HRC hits another record high in US; spot tons elusive

Hot-rolled coil prices in the United States climbed again, surpassing the record high established the previous day, after market participants noted an acute shortage of spot-market material.

Fastmarkets’ daily steel hot-rolled coil index, fob mill US was calculated at $62.69 per hundredweight ($1,253.80 per short ton) on Tuesday March 2, up by 0.29% from $62.51 per cwt on Monday and by 2.48% from $61.17 per cwt on February 23.

On March 2, 2020, the price was at $30.08 per cwt.

Fresh inputs were received in a range of $61-65 per cwt, representing mill offers, deals heard and general assessments of current spot-market pricing levels from sources in the distributor and consumer subindices. Data were carried over in the producer subindex due to a lack of liquidity in that subindex and in the consumer subindex at the assessor’s discretion to mitigate day-to-day volatility.

Heard in the market

The daily index again attained an all-time high on Tuesday, having declined in only one session over the past two-plus weeks.

Very few mills are promising customers any spot material for at least two months, with conversations now centered on the possibility of May shipments if significant spot tons become available by then, sources said. Scheduled shipments are already weeks behind schedule from many sites, and a perceived upward trend in sentiment for the March ferrous scrap trade is serving as an additional rationale for higher steel pricing.

Attention now turns to scheduled maintenance outages at multiple mills in June, or thereabouts. Some sources believe mills will certainly try to postpone any outages and keep making steel while they can collect record-high income. Others warn that machinery truly needs maintenance work, while some producers might consider following through on promised outages after reckoning that withholding tons from the market can stave off a pricing collapse.

Some sources said that end-usage customers are slowing their steel procurement in reaction to the price spike.

Quote of the day
“Mills are quoting May. April may be done. I don’t think they have a lot of tons to sell. They tell you that you just have to wait. They sound really freaking confident, man,” one HRC consumer said, noting that his downstream customers have stopped buying because their long-budgeted projects cannot absorb the new steel prices.

“You are going to see some force majeure stuff and people are going to say that’s all we can do. Maybe some customers are safe. But the reality is, how are the other customers going to do the job if it’s $1-million-something more? I think, the way things go up-down, up-down so quickly, that they just thought it was going to change. But this one looks a little different, doesn’t it? This seems to have teeth... I don’t think things are going to change much in 30-60 days. In 90 days, it could cruise down some, but I don’t think it’s going to cruise down a lot. People could get brave and buy import,” he said.

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