Lead Times Flat While Prices Rise

Written by Becca Moczygemba

Steel mill lead times have remained flat despite rising prices, according to SMU’s latest market survey.

SMU’s hot-rolled lead time is approximately 5 weeks, unchanged from our last check of the market two weeks ago.

Cold-rolled lead times remained at roughly 6.6 weeks, similar to two weeks ago. Galvanized inched up to 6.3 weeks from 6.1 weeks.

Galvalume lead times were 6.4 weeks on average, the lowest since the beginning of the year. Note that Galvalume figures can be volatile due to the limited size of that market and our smaller sample size.

Plate lead times rose to 5.0 weeks, up from 4.7 weeks in mid/late January.

20223 leadtimes fig1

When asked about the future direction of lead times, 63% of executives responding to this week’s questionnaire reported that they expect lead times to be relatively flat into April, up from 55% in the last survey. About 22% percent think lead times will extend, while about 15% think they will contract. Premium members can view a longer history of this data series and others by exploring the market trends report.

Looking at lead times on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis can smooth out the variability in the biweekly readings. As a 3MMA, lead times for all products were relatively flat compared to two weeks ago. The latest 3MMA lead time for hot rolled inched up 0.1 week to 4.6 weeks. Cold-rolled lead times moved up to 6.2 week. Galvanized lead times ticked up to 6.1 weeks from 6.0 weeks, while Galvalume lead times increased 0.2 weeks to 6.5 weeks. Plate lead times also rose 0.2 weeks to 5 weeks.

20223 leadtimes fig2

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 Becca Moczygemba, Becca@SteelMarketUpdate.com

Becca Moczygemba

Read more from Becca Moczygemba

Latest in Futures

HRC futures: ‘Normalcy’ not seen on near-term horizon

Over my years of observing the steel market, there's been a recurring belief that current market disruptions in either the physical spot market or steel futures are temporary anomalies, destined to fade, and that normalcy will soon return. However, the events of the first few weeks of 2024 served as a stark reminder that this expectation seldom materializes, and that the US steel market is still the most volatile steel market in the world.

HRC futures: Understanding and addressing HRC basis risk

It’s no secret that HRC futures have been particularly volatile over the past several years. The most recent instance was the outsized break in the March futures contract early this week. For companies procuring raw material in anticipation of higher prices or even to get ahead on future purchase orders from customers, understanding the relative price of that raw material versus the hot-rolled coil futures curve is important.

HRC futures: A flock of canaries in the mine

Much has happened since we last met on Jan. 4. Cleveland-Cliffs announced a price increase on Jan. 3, lifting the futures market in the morning only for it to finish the day $20-$30 per short ton (st) below those morning highs. On Jan. 4, the futures curve was down another $10-$28/st. And in my column for SMU that evening, I asked a question: Would those aggressive sellers be met with a short-squeeze forcing them to cover, or had the market peaked with the negative price action to start the year the proverbial canary in the coal mine?