After offering small price reductions in mid-February, US flat product producers became increasingly aggressive as they tried to secure orders from customers amidst a weather-related decline in general demand. Manufacturing, construction and auto have all been affected by the extreme conditions.
In Canada, prices have softened and further weakness is anticipated in the second trimester. Mill order books are acceptable, with Dofasco quoting May delivery. The depreciating Canadian dollar continues to keep imports to a minimum.
Despite early spring being, traditionally, a peak season for manufacturing in China, that sector is experiencing weaker growth. This has created negative sentiment in the steel industry. Furthermore, overcapacity is weighing heavily on the market, both domestically and globally. On a more positive note, inventories are declining.
Recent Japanese sales have been driven by higher demand for houses, cars and electrical home appliances, ahead of a sales tax hike in April. Consumption has also been boosted by public works expenditure.
The South Korean steel industry is in the midst of a prolonged slump, causing producers’ profits to tumble. In a climate of lacklustre demand, the mills are grappling with surplus supply due to domestic overcapacity and an influx of cheap Chinese material.
In Taiwan, major steelmaker, CSC, has said it will lift official domestic prices by an average of 0.37 percent for the April/May period, following a 1.2 percent increase in March. Although sales were subdued in February, the company expects demand to climb in the second quarter, which is, traditionally, the peak season for industrial output.
Steelmakers would like to impose an April advance in Poland but buyers do not believe the move is viable, given the present state of demand. In fact, selling values have weakened again during March. Forecasts for steel consumption later in the year are cautiously optimistic. Although very few import deals have been concluded, rumours of cheap offers are influencing domestic pricing in the Czech/Slovak markets.
West European producers have, so far, failed to close deals for the second quarter at the target prices they initially announced. Falling input costs have hindered the mills’ aspirations. Moreover, offers from third country sources are becoming more competitive, although the lengthy delivery lead times involved are still considered to be a big risk in today’s market climate.