LONDON (Scrap Register): Coated coil basis values continued to escalate, in March, driven by restricted availability of imports and extremely extended delivery lead times from European mills. However, the pace of increases for the other strip mill products slowed and, in parts of Europe, prices stabilised.
Third country imports, from sources not affected by antidumping measures, are becoming more interesting to steel buyers - with offer prices lower than those sought by domestic steelmakers. Furthermore, delivery lead times from outside the EU compare quite favourably with domestic ones, at present. Nonetheless, local producers continue to target further price advances, particularly on coated products.
German steel demand is firm. Service centres purchased substantial quantities of material in advance of the recent price hikes and inventories are now higher than in December 2016. Nevertheless, they can, comfortably, pass on mill increases to their customers. Steelmakers continue to push for further rises but the upward momentum on hot and cold rolled coil values appears to have stalled, for the moment.
Activity in the French market slowed, in February, due to school holidays, but is expected to pick up during the course of March. The price trend is still positive, on the whole, with mills continuing to seek increases. Market participants expect the upward tendency to continue. However, distributors are reported to be quite well-stocked or awaiting deliveries of orders already placed.
The significant price hikes anticipated by Italian buyers, last month, have not been realised. Having purchased large quantities during December and January, a number of service centres were destocking, in February. Inventories are sufficient to cover their requirements for the first half of the year.
In the UK, steel demand is robust. Basis figures continued to climb for May deliveries. Buyers anticipate further hikes on coated products. Distributors’ sales are good, with resale values continuing to strengthen, although a number of service centres are unable to lift them quickly enough to retain profit margins. Inventory levels are normal-to-high.
Belgian suppliers continue to target an increase in basis figures for strip mill products. However, few changes were noted, with the exception of hot dipped galvanised numbers, which are driven up by the cost of zinc. Mill delivery lead times stretch to the end of the second trimester and beyond. As distributors have plenty of material on stock, they are able to postpone any purchases at the current higher prices. Customers are now showing interest in third country imports. They cite these cheaper alternatives as a bargaining tool when negotiating with domestic steelmakers.
Underlying steel demand remains solid, in Spain. However, many steel users and distributors are well stocked, having purchased large volumes of overseas material around the turn of last year. Consequently, they do not need to re-order from domestic suppliers, at present. New import offers are attractively priced and have favourable delivery lead times when compared with European ones. This availability prevented local steelmakers from imposing further increases on hot and cold rolled coil prices during recent negotiations. Distributors still encounter difficulties when attempting to pass on mill hikes to the marketplace.