US hot-rolled coil index above $990/t; buyers fear inventory devaluation

Hot-rolled coil prices in the United States have climbed above $49.50 per hundredweight ($990 per short ton), while buyers have voiced concerns that the rapid run-up in prices may mean a potential inventory devaluation in the future.

Fastmarkets’ daily steel hot-rolled coil index, fob mill US rose to $49.56 per cwt ($991.20 per ton) on Friday December 18, up by 0.69% from $49.22 per cwt on Thursday December 17 and 8.95% higher than $45.49 per cwt a week prior.

Inputs were received in a range of $47.50-50.00 per cwt across all three sub-indices. Inputs at the high end of that range were present in all three sub-indices in the form of assessments and offers. The low end of the range represented a deal heard for large tons, defined as between 2,000 and 9,999 tons.

Heard in the market
Nearly all buyer sources are worrying about the dramatic increase in prices in recent weeks. Some are attempting to remain on the sidelines if possible, and noted that some of their own customers were doing the same.

Mill production capacity due to come online in 2021 is not expected to ease the market shortfall in the next few months, according to market participants. As a result, sources said it looks increasingly likely that prices will remain elevated through February 2021 - and possibly even into April 2021, May 2021 or beyond.

Hot-rolled coil prices have risen around the world, too, due to high raw material costs, sources noted. Some reported inquiries from European buyers looking for material from US mills, an unusual phenomenon.

Import offers appear to be increasing in the US as well, but mainly from countries such as South Korea, which is subject to a shipment quota under Section 232 and therefore is not expected to have a significant impact on domestic prices.

Quote of the day
“The run-up is so fast and unprecedented, and lead times have gone out so fast,” a northern distributor said. “The folks playing the wait-and-see game, depending on how much [inventory] they had to begin with, are really playing a game of Russian roulette.”

Dom Yanchunas in New York contributed to this report.

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