SMU Data and Models

Steel Mill Lead Times: Sheet Shrinks Again, Plate Steady

Written by Brett Linton

Steel Market Update’s latest market check indicates steel mill lead times continue to decline for sheet products as they move closer to historical norms. Plate lead times have been relatively flat since mid-May. Lead times over the past two weeks have been roughly in line with what we were seeing in the early weeks of 2022.

Buyers surveyed this week reported mill lead times ranging from 3-6 weeks for hot rolled, 5-8 weeks for cold rolled, 4-8 weeks for galvanized, 7-8 weeks for Galvalume, and 4-8 weeks for plate.

SMU’s hot rolled lead times now average 4.3 weeks, down from 4.6 in late-May. Cold rolled lead times remain at 6.6 weeks, while galvanized lead times declined 0.4 weeks to 6.6 weeks. The average Galvalume lead time fell from 7.7 to 7.3 weeks. Mill lead times for plate are now at 5.5 weeks, rising by 0.1 weeks in each of our last two surveys.

Approximately 54% of the executives responding to this week’s questionnaire told SMU they were seeing slipping lead times, up from 41% in late May and up from 43% one month prior. Roughly 42% said lead times were stable, down from 56% in our two previous surveys. Just 4% said lead times were extending, relatively unchanged since late April. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“Many folks are sitting on sidelines waiting for prices to fall, and the mills have more line time.”

“Lead times are short, but I don’t think they will get much shorter.”

“With the … production time on mill, I can’t see it getting any shorter. No real demand in place to drive lead times out further.”

“Seeing the early stages [of lead times extending], orders not in stock and have to wait on mill lead times.”

“Slipping to stable. The new capacity seems pretty darn aggressive in the marketplace.”

“Less imports means more domestic buys. They might be slipping slightly as more production is being added this year. But overall I get the sense they are fairly stable.”

“Plate lead times are stable and extending depending on product (i.e., as-rolled vs. heat treated).”

“Customers are overstocked.”

Looking at lead times on a three-month moving average can smooth out the variability in the biweekly readings. As a 3MMA, all products were flat to down 0.2 weeks compared to two weeks prior. The current 3MMA for hot rolled is down 0.2 weeks to 5.1 weeks, cold rolled is unchanged at 7.0 weeks, galvanized is down 0.1 weeks to 7.3 weeks, Galvalume eased 0.2 weeks to 8.6 weeks, and plate is flat at 5.9 weeks.

Note: These lead times are based on the average from manufacturers and steel service centers who participated in this week’s SMU market trends analysis. SMU measures lead times as the time it takes from when an order is placed with the mill to when the order is processed and ready for shipping, not including delivery time to the buyer. Our lead times do not predict what any individual may get from any specific mill supplier. Look to your mill rep for actual lead times. To see an interactive history of our Steel Mill Lead Times data, visit our website here.

By Brett Linton,

Brett Linton

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