SMU Data and Models

Steelmaking raw material prices mixed in April

Written by Brett Linton

Editor’s note: Steel Market Update is pleased to share this Premium content with Executive members. For information on how to upgrade to a Premium-level subscription, contact Luis Corona at

Prices of steelmaking raw materials have moved in different directions over the last 30 days, according to Steel Market Update’s latest analysis.

Through April 18 data, prices for iron ore, zinc, and aluminum all increased month on month (m/m). Steel scrap and pig iron prices held steady, while coking coal prices declined. Compared to the start of the year, prices for all products other than zinc and aluminum have eased. Looking back to this time last year, prices for all seven raw materials are down, with most experiencing double-digit percentage declines.

Table 1 summarizes the price changes of the seven materials considered in this analysis. It reports the percentage change from one month, three months, and one year prior for each product.

Iron ore

The import price of 62% Fe Chinese iron ore fines had been trending downward since hitting a 19-month high in January.  Prices changed pace this week, now up to a five-week high of $111 per dry metric ton (dmt) delivered North China. This week’s price is 21% lower than January’s high and 7% less than levels seen this time last year.

Coking coal

Like iron ore prices, premium hard coking coal prices had gradually eased since January, but have shown no signs of reversing. Through April 17, coking coal prices have slipped to a nine-month low of $227/dmt, down 19% over the last month and 33% less than January levels. Prices are down 16% compared to tags one year ago.

Pig iron

Most of the pig iron imported to the US had come from Russia, Ukraine, and Brazil. This report summarizes prices out of Brazil and averages the FOB value from the northern and southern ports.

Pig iron prices have been relatively stable since the middle of last year, hovering within a $20/dmt range since December. Prices were unchanged from March to April at $445/dmt, down 4% from the start of the year and down 17% compared to this time last year. Recall that pig iron prices had jumped more than 60% in April 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, reaching a historic high of $975/dmt.


Steel scrap tags have trended flat to downwards since peaking in December. Shredded scrap and busheling were flat from March to April, both nearing five-month lows. Scrap prices are down 11-16% from the start of the year and 12-20% from levels one year ago. Figure 4 shows the spread between shredded and busheling scrap, priced in dollars per gross ton in the Great Lakes region.

Changes in the relationship between scrap and iron ore prices offer insights into the competitiveness of integrated mills, where the primary feedstock is iron ore, compared to minimills, where the primary feedstock is scrap. Figure 5 shows the prices of mill raw materials over the past three years. Both materials are down from the start of the year. Compared to prices this time last year, scrap is down 12-20% while iron ore is only down 7%.

To compare these two feedstock materials, SMU divides the shredded scrap price by the iron ore price to calculate a ratio (Figure 6). A high ratio favors the integrated/BF producers and a lower ratio favors the mini-mill/EAF producers. Integrated producers had mostly held the cost advantage from late-2021 through mid-2023. The advantage briefly shifted to EAF producers in the second half of 2023, but began slowly inching higher in December. The ratio is now at 3.64 as of April 17, standing in relatively neutral territory.  

Zinc and aluminum

Zinc is used in galvanized and other coated steel products. Spot prices fluctuated dramatically in the past couple of years, but somewhat stabilized after reaching multi-year lows in mid-2023. The LME cash price for zinc has ramped up this month, now at $1.26 per pound as of April 16. Zinc prices are up 10% m/m and are also up 10% from levels three months prior. Compared to this time last year, zinc prices are down 11% (Figure 7).

Aluminum prices, which factor into the price of Galvalume, had also held steady over the past year and a half but have risen in recent weeks. The latest LME cash price is up to an 11-month high of $1.17 per pound, up 16% in one month and 20% higher than tags three months prior. Prices are down 2% from levels one year ago. (Note that aluminum spot prices sometimes have large swings and return to typical levels within a few days. We exclude these swings in our historical comparisons).

Brett Linton

Read more from Brett Linton

Latest in SMU Data and Models