RESEARCH: Bullish factors could underpin US HRC prices into Q3 2021

The latest forecasts from Fastmarkets’ team of analysts are ready to view.

This month’s key North American steel forecast highlights:

• US sheet prices hit record highs again in May, with upward momentum persisting into June. Actual US hot-rolled coil prices averaged $1,553 per ton in May, largely in line with our forecast of $1,540 per ton. Prices remain supported by strong underlying supply and demand conditions - such as long lead times, elevated costs and low inventories through the supply chain - both in the United States and globally, with further pricing gains forecast in the coming weeks.

• We are hesitant to forecast the peak of the US HRC market given the unprecedented nature of the price rises we have seen so far in 2021. A downward correction in prices is inevitable, however, although the ultimate timing of the pricing reversal remains unclear. We understand consumer resistance to higher prices is climbing, an indication that we could be approaching a tipping point. We hold the view that while June may prove to be the pricing peak, bullish factors remain in the market that could continue to underpin prices well into the third quarter of 2021.

• US plate prices enjoyed further upward momentum in May, with domestic steelmakers seeing acceptance of their latest $100-per-ton price hike at mid-month. Although plate prices remain well below HRC prices - in a reversal of the typical premium for plate over HRC - plate prices are rising rapidly, and with the market characterized by short supply and reports of customers on allocation, we are forecasting additional plate price rises in June. Given the extreme HRC price increases evident since the start of 2021 and more moderate plate price rises, together with the potential for greater increases in HRC supply in the second half of 2021 relative to plate, we expect the impending sheet price correction to be more pronounced than in the plate market, with plate prices regaining traditional premiums relative to HRC during the fourth quarter of 2021.

• Reinforcing bar prices have posted impressive gains over the past month, with the market accepting the latest mill hike, boosting prices to around $875 per ton by late May. With rebar supply remaining tight both domestically and globally, long lead times, improving demand and the expectation of shredded scrap prices rising $50-70 per long ton in June, we are forecasting further rebar pricing gains this month. US rebar prices are forecast to remain elevated into the third quarter of 2021, supported by tight supply, rising costs and improving demand from the construction sector.

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