by Peter Wright

Imports of rolled products have declined every month since May 2018 year over year with the greatest declines in each month December 2019 through February 2020. Total rolled product imports in February were down by 26.7 percent on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. This follows the 26.3 percent decrease in December and 29.6 percent in January on the same basis.

This early look at February’s import volume is based on Commerce Department license data (see explanation below.) This import analysis includes all major steel sectors: sheet, plate, longs and tubulars, with a total of 18 subsectors. 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 monthly variability.

Imports of total rolled products in February were the lowest since February 2010 on a single-month basis and since March 2010 on a 3MMA basis. In the 12 months August 2018 through August 2019, total rolled product imports on a 3MMA basis were consistently in the range of 1.70 to 1.94 million tons. In the months September through February, the new normal has been a range of 1.25 to 1.56 million tons with a February volume of 1.30 million. Year over year on a 3MMA basis, sheet products were down by 10.6 percent, plate products were down by 26.7 percent, long products were down by 20.6 percent and tubulars were down by 48.2 percent. Imports of flat rolled, tubulars and longs all had a recent peak in May 2018. Since then total flat rolled, (sheet + plate) imports have consistently declined, which may be tariff driven. This is not so obvious for longs and tubulars where the decline since May 2018 has been less consistent.   

Figure 1 shows the tonnage of total rolled steel and semi-finished imports through February on a 3MMA basis. This is one (and the only instance we can think of) where the use of a 3MMA suppresses valuable cyclical information. Due to quota opening and closing times, there is a violent quarterly cyclicality in the monthly volume of semifinished, which is shown in the monthly data in Figure 1a.

Total rolled product volume has been on an erratically downward trend since mid-2017. Imports of semifinished have been very erratic since July 2018, ranging from a low of 0.21 million tons in August 2019 to a high of 1.5 million tons in January 2020.

Figure 2 summarizes the import volume of flat rolled, tubular and long products since 2004 on a 3MMA basis. All three have been trending down since mid-2017.  

There are three tables in this report. In each of them we show the 3MMA of the tonnage in February 2020 and February 2019 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 December through February with September through November (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 recent momentum as a percentage. It is not unusual for the color code of the momentum to be the opposite of the year-over-year time frame analyses, which it was in February.

Table 1 describes the imports of all major sectors of the sheet and plate markets. In the flat rolled sectors shown in Table 1, total sheet products were down by 10.6 percent and total plate products were down by 26.7 percent, both year over year. All individual products in the sheet and plate groups except electrogalvanized were down year over year. In the sheet sector, tin plate was down the most followed by cold rolled and OMC. In the plate sector, cut to length was down by 41.7 percent and coiled down by 19.5 percent. Figures 3 and 4 show the history of sheet and plate product imports since February 2004. 

Table 2 shows the same analysis for long products where the year-over-year volume was down by 20.6 percent in total. All individual products except light shapes were down year over year with wire rod down the most. Figure 5 shows the history of long product imports.

Table 3 shows that for tubular products in total, the volume was down by 48.2 percent year over year with line pipe down the most and mechanical tubing having a 9.2 percent increase. Line pipe declined by 70.4 percent, which follows a 70.8 percent year-over-year decrease in January. Figure 6 shows the history of tubular imports since February 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 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.

Latest in Steel Products Prices North America