We had an exceptional SMU Community Chat Webinar with Dr. Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence on Wednesday morning. I am getting nothing but rave reviews of our free webinars, and I encourage you to inform your management and other teammates to register and then tune in at 11 AM ET every Wednesday. Next week (May 20) we will have John Anton of IHS Markit provide us an update on their view of the steel markets for the balance of 2020 and into 2021. The following week, May 27, we will host Barry Zekelman, Chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries. To register for next week’s SMU Community Chat Webinar click here.
This week Steel Market Update conducted one of our flat rolled and plate steel market trends surveys. Based on the responses, lead times have bumped up but only slightly. Lead times this week are similar to lead times seen one year ago when prices were in the mid to upper $500s and moving lower. However, we would be remiss in failing to point out the adjustments that have been made to supply. The integrated mills have downsized their operations, taking hot metal out of the market. Hot rolled lead times averaging 3.2 weeks do not signal pricing strength. Our survey also pointed to continued high levels of price negotiations on all flat rolled products out of the domestic steel mills.
You can find pricing and lead time comparisons (HRC only) on our website by going to the “Prices” tab. If you need help in using our pricing tools, please contact Brett@SteelMarketUpdate.com
Plate customers, please note that plate prices are now part of the menu under our prices tab.
If you would like more details about lead times and negotiations, that information is available to our Premium level members along with all kinds of other data derived from our flat rolled and plate steel market trends survey.
Today, Steel Market Update reported service center inventories/shipments to our flat rolled and plate steel data providers. We saw inventories climb (as expected) due to shipments averaging 30 percent lower during the month of April. Flat rolled inventories now average 3.64 months of supply. This information will be shared with our Premium members, but is not available to our Executive-level members. If you would like information on how to become a Premium subscriber, please contact Paige@SteelMarketUpdate.com
There are many advantages to being an SMU subscriber. One of the unique ones is we enjoy communicating with our members and we try to answer as many of their questions that come our way as possible. We had one earlier this week about the relationship between oil and steel prices. Ryan Smith, the manager of CRU’s Steel Cost Service, responded with a detailed discussion about oil and its impact on international steel mills’ cost to produce. I hope to be able to share his response with our readers in the coming days.
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Regarding this year’s conference, we will be making a final decision by June 1 about holding the live event at the Georgia International Convention Center on Aug. 24-26. We have already made the decision to host a virtual conference either live streaming the event at the GICC or providing a totally unique experience for you in your office or home office. More details will be coming over the next few weeks.
We are also reviewing our Steel 101: Introduction to Steel Making & Market Fundamentals Workshops to see when we will be able to hold our next live event. At this point, the earliest would be in mid-September, but we have not yet made a final determination if that event will be possible due to COVID-19. Stay tuned.
For those of you who are unaware, we have a special SMU Community Chat tab at the top section of our Home Page. If you click on that tab you will find our webinars in the drop down screen. You can register for the next webinar and access past webinar recordings in that area of the website. This is updated once a week. We currently have recordings available for webinars held with: Dr. Chris Kuehl, Bank of America Metals & Mining Analyst Timna Tanners, AGC Economist Ken Simonson, CAR Economist Bernard Swiecki, and Behlen Mfg. CEO Phil Raimondo.
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Latest in Final Thoughts
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.
What a difference a month makes. There are a few full bulls left in the room, but their numbers are dwindling. We’ll release results of our full steel market survey tomorrow afternoon. I took a sneak peak at the data on Thursday. And more people than I expected think that US hot-rolled (HR) coil prices will be in the $700s per short ton (st) two months from now. Vanishingly few think prices will be above $1,000/st in mid-April.
Sheet prices have fallen again this week on shorter lead times, higher imports, and potentially higher inventories. (We’ll see for sure when we release our service center shipment and inventory data next week.) I remember reporting almost exactly the same thing about a month ago and getting a fair amount of pushback. Not so much these days.