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Steel Prices Are Sliding

U.S. steel prices continue to retreat. After consistent week-over-week declines, HRC prices now sit more than 15% beneath their late-April peak while plate prices continue to trade sideways as they remain just 6% beneath their all-time high.

The Raw Steels Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell by 7.87% from May to June.

U.S. Manufacturing PMI climbed, Consumer sentiment plummeted

The U.S. ISM Manufacturing PMI reached 56.1% in May. While the index climbed from April’s reading of 55.4, it marks the second-lowest reading since September of 2020. Domestic steel prices, particularly HRC, loosely mirrors the index trend. The index remains within a larger downtrend since it peaked in April of 2021.  

Of particular note, in spite of ongoing inflationary pressures, demand expanded as the New Orders Index grew from 53.5 in April to 55.1 in May. This data follows a 0.9% increase in consumer spending during April.

Meanwhile, according to preliminary data from the University of Michigan, consumer sentiment plunged to a record low between May and June. The index saw a 14% month-over-month decline, to hit its lowest recorded value at 50.2. June’s value compares to the low reached during the 1980 recession of 51.7 in May 1980. While overall consumer spending often diverges from sentiment, June’s consumer sentiment data may likely foreshadow a shift in spending trends toward necessities as consumers grapple with inflated prices. 

Infrastructure funds could support steel prices in the longer term

According to the White House, states received more than $110 billion to fund projects related to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law since the bill was signed into law 6 months ago. The released funds are earmarked for more than 4,300 specific projects, including those related to road, bridges, port and airport modernization and water infrastructure throughout the U.S. An additional $100 billion in requests for information and notices of funding availability have also been released. Spending related to the infrastructure bill will take place over the course of the next 5 years. 

In Fiscal Year 2022 alone, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $52.5 billion in Federal Highway Apportionment and $246 million for the Appalachian Development Highway System.

Unlike other forms of steel, plate prices remain near record highs, albeit with modest declines since late April. HRC, CRC and HDG prices declined alongside falling mill lead times. While plate did not see the same increase in production capacity as other forms of steel, mill lead times have nonetheless retraced for plate which would indicate availability constraints no longer remain a driver in persistently high prices. Infrastructure spending has and will create steady demand for plate. Due to Buy America provisions, the plate market will likewise remain substantially insulated from lower-cost imports.    

April U.S. steel imports, production slide

U.S. steel imports and U.S. steel production started to soften. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total U.S. imports of steel products saw an 11.68% decline from March to April. HRC, CRC, HDG and coiled plate imports saw respective 25.11%, 16.27%, 8.91% and 13.63% declines.

Meanwhile, according to the World Steel Association, crude steel production in the U.S. fell from roughly 7.0 million tons in March to 6.9 million tons in April. Further, April’s total reflects a 3.9% year-over-year decline. As steel supply both through imports and production slid on the back of continuous, across the board steel price declines (albeit modest for plate), this may likely prove to be an early indication of a downward trend for domestic steel demand in months to come. 

Actual steel prices and trends

Chinese slab prices increased by 8.11% month-over-month to $812 per metric ton as of June 1. Meanwhile, the Chinese billet price decreased by 4.71% to $667 per metric ton.

Chinese coking coal prices fell 2.23% to $524 metric ton.

U.S. three-month HRC futures fell 14.76% to $976 per short ton. While the spot price decreased by 8.92% to $1,338 from $1,469 per short ton. U.S. shredded scrap steel prices fell 5.91% to $525 per short ton.

By AG Metal Miner

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