Steel Products Prices North America

July Import Market Share for Sheet and Plate Products

Written by David Schollaert

U.S. domestic steel demand remains strong, but supplies have been catching up and are largely in balance. These dynamics are starting to show as steel prices have seen a slower rate of rise and may be near a peak. Lead times are also contracting, with hot rolled now below nine weeks.

These changes are largely a result of steady domestic production and an increase in foreign imports as customers have looked overseas for price and supply relief. July data shows imports of most steel products have risen over the past two months as imports’ share of total sheet product shipments rose to 16.7%, up from 16.2% the month prior and the highest level in 14 months. The market share of plate product imports in June rose to 21.7%, eclipsing a recent three-year high of 21.4% seen in July 2018.

Imports’ share of domestic sheet product shipments hit its lowest level in more than a decade at 9.7% at the beginning of 2020. Since then, except for a slight contraction in April, sheet imports into the U.S. have risen month on month. Shipments of sheet products by domestic mills were up 2.7% in July, while imports of sheet products rose 6.6%, following a 28.8% surge in May that helped push imports’ share to the current 16.7%.

Plate products in July saw an overall increase in shipments as apparent supply rose by 1.5%. Domestic deliveries of plate products dipped fractionally by 0.9%, while imports increased by 11.5% during the month. Overall, the rise in apparent supply of plate products month on month was still the second highest since August 2019.

Domestic sheet shipments in July totaled 4.542 million tons, the highest total since March 2018. Imports of sheet products in July totaled 911,559 tons, up from 854,829 tons the month prior and the highest mark since April 2018 when imports totaled 1.074 million tons.

The import share of hot rolled coil (HRC) edged down to 13.8% in July from 15.5% the prior month, as imports slipped by 10.5% month on month. Despite the decrease, HRC imports were the second highest total since July 2016. HRC imports totaled 298,831 tons, still nearly tripling totals from last August. Cold rolled coil (CRC) imports also slipped, but were still the second highest totals since May 2018 at 142,082 tons or 10.9% below June. CRC import market share was 14.7% in July, down slightly from 16.7% the month prior.

Despite the decrease in imports of HRC and CRC in July, total import market share of sheet products was driven by a jump in imports of galvanized (hot dipped and electrolytic) and other metallic coat products. Galvanized imports were up 29.2% or 237,711 tons in July, pushing market share to 14.4%, up from 11.6% the month prior. Other metallic coat imports were up 48.5% month on month in July, pushing the import market share up to 23.0% or 102,912 tons.  

The import market share for plates in coil rose in July to 49.2% as imports increased by 9.8% month on month. The rise in imports coincided with a 5.2% decrease in domestic shipments of plates in coil. Imports totaled 126,157 tons while domestic shipments were 130,170.

The table below displays total supply to the market in three months and 12 months through July 2021 for sheet and plate products and six subcategories. Supply to the market is the total of domestic mill shipments plus imports. It shows imports on the same three- and 12-month basis and then calculates import market share for the two time periods for six products. Finally, it subtracts the 12-month share from the three-month share and color codes the result green or red according to gains or losses. If the result of the subtraction is positive, it means that import share is increasing, and the code is red.

Imp.Market.Share SP Table1

The big picture is that imports’ share of sheet and plate continues to rise month after month, following what many predict could be a big second half jump in total imports, especially in late Q3 and into Q4. This should continue to provide much-needed supply-side relief to buyers. The supply/demand balance should have further impact on steel prices, which have already begun to moderate. Hot rolled and cold rolled sheet and strip have seen a trend shift together with plate products, illustrating how import competition is rising versus domestic products in three months compared to 12 months. Most notable of those subcategories are plates in coil (7.9%) and hot rolled coil (3.6%) in three months compared to 12 months through July 2021.

The import market share of individual plate products as well as a breakdown of the market share for plates in coil are displayed together in Figure 1. The historical import market share of plate and sheet products and the import market share of the four major sheet products are show side-by-side in Figure 2. The import share of plate had been decreasing erratically over the past six years, but has trended up this year and is back to pre-pandemic levels, hovering around 22.0%. Sheet product imports’ share had also trended down over the past several years, but has gained ground since the beginning of the year despite a steady rise in domestic shipments. The import market share of plates in coil is now nearly split with domestic shipments and holding strong since the beginning of the year.

Imp.Market.Share SP Figure1

Imp.Market.Share SP Figure2

By David Schollaert,

David Schollaert

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