US cold-rolled coil, galvanized sheet prices up; demand still unclear

Cold-rolled coil and galvanized steel prices in the United States increased slightly on Thursday November 21, supported by better demand conditions than hot-rolled coil despite a lack of clarity in the market for the remainder of the year, according to sources.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessments for steel cold-rolled coil, fob mill US and for hot-dipped galvanized (base) steel coil, fob mill US both rose to $36.50 per hundredweight ($730 per short ton) on November 21, up by 1.4% from $36 per cwt on November 14.

Cold-rolled coil prices have increased by 7.4% over the past month, up from $34 per cwt in late October, while the galvanized base price has risen by nearly 9% from $33.50 per cwt in the same comparison.

“I have seen things firm up for sure from where they were just a couple of weeks ago,” one steel distributor said. “All the super large tons got placed ahead of the first and second increases, so there is not a lot of availability out there but there is also not much demand.”

Mills announced two rounds of $40-per-ton price increases in late October and early November. And in a leading move on Friday November 22, U.S. Steel announced a third sheet price increase of at least $30 per ton.

“This time of year, it’s both of us staring at each other, waiting for the other to blink,” the steel distributor said of mills and service centers, which respectively need to fill their order books and their inventories.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for steel hot-dipped galvanized steel coil, fob mill US climbed to $41.25 per cwt on Thursday, up by 1.2% from $40.75 per cwt a week earlier and an increase of 7.8% from $38.25 per cwt a month ago.

“Galvanized and cold-rolled are strong; hot-rolled [is] still the weak little sister that’s out there,”a second distributor said. “I know the mills I am doing business [with] are sold out for December, but there are mills that aren’t and they are willing to deal a little bit.”

Some sources predicted that the uncertain market outlook wouldn’t be resolved until after the year-end holidays, when there might be a better sense of what real demand is.

“Demand has been fairly steady – maybe a bit of seasonal drop off but hasn’t been bad,” one steel consumer said. “I do expect a slowdown as we get into [the] first quarter – [a] drop off of 3-4% from now. I don’t see the mills collecting as much as they have asked for.”

Still, the increase could be sustained if mills reduce their output, the steel consumer said.