STEEL PRICES UNDER IMMENSE PRESSURE

Despite the mills’ best efforts, steel prices have been unable to gain much traction so far in 2019. Price increase announcements of $40/ton in January and February yielded partial and apparently temporary gains for steelmakers. The prices of all flat-rolled steel products are now well below where they were at the beginning of the year, which may be good news for fabricators and other steel users, but is not-so-good news for steel producers and distributors that have seen their margins and the value of their inventories erode.

SMU tracks steel prices each week and publishes its SMU Price Momentum Indicator, which signals whether steel prices are more likely to move up, down, or sideways in the coming 30 days. Currently, SMU’s market momentum is lower for hot-rolled and plate products and neutral for cold-rolled and galvanized.

Mill price increases cannot succeed without the cooperation of distributors. They are on the front lines in the spot market, and it’s their day-to-day decisions about whether to deal or hold the line that ultimately translate into price changes. SMU’s latest survey data suggests that support for higher prices is waning among service centers. About 90 percent of service center executives responding to SMU’s latest poll said they are having difficulty passing along higher prices to their customers.

In its twice-monthly survey, SMU asks manufacturers if they are seeing higher prices from service centers. In mid-March, around 40 percent of respondents said their service center suppliers were seeking higher prices. In the latest data, that figure had declined to 17 percent.