SMU Market Chatter

Steel market chatter this week

Written by Laura Miller

SMU surveyed our market contacts this week about steel prices, demand, and the overall marketplace. Below are some of the buyers’ responses in their own words to help you get a feel for current and future market conditions.

Demand is a big topic of discussion currently. Is it steady, falling, or on the upswing with summer construction heating up? As you can see from the answers below, it depends on who you ask. One buyer’s response sums it up pretty well: “I still see the marketplace as soft/stable with some segments busy, while others tread water.”

After reading the comments, how do they jive with what you’re seeing? We’d love to hear your thoughts, too. If you’re interested in taking part in our weekly surveys, contact to be added to our list.

And thank you to all the steel buyers taking part in this week’s mini-survey! We value your input and are most appreciative.

“With demand softening, as well as scrap, it would seem that pricing will likely trend lower.”

“Pricing will be under pressure until demand rebounds, so I do not see pricing bottoming until middle to end of June. High Interest rates are the main reason for the reduced demand.”

“Depends on orders domestic mills receive. If they get orders, then prices could bottom out soon and increase. If they don’t receive orders, prices will continue to adjust down.”

“I have been feeling that prices would continue to decline, but I have heard of extended backlogs with some mills.”

“We are expecting them to get lower and lower. I don’t know if they’ll get too far below $700/ton, but they ought to get to that level.”

“60% chance to continue lower (albeit slower), with 30% chance of stability, and 10% chance of a moderate recovery.”

“Drop to low $700s then stabilize around high $700s / low $800s for most of Q3.”

Slowly drop – no demand.”

“Thinking prices get hammered over the next month. But sometime in the two-month period, prices bottom, and mills will be able to pull them back up because buyers will have pushed it too low.”

“Fairly flat for the next few weeks, then perhaps some strengthening in late Q2 once the imports have burned off. Unless Nucor continues to push the market lower for whatever reason.”

“I expect this downturn to end abruptly. By mid-June, we’ll see price moving upward.”

“Lower – slowing economy.”

“Discrete plate down because everybody is talking it down – self-fulfilling.”

Is demand improving, declining, or stable, and why?

“Starting to improve in areas that were unseasonably slow.”

“Demand seems flat now. Customers are holding back from buying.”

“Demand is declining with prices falling. Expect contract to be weaker, with July pricing better than June, and spot has already gone into hibernation.”

“Stable to soft. Continued volatility in steel is keeping customers in a wait-and-see mode.”

“Demand is OK for us, but we hear from the big service centers that things are very slow.”

“Declining – slowing economy and high interest rates.”

“Seems to be declining. Pricing uncertainty would seem to have a lot to do with it.”

“Declining due to slow construction demand.”

“Stable for this time of year.”

“Stable to slightly lower.”

“Improving from Q1.”

“Demand is stable at best.”

Is inventory moving faster or slower than this time last year – and why?

“Sheet appears to be steady, while plate is turning faster at service center levels due to announced price decreases from mills. At the mill level, sheet and plate are steady to slower.”

“Slower. Since the pandemic, manufacturers can stall downstream longer, so they wait longer when prices start declining.”

“Slower right now with the way prices are falling.”

“Slower due to reduced demand.”

“Currently stable to last year, but slowing headed into summer.”

“Inventory is moving at the same clip for us, which is just fine.”

“Demand is about the same.”

“We can’t keep inventory on our floor. We have several holes and no quotes, and there are many opportunities every week.”

Are imports more attractive vs. domestic material? Why or why not?

“Yes, especially CRC and HDG.”

“With price uncertainty, imports are more risky but still attractive on coated products, especially prepainted.”

“Import pricing remains pretty good – even with the recent domestic tumble. But the lead times are tough (especially as the domestics retreat to just a few weeks).”

“Not really due to freight.”

“Domestic has the edge. Hard to make a call on long lead time imports given short US mill lead times and price volatility in the domestic market.”

“No – takes too long to arrive.”

“Imports are getting less attractive with where US prices are at.”

What’s something that’s going on in the market that nobody is talking about?

“Why does everyone race to the bottom when all people logarithmically benefit more as prices go upward.”

“Impact of continued market instability on end users. (Mid $700s to mid $800s and back under $800 in three months).”

“While the overall economy appears to be at a comfortable cruising altitude and consumers are spending with their seatbelts unfastened, does the weather report for the back half of 2024 show enough turbulence to relight the fasten seatbelts sign? If so, are we, as a metals industry, prepared to survive with the use of our oxygen masks?”

Laura Miller

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Final thoughts

Last week was a newsy one for the US sheet market. Nucor’s announcement that it would publish a weekly HR spot price was the talk of the town – whether that was in chatter among colleagues, at the Boy Scouts of America Metals Industry dinner, or in SMU’s latest market survey. Some think that it could Nucor's spot HR price could bring stability to notoriously volatile US sheet prices, according to SMU's latest steel market survey. Others think it’s too early to gauge its impact. And still others said they were leery of any attempt by producers to control prices.