EUROPE STAINLESS STEEL: Grade-304 sheet prices stable despite ‘unrealistic’ offers

The price range in Europe for grade-304 stainless steel cold-rolled (CR) sheet widened upward this week, with some of the higher offers heard last week finally being accepted by buyers, although business was also done at the same prices as before, Fastmarkets heard on Friday March 22.

Despite the partial increase, buyers said that many offers were still considered to be unrealistically high, and that certain mills will need to reduce their prices if they want to conclude deals in the coming weeks.

The domestic price of grade-304 stainless CR sheet in Northern Europe was assessed by Fastmarkets on March 22 at €2,100-2,200 ($2,392-2,506) per tonne delivered, up by €50 per tonne on the high side. Meanwhile, offers were heard as high as €2,300 per tonne.

Mills have been trying slowly to implement the alloy surcharge increase for March, which for grade-304 CR sheets was €116-118 per tonne, but they have met with resistance from buyers. Since the alloy surcharge increase was announced, grade-304 transaction prices have gone up by just €50-100 per tonne.

This week, Finland-based Outokumpu announced that the grade-304 CR sheet alloy surcharge for April will increase by €79 per tonne. Other mills have yet to announce their April surcharges but were expected to introduce a similar change.

These aggressive attempts to raise prices were out of step with downstream appetites for higher costs, and one distributor said that this has made the grade-304 CR sheet market unattractive, and that it has temporarily stepped away to focus on stainless long steel products instead.

“Our stocks of sheets are really low,” this distributor said. “It’s difficult to make money on them. It’s harder to secure margins and there’s more risk, with the prices [from the mills] changing all the time.”

The stainless long steel market is more stable, with Fastmarkets’ assessment of the grade-304 bright bar base price in Europe remaining at €1,000-1,050 per tonne delivered on March 22, unchanged since mid-December.

One distributor said that bright bar imports from India were available for around €200 per tonne lower than this. But demand was very high and, because domestic mills were fully booked, there was no pressure for a decrease in domestic prices.