Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Written by Tim Triplett

“What a difference a war makes.” No disrespect meant to the suffering people of Ukraine, but more than one respondent to SMU’s survey this week noted the big effect the war is having on global steel prices.

Steel sheet had lost nearly 50% of its value in the six months from last September to February. The price for hot rolled coil had nosedived from an all-time high of $1,955 to around $1,000 per ton in a major correction from the pandemic-induced steel shortage last year. Then Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, plunging the global steel market into turmoil as exports of steel, slabs and pig iron from those two countries ceased overnight. The resulting raw material squeeze ignited a turnaround in steel prices unlike any seen before. SMU’s check of the market this week puts the benchmark HRC price at $1,260 per ton, a $260 jump in just two weeks. Which begs the question, how long will this new trend last and how high will steel prices go?


Obviously, much depends on the duration of the conflict. And even after the fighting stops, how long it takes for trade to normalize. If it can ever truly normalize. With that as a backdrop, approximately half of the executives surveyed by SMU this week predicted HRC prices will peak sometime in the second quarter of this year, while the other half guessed Q3 or later. “Who knows? This war has changed everything,” said one respondent. “This is entirely tied to the war in Ukraine and its outcome. Does Russia win and install some puppet regime, taking all of both countries’ steel exports effectively out of the world market for the foreseeable future?” asked another. “At some point, the world will have a workaround to the disruptions from the war, perhaps near the tail end of Q2,” predicted a third.

Even in the near term, there is little consensus on what is likely to happen to steel prices. SMU asked readers where they expect HRC prices to be at the end of the first quarter – in just a few weeks in other words – and their predictions were all across the board. Roughly 17% said they see HRC ending this month at $1,200 per ton or less; 21% at $1,200-1,299; 24% at $1,300-1,399; 21% at $1,400-1,499; and 17% at $1,500 per ton or higher. Said one buyer: “It’s unbelievable to be talking about $1,500/ton+ HRC again. Wowza!”

Feeling the Impact of the War

SMU’s questionnaire also asked: Has your business been impacted by the war in Ukraine and trade actions taken against Russia? The vast majority said yes, if for no other reason than the war has caused steel prices to reverse course. But for some, there’s more to it than that:

“There’s panic in market.”

“The effect on flat rolled has already pushed tube prices up by $350 per ton.”

“Anything that moves by truck is impacted.”

“Material we had on order was canceled.”

“Our future pricing is unpredictable.”

“Mills’ reaction to war has created opportunistic selling.”

“We are starting to have difficulties sourcing stainless steel items, above and beyond the logistical challenges we were already experiencing. Mills are telling our vendors ‘hold tight’ for new quotes.”

“Not to say war is good, but it did help correct the price slide.”

Steel Market Update Events

Nominations will soon open for the 2022 NexGen Leadership Award. Yesterday, we got confirmation from Cleveland-Cliffs that Lourenco Goncalves will be the mentor for this year’s recipient of the award. Information will be available on the SMU Steel Summit Conference website, and we will be writing much more about the award and the nomination process in the coming weeks.

There is a group of past NexGen Leadership Award winners and nominees who are acting as a steering committee (see photo) for what we hope will become an exciting opportunity for young people in the industry to network, learn, mentor, and to become more involved in the greater steel community. You will soon hear more about this group and its plans in a couple of weeks.

We have been asked about the agenda for the 2022 SMU Steel Summit Conference. With all that is going on in the world, we are taking our time to ensure we have a timely and relevant agenda by the time we get to the end of August.

We do have a number of speakers already lined up such as Lourenco Goncalves, CEO of Cleveland-Cliffs; Mark Millett, CEO of Steel Dynamics; Alan Beaulieu, CEO of ITR Economics; Gene Marks, Author, Columnist, Small Business Expert; Timna Tanners, Analyst, Wolfe Research; Josh Spoores, Principal Analyst, CRU; and Phil Bell, President, Steel Manufacturers Association. Plus we will have many more to discuss the events of the day, the important flat rolled and plate markets, pricing forecasts, trade, and world flows of raw materials and their impact on the domestic steel markets.

We already have more than 200 executives registered for this year’s conference as we move toward our goal of 1,200. You can join them by going to

A note on other events coming up in April. We will host our first in-person Steel 101: Introduction to Steel Making & Market Fundamentals Workshop on April 19 & 20 in Memphis, Tenn. This workshop will include an in-person tour of the Nucor Hickman (Arkansas) flat rolled steel mill. You can learn more about the agenda, instructors, costs to attend, and how to register by going to

We are hosting a virtual hedging workshop on April 26 & 27 (half day each) with Spencer Johnson of StoneX Financial. In light of the continued volatility with steel prices, and our belief this will not end anytime soon, we recommend companies at least have a working knowledge of hedging concepts. This workshop is meant to do just that. You can learn more by visiting

As always, we appreciate your business.

Tim Triplett, SMU Executive Editor,

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