US cold-rolled coil, galvanized sheet prices up; next move hinges on auto

Prices for cold-rolled and galvanized steel sheet in the United States surged to record highs - capping an unprecedented 12 months of gains - with market participants watching the timing of automotive production resumptions for clues as to availability for the remainder of 2021.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for steel cold-rolled coil, fob mill US achieved a new all-time high of $103.50 per hundredweight ($2,070 per short ton) on Thursday July 29, up from $101.50 per cwt on Thursday July 22. The assessment has jumped by 228.6% in a year.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for steel hot-dipped galvanized coil (cold-rolled base), fob mill US climbed to $105 per cwt on Thursday from $103 per cwt a week earlier. Exactly 52 weeks ago, this assessment slumped to a more-than-four-year low of $31 per cwt. Since that time, the price has soared by 238.7%.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for steel hot-dipped galvanized coil (hot-rolled base), fob mill US also rose to $105 per cwt from $103 per cwt week on week.

Inputs for Thursday’s assessment were received in a range of $102-109 per cwt for CRC, with deals reported at the low end and the high end. Data for galvanized base was collected mostly in a range of $102-108 per cwt, including deals generally between $102.50 per cwt and $108 per cwt.

A mill source said the current pricing trends appear to be sustainable given persistently low service-center inventories. Lead times were estimated to be around eight to 12 weeks for cold roll and at least nine to 13 weeks for coated material, while order books at some mills were not yet open for September shipments. Those mills have been cagey about likely available spot volumes, according to customers.

Prices for value-added items may stabilize temporarily near current levels until the automotive sector fully rebounds from production delays caused by the ongoing chip shortage, according to two service center sources. One of them - a Great Lakes distributor - said spot coil is already more available as a result of auto participants’ reluctance to stock up amid the downtime. The second - a southern distributor - agreed but did not think prices could decline by much, if at all.

Procurement of cold roll, for example, may slow in the near term and then pick up aggressively once the auto chip shortage subsides, according to market participants. Steady consumption elsewhere and scheduled maintenance projects at mills may balance out any further postponements of the automotive rebound.

“Outages, I believe, will play a role in helping to forestall any ‘fall-off-the-cliff’ scenario, as well as what seems to be persisting strong demand,” the southern distributor said.

A consumer of galvanized coil agreed that there is still enough momentum to support additional mill price increases but believes those will decelerate in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve seen steady demand - very little erosion. The domestic mills are still having a hard time keeping up,” that buyer said. “Demand is going to outpace supply and, even if there are some imports, it’s going to move the price. Between now and December, I think there will be incrementally smaller increases.”

Fastmarkets’ daily steel hot-rolled coil index, fob mill US was calculated at a record high of $94.03 per cwt on Thursday. Based on Thursday’s prices, cold roll’s premium over HRC was $9.47 per cwt. HDG base has maintained its more-than-$200-per-ton advantage over hot roll, now boasting a differential of $10.97 per cwt.

“The truth is, if you have any galvanized to sell, you are fetching top dollar,” a second coil consumer said.

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