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Flat rolled steel prices just keep ratcheting up as supplies remain extremely tight, with lead times continuing to extend and sources warning of impending shortages of some products (see related articles in this issue). Steel Market Update’s check of the market this week moves the benchmark price for hot rolled up to $770 per ton, and that figure may be conservative. Sources tell SMU that Nucor is out in the market with prices of $840 per ton for hot rolled and $1,000 for cold rolled and coated, though we have not yet confirmed purchases at those numbers. SMU’s Price Momentum Indicators continue to point toward higher prices in the next 30-60 days.
How much further can lead times extend? We’ll let you know. But there is no sign yet that they have peaked. Lead times for delivery of spot orders continue to stretch with hot rolled now averaging nearly seven weeks and coated steel orders nearly nine and a half weeks. Lead times are an indicator of steel demand—longer lead times mean the mills have more orders to process and are less likely to negotiate on prices.
In a market where supplies of various products are so tight that some buyers say they would be willing to pay almost any price just to get material, there is very little negotiation going on between the mills and their spot market customers. The mills have no reason to bargain when demand is so far outpacing supply and they can easily sell all that they make.
Three out of four respondents to Steel Market Update’s market trends questionnaire this week said they expect to see shortages and possible allocation of steel in the next few months. Buyers report that deliveries from all the mills are routinely 2-4 weeks late. Service centers are getting inquiries from other service centers, even competitors, who are desperate to fill holes in their inventories. Most are playing their stocks close to the vest to make sure they have enough material for their regular customers. Many have started placing orders for foreign product, and all are keeping a close watch on the mills for some much-needed new capacity coming online, but except for the new EAF ramping up at Big River Steel, no big announcements yet.