Confusion continues to reign supreme throughout the domestic steel industry. The current uncertainties surrounding the market have caused a “buyers’ strike,” which has pushed domestic flat-rolled steel prices to their lowest levels since Q4 2016.
While iron ore pricing was racing to its highest level in 5 years, scrap pricing has continued to slide. With a typical iron ore to scrap pricing ratio of 4:1, current scrap pricing would have to climb close to $100 just to get back to normal ranges. With the upcoming automotive production slowdowns, increased export activity, and some domestic mill demand, hope will be for a bottom to form for scrap pricing soon.
On the supply side, domestic mills continue to produce above the key 80 percent utilization rate, even in the face of slower demand. This steady demand is being helped by a declining offshore market. With domestic pricing, in most cases, at a discount to foreign pricing offers, import activity is expect to remain subdued as we move through the second half of the year.
Overall, the buyers’ strike I reference above is what is helping to lean out inventories throughout the supply chain, which could cause a whipsaw result when prices rise during higher demand, as they eventually will.
On the demand side of the equation, things remain steady; not gangbusters but far from falling off a cliff.
Industrial production showed a solid increase in May 2019, pushing the index to its highest level since the end of last year. Also showing strong results last month were retail sales. Retail sales increased nicely, a sign that consumers are still spending and if they are afraid of a recession, they are not showing it, yet.
With consumer spending making up a large part of GDP, the strong May retail sales data should give some relief to those that were feeling a sharp slowdown was on the horizon. We have also heard rumblings of an improving construction market as the weather has turned better for most of the country.
In the coming weeks, expect the domestic suppliers to begin pushing pricing higher. With decent demand and a lean supply chain, the overcorrection in pricing to the downside could come charging back faster and sooner than most expect.