Global and U.S. steel markets were roiled throughout June by the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigation aiming to determine whether widespread steel import tariffs are justified due to national security implications. The U.S. Department of Commerce missed its self-imposed deadline on June 30 for concluding the investigation.
Most domestic steel prices have risen as a result of 232, while imports have laid low. Domestic hot-rolled coil prices jumped about $20/ton in mid-June to around $600/ton on average before flattening out as the month drew to a close. Many observers doubt the increases are sustainable in that they stem almost entirely to the Section 232 hearings rather than underlying demand.
U.S. finished steel imports through five months of 2017 are up 14.2% compared with the same period of 2016, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, based on preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Finished steel import market share was an estimated 27% in May and is estimated at 26% year-to-date. Major products with significant YTD import increases vs. the same period last year include oil country goods (up 227%), standard pipe (up 34%) and line pipe (up 25%).
Globally, steel prices are generally on the decline owing to continued overcapacity and limp demand. The MEPS All Products Composite Steel Price Index declined by (1.7%) in June from the prior month, which also may be attributed to uncertainty over the U.S. Section 232 investigation.
China continues to increase crude steel production, which has been estimated to rise almost 5% in the first four months of the year. However, one Western researcher indicated most of the increase has gone to domestic consumption, while exports have dropped by more than a quarter during the four-month period.
World crude steel production increased 2% in May compared with May 2016 for the 67 countries reporting to the World Steel Association (WorldSteel). WorldSteel calculated the crude steel capacity utilization ratio of its members at 71.8% in May 2017, which was 0.5 percentage points higher than May, 2016. Compared to April 2017, it was (1.8) percentage points lower.
Weld Fittings & Flanges
Although there has been little change since last month’s report, the possible impact of tariffs on imported products has a lot of suppliers and distributors reviewing inventory levels pending the outcome of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigation. Otherwise, market conditions continue to slowly improve. Since 2016, price increases on carbon steel flanges have averaged 10% and 5.0-15.0% for carbon butt-weld fittings. Some distributors continue to report tightening supplies and longer lead times on some items.
Forged Steel Fittings
The outlook remains unchanged (flat) since last month’s report. Pricing has been stable for an extended period of time, and there is a sufficient supply of both import and domestic fittings in the market. Import lead times are favorable and consistent, lending to strong supply. There is more stability and activity in the oil field; however, not enough to affect pricing. Other key markets, such as the industrial segment, are gaining momentum but have not hit historic levels. And although activity in energy has picked up, the list price remains unaffected since May 2011. Overall, both manufacturers and distributors continue to compete for a smaller piece of available market share creating very competitive conditions.
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