The moderating trend in the flat steel market which we were enjoying as we heard through February and into March came to an abrupt end when Russia invaded Ukraine. The invasion was met with steep price increase notices from mills. Factors contributing to this are the Arcelor-Mittal closure of its prime pig iron facility in Ukraine. Little of this pig iron is supplied to US mills, however, it created an immediate 22 – 23 million metric ton annual deficit for European mills. The impact on world markets was immediate. A second factor is input costs to mills led by the energy sector. Finally, in my opinion, the supply of steel is being regulated in an effort to support and reverse the former lower price trend.
US mills are reportedly targeting $1500 to $1600 per ton for May. Some market watchers believe $1200/ton is baked in for the rest of 2022 after a brief short-term spike. I am on the fence with this sentiment due to expected aggressive action by the Fed on interest rates and balance sheet reduction. Slowing economic activity will make it more difficult to maintain a price floor.
The rod market continues to climb led by increasing scrap steel prices. I expect continued increases until the steel scrap market reverses course.
Supply for common steel products is relatively stable. Certain items remain sparse to, at times out of stock. This includes chrome quality steel for tubing, high carbon steel, and special gage tolerance steel to name a few.
Aluminum is expected to continue to climb in price due to the percentage of the market that relies on Russian production. I expect aluminum markets to experience the type of issues the steel market endured in 2021.
One-third of the world’s nickel supply comes from Russia. The nickel surcharge trend is expected to rise to upwards of $2.00 per pound in May. This coupled with the fact that we only have two domestic mills producing stainless steel means this market will be difficult for some period of time with escalating prices.