With the expectation of higher scrap prices coming for the month of June, on top of the steep rise in ferrous scrap this month, the mills’ margins may well be squeezed, which will impact negotiations and pricing over the next few weeks. Most steel buyers anticipate a new round of price increases by late May into the beginning of June.
At the same time, automotive production is restarting and the price of oil is closing in on $30 per barrel. Automotive may well be back to full production by late June, while oil needs to exceed $40 per barrel before we see it having an impact on oil rigs and production in the U.S. Dr. Chris Kuehl was pretty optimistic last week when he called for oil to get back to $100 per barrel in the not too distant future (due to Americans doing USA-based vacations in their cars and getting back to going out to eat, stores, etc.).
It probably will not be too long before we hear of a blast furnace coming back online at USS, AMUSA or AK Steel (Cleveland-Cliffs) to accommodate automotive. The fear on behalf of steel buyers is the possibility of too much, too fast. We will need to watch the balance between supply and demand.
We are hosting what I think will be a very interesting SMU Community Chat tomorrow (Wednesday, May 20) at 11 AM ET with John Anton of IHS Markit and myself. The webinar is free to anyone who would like to register and join us. The chat will take 40 minutes or less out of your day. To register click here.
On a much different topic, I received a note Monday from a steel buyer who contracted COVID-19 and was just returning to work after being absent for the past six weeks. He asked that I not share his name, but he (and I) feel what he went through is important for everyone to think about as you go to the grocery store, restaurant or sporting event.
COVID-19 A Personal Perspective
“John, I don’t know exactly how I caught this virus, but I spent the last six weeks fighting for tomorrow. I had no energy or appetite and at times I didn’t recognize my wife or daughter. Hell, I wasn’t scared because I just didn’t understand.
“I have a strong wife and daughter who just pushed me through this ordeal. I am 40 pounds lighter, but not a good diet plan. I’ll take being pudgy.
“This Covid-19 is real, and we need to prepare for a different tomorrow. Wear your mask for your protection as much as for the others around you.”
I think I will end here…
As always, your business (and your lives) are truly appreciated by all of us at Steel Market Update.
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.