Steel Products Prices North America

SIMA: Steel Import License Data for June

Written by Peter Wright

Total rolled product imports in June were down by 25.4 percent on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, year over year. This was the eighth consecutive month in which imports declined by more than 20 percent compared to the same month last year.

This early look at June’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. All volumes in this analysis are reported in short tons. Three-month moving averages are used rather than single-month results to smooth out monthly variability.

Imports of total carbon and low alloy rolled products in June totaled 1.337 million tons on a single-month basis, down from 1.441 in May. Since September last year, the new normal has been a range of 1.24 to 1.56 million tons with June a little over the center of this range. Year over year on a 3MMA basis, sheet products were down by 16.9 percent, plate products were down by 37.5 percent, long products were down by 21.8 percent and tubulars were down by 35.9 percent. Imports of flat rolled, tubulars and longs all had a recent peak in June 2018.

Figure 1 shows the tonnage of total rolled steel and semi-finished imports through June on a 3MMA basis. Due to quota opening and closing times there is a big cyclicality within each quarter in the monthly volume of semifinished, which is masked by the 3MMA calculation. Imports of semifinished have ranged from a low of 0.21 million tons in August 2019 to a high of 1.5 million tons in January 2020. The one-month volume in June was 569,935 tons. Total rolled product volume has been on an erratically downward trend since mid-2017 (Figure 1).

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 June 2020 and June 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 April through June with January through March (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, as it was in June.

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 16.9 percent and total plate products were down by 37.5 percent, both year over year. All individual products in the sheet and plate groups were down year over year. The three major sheet products, HR, CR and HDG, were all down about the same, ranging from 20.8 percent for cold rolled to 21.5 percent for hot rolled. In the plate sector, cut to length was down by 39.6 percent and coiled down by 36.5 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 21.8 percent in total. All individual products except light shapes were down year over year with wire rod 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 35.9 percent year-over-year with line pipe down the most at 50.7 percent followed by OCTG at 43.5 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.

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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