US flat product transaction values are currently slightly lower than those reported in June, according to MEPS. However, some minor upward pressure has been noted in recent weeks. Mills in the mid-west still have relatively long delivery lead times due to supply problems earlier in the year plus scheduled outages at US Steel and ArcelorMittal. Moreover, there is excellent demand from the auto sector. Manufacturing is strengthening and construction is improving. Although overseas material is very competitively priced at present, possible protectionist moves by the US government are creating a great deal of caution amongst both traders and potential customers, regarding forward ordering of material from third countries, primarily China.
With the exception of hot rolled coil, Canadian transaction figures are holding firm but there are some mitigating factors. The reline of ArcelorMittal’s Chicago furnace has led to orders being moved to Dofasco, pushing delivery lead times out by two to three weeks. Demand remains sluggish and cheaper, offshore material has arrived, with more to come. Inventories remain on the low side.
There is still a supply glut in China as production remains high. Consequently, prices have continued to head downwards since MEPS last report. However, overall inventory levels declined in June. A recent stimulus plan, combined with new infrastructure projects, is expected to support steel consumption over the coming months. Export volumes continue to grow, year-on-year, as producers cut overseas quotations to boost trade.
As the economic recovery continues in Japan, domestic order intake rose in May, year-on-year, allaying fears that April’s increase in consumption tax would cause serious damage to steel consumption. In contrast, export volumes were still declining. Imports continue to grow, despite a weak yen. Flat product market prices are firm.
Stagnant demand and oversupply have led to discounting in South Korea. Economic forecasts have predicted a slowing of growth in the second half of 2014. This creates a gloomy outlook for the steelmakers who are also having to contend with a great deal of import competition. The mills are looking to overseas markets to offload their surplus capacity.
In Taiwan, major integrated producer, CSC, will leave domestic list prices for September contracts unchanged after decreasing them for the July/August period. The third quarter is, traditionally, a time of low demand because of the rainy season in South East Asia. However, the company has started to see signs of recovery and does not think it is necessary to cut prices further.
Polish activity is no better ahead of the summer vacation. Due to changes in the exchange rate, effective values have increased slightly in the local currency. This represents unchanged prices in euro equivalent terms. The Czech economy is slowly recovering, as is consumer confidence. Steel output is expanding as industrial sectors show signs of growth. However, selling values remain under negative pressure.
Activity in the West European market is quiet ahead of the holidays. Although consumption is strengthening in several countries and economic indicators are good, producers, keen to book orders, have agreed further small price reductions. Customers point out that the mills have relatively low raw material costs and cheaper third country imports are readily available.