The new normal for me is talking to an industry executive on the phone and listening to the kids playing in the background….
We had a 45-point drop in both the Current and Future SMU Steel Buyers Sentiment Index this week (article is at top of tonight’s issue). This is the largest one-week change in the history of our index, which goes back to 2008 (see graphic below).
Two weeks ago I could sense the resistance to the virus and its impact on the United States. I received some negative comments on articles SMU was writing about what economists were forecasting and the possibility of a dramatic drop in the economy here in the United States. No one wanted to believe that the U.S. could have issues like what happened in China. This week the resistance has dropped, for several reasons: Automotive shutting down in Europe and the United States. People watching what is happening in Italy, and how closely the U.S. is mimicking the Italian trajectory of cases, which is worse than what happened in China. And the destruction of the stock market losing all of the “Trump bump” since he became president. Those who were resistant are now concerned. Those who were concerned two weeks ago are now anxious. Those who were anxious two weeks ago are now hunkered down in their homes, Face-Timing their parents and kids while trying not to listen to the news….
The problem is there are still many Americans who are in denial. You can see them on the beaches in Florida and elsewhere around the country. It is hard to accept that the world is a different place than it was just a short couple of months back.
I hope our articles on working from home are helpful to you and your company. If there is a subject you would like for us to address, please let me know by sending us an email: info@SteelMarketUpdate.com. We think of SMU as a provider of community information and a way for the industry to stay connected.
I want to thank the manufacturing company executives who responded to my inquiry earlier today regarding how they were preparing their facilities and employees for the fight against the COVID-19 virus, and if there were any plans to cease production. Getting early responses to these key questions is critical to those of you who service these industries, and to the steel-producing community which understands there most likely will be a disruption in their order books in the weeks and months to come.
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John Packard, President & CEO
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Latest in Final Thoughts
What are some “Black Swans” to watch out for? With the war in Ukraine entering its third year, your mind might understandably move to conflicts overseas. Here is one closer to home to consider: US trade relations with Mexico taking a turn for the worse. I mention that because the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) dropped a (virtual) bombshell earlier this month.
Domestic prices have been sliding since the beginning of the year, and I don’t see any obvious reasons why the slide might stop this week. But let’s put the timing of a bottom aside for a minute. The question among some of you seems to be whether we’ll see another price spike, or at least a “dead-cat bounce,” before the typical summer doldrums kick in.
I’ve had discussions with some of you lately about where and when sheet prices might bottom. Some of you say that hot-rolled (HR) coil prices won’t fall below $800 per short ton (st). Others tell me that bigger buyers aren’t interested unless they can get something that starts with a six. Obviously a lot depends on whether we're talking 50 tons or 50,000 tons. I've even gotten some guff about how the drop in US prices is happening only because we’re talking about it happening.
We’ve all heard a lot about mill “discipline” following a wave of consolidation over the last few years. That discipline is often evident when prices are rising, less so when they are falling. I remember hearing earlier this year that mills weren’t going to let hot-rolled (HR) coil prices fall below $1,000 per short ton (st). Then not below $900/st. Now, some of you tell me that HR prices in the mid/high-$800s are the “1-800 price” – widely available to regular spot buyers. So what comes next, and will mills “hold the line” in the $800s?
Everyone knows the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. A lot of inked has been spilled trying to figure out why prices are falling now. I thought it might be as simple as this: Market dynamics in the fourth quarter (UAW strike, companies buying ahead of an anticipated post-strike price spike, etc.) pulled forward restocking activity that typically happens in the first quarter.