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Lead times for domestic European stainless steel finished products have increased recently, with local mills currently booking orders for June production.
“We’ve seen over the past couple of months that there has been an improvement in sentiment, with longer lead times at the mill,” the spokesman said.
“So far this year, we have already seen some increases of €30-50 per tonne ($41-69) , depending on the market, and in the second quarter we believe prices could further increase,” he added.
When asked whether the reduction in capacity taking place at stainless producers across the region was another reason for order books to fill up more quickly and longer lead times, Aperam said capacity had been adjusted to increase competitiveness.
“At the moment we are running close to the capacities we have defined as adapted to [the] market situation,” the spokesman said. “We drastically reviewed our industrial footprint and stopped our less efficient capacity to be cost competitive.”
The summer shutdown process also means that capacities are squeezed at the moment, he added.
Last week, data released by the International Stainless Steel Forum (ISSF) showed that worldwide stainless steel production increased by 7.8% year-on-year in 2013 to 38.1 million tonnes.
“In Europe, according to [European steel association] Eurofer, market supply was up 3%. Of course, imports also increased, but overall signs were positive,” Aperam said.
Several end-user segments have seen an improvement in activity, including the automotive sector and capital goods, according to the Luxembourg-based producer.
“All segments are showing an improvement in activity, better than [both] we and our customers had expected,” the spokesman said.
The three-month official bid/offer price spread for nickel on the London Metal Exchange (LME) surpassed the $16,000 level for the first time since April 2013 on March 18 and closed at $16,160/16,170 on March 21.
Rising nickel prices traditionally improve sentiment for stainless steel finished product prices and tends to lead to a rise in base prices for stainless steel finished products.
“In Europe, the monthly alloy surcharge for April will also go up. All this is having a positive impact on base prices and creates [the] potential to increase prices,” the Aperam spokesman said.
Stainless steel group Aperam expects to successfully raise European base prices in the second quarter of 2014, on higher nickel prices and improving demand, a spokesman told Steel First on Friday March 21.