After rising relentlessly since the beginning of 2014, the LME nickel price peaked in mid-May, at over US$21,000 per tonne. Values have fallen back since then, mostly fluctuating in a range between US$18,000 and US$19,000 per tonne in recent weeks.
Consequently, in markets that employ an alloy surcharge system based on the previous month’s raw material costs, notably in Europe and North America, effective prices for June are considerably higher than they were in May. In China, on the other hand, selling values respond more quickly to changes in input costs. MEPS figures for that country, based on market prices in the third week in June, are lower than they were four weeks earlier.
Moreover, there has been an increase in purchasing activity, in many markets, in the past couple of months. This may be supported by improving underlying demand or it could be driven by stock replenishment and technical buying during a period of rising prices. Producers in several countries have used these positive signs to support small basis price increases, in addition to the soaring alloy extras. Some mills are hoping for further increments during July.
However, as the price trend levels out, customers are less likely to make speculative purchases. Furthermore, stock building has been completed and business activity will slow in many parts of the world during the summer holiday and shutdown period. Consequently, suppliers may find it difficult to achieve further basis price increases in the short term.
The reversal in the direction of nickel costs has arrested the rapid rise in alloy surcharges for austenitic grades. Indeed, some producers’ July figures for type 304 flat products are slightly lower than those for June. This will only add to the usual, seasonal lethargy in stainless steel buying.
Supply chain participants will be hoping that the positive sentiment perceived in recent months is indicative of a real upturn in demand. Order tonnages in the weeks following mills’ and end-users’ summer stoppages will give some sign of the future direction of the market.
Source: MEPS Stainless Steel Review