Steel prices endured long-term declines throughout 2022. However, with so many geopolitical events and supply chain pinches, it is important to note that the market in general was quite volatile.
Steel Prices: Q1 of 2022
Raw steels started the year with a huge bang, rising over 12% between January and February. China’s climate efforts caused iron ore futures to drop, as the country’s steel production sector makes up nearly 15% of all Chinese carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Mexico’s steel sector returned to pre-pandemic production levels.
Scrap steel had a particularly good Q1 as U.S. steelmakers invested more money into scrap processing. But by February, prices began to slide again, particularly HRC. Meanwhile, Japan and the U.S. reached an agreement in April that allowed the former to ship 1.25 million metric tons of steel tariff-free each year.
In March, prices rose once more, this time by a considerable 4.9%. At the time, the surge was mostly due to plate prices. However, HRC saw a steady descent, dropping almost 47% below its October 2020 levels.
Q2 of 2022: Steel Prices Become More Volatile
The steel price index started Q2 with another bang, rising over 15% in April. By then, it was clear that there would be no swift end to the War in Ukraine and that steel prices would react accordingly. Shortly after, Ukrainian production slowed down and Russian goods had sanctions placed upon them. This left pig iron buyers to search for sources outside of Ukraine and Russia to help offset supply pinches.
As the energy crisis in Europe worsened, it impacted European-sourced HRC prices. Then, in May, the steel index suffered yet another sharp decline. Iron ore slumped to a 4-month low due to China’s zero-COVID lockdowns. Meanwhile, Arcelormittal predicted a 1% drop in global demand.
Zero-COVID, Europe’s energy crisis, the drop in global demand, and the war in Ukraine continued to impact steel prices in June. That month, the market saw another 7.87% drop in prices. HRC futures also formed new lows at just $976 per short ton. Plate managed to once again prove the outlier in the index, with prices remaining near an all-time high. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was also passed, and buyers hoped that this would add significant support to steel prices.
Steel Prices: Q3
In July, HRC prices hit new lows. Both HDG and CRC saw steady declines month-over-month. Come July, global hot rolled coil prices declined to pre-war levels amid China’s lockdowns and the prospect of a global downturn. U.S. steel prices saw the most sizable drop from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after a 5-month downtrend inverted in early March.
In August, the raw steels index dropped yet again, this time by 8.73%. Plate prices beat the odds again and remained strong, despite all the geopolitical factors impacting steel production. August marked a record gap between steel plate prices and HRC.
In September, steel prices declined again, with HRC officially falling beneath the $800 mark. The energy crisis heavily impacted European-sourced steel as energy cuts reduced production. Large plants in Austria, France, and Spain all felt the pain of the energy crisis, and U.S. HRC fell beneath European HRC prices. All of these factors had a tremendous effect on both futures and demand.
End of 2022: Q4
October 1 marked a slight decrease in price declines. However, prices still slipped 3.04%. Luckily, reductions in both HRC and CRC prices slowed significantly, with both entering a sideways trend.
Meanwhile, production continued to slow. U.S. Steel also idled two furnaces as low demand persisted. The company even discussed possibly idling its Mon Valley blast furnace permanently. Ultimately, conditions suggested that domestic demand would continue slipping.
Nucor also finally dropped plate prices after numerous complaints about the enormous price gap between plate and HRC prices.
In November, plate prices managed to hold its head above water again, but the steel index as a whole continued to drop, falling an additional 5.08%. Meanwhile, Nucor announced it would hold plate prices at $1,620 per short ton in December without dropping prices further.
Finally, in December, the index began trading sideways. This mainly resulted from steel sellers raising their prices to avoid bottoming out on record lows. Prior to the cost increases, steelmakers cautioned that HRC, CRC and HDG steel prices were nearing their respective break-even points. As the trend points downward, steelmakers are right to worry that prices may soon hit their profitability thresholds.
By the AGMetalminer team