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SIMA: Steel Import License Data for May

Written by Peter Wright

Imports of rolled products through May, year over year, were not affected by the pandemic, but the longer-term decline continued, according to the latest Commerce Department data.

Year over year, total rolled product imports in May were down by 24.8 percent on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. This was the seventh consecutive month where imports were down by more than 20 percent compared to the same month last year.

This early look at May’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 May were 1.458 million tons on a single-month basis, up from 1.243 million in April. In the 13 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 2019 through May 2020, the new normal has been a range of 1.25 to 1.56 million tons with May at the top of this range. Year over year on a 3MMA basis, sheet products were down by 16.8 percent, plate products were down by 35.8 percent, long products were down by 20.3 percent and tubulars were down by 34.5 percent. Imports of flat rolled, tubulars and longs all had a recent peak in May 2018.

Figure 1 shows the tonnage of total rolled steel and semifinished imports through May on a 3MMA basis. Due to quota opening and closing times, there is a violent cyclicality within each quarter in the monthly volume of semifinished, which is masked by the 3MMA calculation.

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 2012 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 May 2020 and May 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 March through May with December through February (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 May.

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 16.8 percent and total plate products were down by 35.8 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, hot-dipped galvanized was down the most at 25.2 percent. In the plate sector, cut to length was down by 36.2 percent and coiled wasd down by 35.6 percent. Figures 3 and 4 show the history of sheet and plate product imports since January 2012.

Table 2 shows the same analysis for long products where the year-over-year volume was down by 20.3 percent in total. All individual products except light shapes were down year over year with heavy structurals 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 34.5 percent year-over-year, with line pipe down the most, followed by OCTG. Line pipe declined by 58.4 percent and OCTG by 35.0 percent. Figure 6 shows the history of tubular imports since January 2012.

Explanation: SMU publishes several import reports ranging from this early look using license data to the 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.

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