Steel Products

Steel imports stabilized in March

Written by Brett Linton

Steel imports held steady in March, up just 1% from February according to preliminary US Census data released earlier this week. Though flat month on month (m/m), March imports remain strong in comparison to levels seen over the past few months.

The US Commerce Department’s preliminary count shows 2.51 million short tons (st) of steel products entered the country last month. This is up from 2.47 million st one month prior, but down from 2.62 million st in March 2023. April import licenses total 2.11 million st through April 23, the last date for which figures for this month were available. Note, however, that license data is still being collected – so April figures could increase from here.

Imports as a 3MMA

Looking at imports on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis can smooth out the variability in monthly readings. On a 3MMA basis, imports through preliminary March data rose to a 19-month high of 2.51 million st, up 6% from the previous month. The 3MMA through April is currently down to 2.36 million st. But, again, April data is not yet complete – so it’s early to draw conclusions about this month.

Figure 2 shows the strong rally after imports slowed in the latter part of 2023.

Semi-finished and finished steel

Imports of semi-finished steel have generally hovered between 400,000-700,000 st since the start of 2023, averaging 524,000 st per month last year. March levels are 6% shy of that average at 493,000 st, a 31% reduction from February’s eight-month high. April licenses currently report 447,000 st of semi-finished material coming into the country, down 9% from March estimates. As noted above, however, it’s early to extrapolate conclusions from incomplete April figures.

Meanwhile, finished steel imports jumped 15% from February to March to 2.02 million tons, now up to the highest level recorded in 19 months. Finished imports averaged 1.83 million st in 2023. The latest finished import tally through April 23 is to 1.66 million st.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) estimated the finished steel import market share to be 23% in March, up from 21% in February and up from 22% in January.

Flat-rolled steel

Flat-rolled steel imports have recovered almost every month since reaching a seven-month low in November. March preliminary figures surged 23% m/m to 1.05 million st, now at a 19-month high. April licenses are at 878,000 st through the 23rd.

Figure 5 shows flat rolled imports by popular products. After declining in February, most products rebounded into March. The largest monthly gain was seen in plate in coils (+73%), followed by hot-rolled coils (+40%) and galvanized (+21%). April licenses through the 23rd show a decline in the majority of the products we track, with notable drops in hot rolled (-33%), plate in coils (-30%), and galvanized (-27%). The one product showing a significant increase in April, even thought data is not complete, is tin plate, up at least 41% over March.

Pipe and tube

The March preliminary count of total pipe and tube imports rose 12% m/m to 437,000 st. April levels are, through the 23rd, down 25% to 323,000 st. Pipe and tube imports have been substantially lower over the last few months compared to years prior.

Imports by product

The chart below provides further detail into imports by product, highlighting high-volume steel products. April data is complete only through April 23.

Imports by country

According to AISI, the largest suppliers in March were Canada (597,000 st, up 11% vs. February), Brazil (392,000 st, down 23%), South Korea (349,000 st, up 88%), Mexico (287,000 st, down 12%) and Japan (109,000 st, up 47%).

Brett Linton

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