Our SMU Community Chat attendees reacted to Wednesday’s webinar with Barry Zekelman of Zekelman Industries by flooding my office with emails. Readers of my editorial in Thursday’s issue of Steel Market Update also chose to provide their opinions on the subjects discussed. Emotions were running high as some thought I was being disrespectful to Mr. Zekelman in my editorial, while others thought some of the comments made by Mr. Zekelman during the webinar were out of bounds.
For the record, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Zekelman and what he has accomplished. His voice is respected within the steel industry, even if you don’t share some of the strong positions he has regarding trade, the opening of the economy and politics in general. He and I communicated on Friday and I gained valuable insights into some new things Zekelman Industries has been doing for their employees through the pandemic. I also learned about some of the charitable gving for which Mr. Zekelman is responsible. He gave me permission to share the following information as to what he has done for his employees:
“For the record:
- I didn’t lay off one person in the entire company
- I sent everyone 65 or over home and paid them
- We didn’t apply for ANY assistance at all!
- I let everyone who wanted to work from home do so and continue to
- We clean and sterilize facilities daily and extra on weekends
- I set up a fund for anyone who needed assistance
- I handed out $1,000 bonuses in late March in the middle of all this [totaled $3 million].”
For the rest of the community, Mr. Zekelman also did the following:
- I bought iPads for local hospitals so people could communicate with loved ones
- I donated tubing for hospital beds
- I personally have funded a cancer research project to the tune of $8.5 million and many millions of dollars elsewhere.
“We did everything and beyond to make sure our teammates and communities were safe, but now we must go forward,” he said.
I agree, it is time to move forward. It was my pleasure to have Barry Zekelman as a guest speaker this past week, and I hope that we will be able to do it again either live or in an online setting.
This Wednesday (June 3) we will have trade attorney Lewis Leibowitz as our guest speaker, and I have promised one of the Zekelman employees that I will ask Mr. Leibowitz some tough questions. That I will do. The SMU Community Chat Webinar is at 11 a.m. ET, and you can register by clicking on this link.
I did get an email from one of our readers who sympathized with the crazy week I was having. My response was, “if you only knew….”
I am on the board of trustees for Hamline University, my alma mater located in St. Paul, Minn. More precisely, it is in the Hamline-Midway portion of the city. The area where on Thursday evening and early Friday morning vandals hiding amongst peaceful protestors looted and burned buildings, one being a pharmacy that had stood one block from the university for 102 years.
The university, which still has students on campus, is safe and secure. The university is one dedicated to educating first-generation students from the culturally diverse communities around the state of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
Of course, the university, and me as a member of the board, still must deal with the challenges being created by the pandemic. The ability of students, and their parents, to pay for a private liberal arts education is being squeezed as jobs are disrupted. Students are debating whether it is worth going to college if the education is going to be online. Some are considering taking a “gap” year. Universities around the country are dealing with budget issues as it is difficult to know how many students will show up come the fall.
Hamline, and many colleges around the country, will be making decisions over the next one to two weeks about what a college education will look like as we try to define the “new normal” that will keep students safe, and moving forward.
Then there is our decision to take this year’s SMU Steel Summit Conference to a “virtual” event. An event that is familiar yet foreign at the same time. We have 12 weeks to build a conference experience that is unique, challenging, interactive, beneficial, and entertaining for our virtual attendees, sponsors and exhibitors.
This will be accomplished by putting together a program that keeps your attention, allows for you to interact with the speakers and attendees, and covers a wide variety of topics. Many of the subjects and speakers we will cover will not be found in other webinars being conducted by SMU, CRU or others in the industry.
We are putting together a virtual networking experience that allows virtual attendees to interact with known and unknown attendees and speakers. This will occur within the SMU Virtual Steel Summit Conference hall. When you enter the virtual hall, you will have various options: help desk, auditorium where the presentations will take place, networking lounge, exhibition area and chat rooms. I will be discussing each of these areas in more detail in the coming days and weeks prior to the conference.
We intend to open the hall prior to the beginning of the event where registered attendees will be able to find the names, company names and titles of those who will be in attendance once the conference begins. You will be able to introduce yourself, suggest meetings and meeting times, which can be done as either a “chat” or live Zoom/WebX one-on-one video meeting.
If you would like to learn more, and register for the 2020 SMU Virtual Steel Summit Conference please click here.
It has been exactly two years since I sold Steel Market Update to the CRU Group. For those interested, I have agreed on a new contract with CRU, and will remain with Steel Market Update. I am looking forward to continuing to grow the SMU newsletters, proprietary products, events, workshops and more.
As always, your business is truly appreciated by all of us here at Steel Market Update.
John Packard, President & CEO
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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.