Volatility remained the watchword throughout the first quarter of 2017 in the ferrous scrap market, with prices swinging up and down in each of the first three months of the year.
March surveyed pricing compiled by American Metal Market (AMM) showed domestic mills—as measured by the Midwest pricing indices—paid from $40 to $60 more per ton for ferrous scrap compared with the month before.
The export market revealed a split personality, with shippers on the Atlantic Coast able to command some $55 per ton more for their exported scrap, while lackluster activity on the Pacific Coast kept indexed pricing there unchanged from early February to mid-March.
The boost in early March buying period prices was followed the next week by a significant snowstorm in the heavily populated Northeast, causing temporary supply disruptions in a part of the country where demand had been increasing.
Recyclers reported that Turkish mill demand rebounded after prices had fallen in February, and the containerized scrap market along the Atlantic Coast has been boosted by an Indian steel sector that has put up strong output figures in early 2017.
In January 2017, Indian mills produced 8.4 million metric tons of steel, a 12 percent boost over the 7.5 million tons produced in January 2016.
The MetalMiner news service is crediting a recently initiated “Buy India” steel policy in that nation as a key factor in the output boost. The Indian government has “used a combination of measures” to favor domestic steel mills, the news outlet says, including “incentives, [the] imposition of various trade remedial measures such as minimum import prices, anti-dumping and safeguard measures and better quality control.”
The effort could provide a boost to ferrous scrap exporters in the United States, especially if the Indian Steel Ministry follows up on a policy idea recently espoused by one of its leaders.
JSW Steel North America has started to act on its plans to build an EAF melt shop to feed its existing steel pipe and plate mill in Baytown, Texas.
In late February 2017, a Mumbai-based affiliate of CNBC reported Steel Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh, while speaking at an industry conference, referred to scrap-fed electric arc furnace (EAF) steel mills as cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.
He reportedly urged steelmakers in India to “deliberate on the cost-benefit analysis of setting up scrap-based steel plants in north and west India.” Singh said technology that involved the production of specialty and high-grade steels should be considered, as should mill locations near ports, according to CNBC.
In his presentation, Singh reportedly remarked that India is already the second-largest importer of ferrous scrap, behind Turkey, and that it also was on pace to generate some 7.5 million metric tons of its own ferrous scrap each year. According to CNBC, he also expressed optimism in India’s ability to expand its annual steel output.
Government measures to protect domestic steelmakers from an influx of imported steel are not unique to India. In the United States, President Trump’s executive order to insist on American-made steel in the construction of pipelines might have spurred the construction of a new melt shop in Texas—one with an Indian influence.
AMM reported in early March 2016 that the CEO of JSW Steel North America, a Texas-based subsidiary of the India-based O.P. Jindal Group, disclosed to it that JSW has started out on its plans to build an EAF melt shop to feed its existing steel pipe and plate mill in Baytown, Texas.
After an installation process that will take nearly two years, the JSW CEO told AMM the new EAF melt shop will have the capacity to produce up to 1 million tons of carbon steel annually.
A healthier domestic steel industry in the U.S. continues to be a key factor in the strong pricing of ferrous scrap in early 2017. Figures collected by the Washington-based American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) through March 11, 2017, show domestic output has increased year to date by 4.7 percent compared with the same period in 2016.
As of mid-March 2017, the momentum behind the U.S. steel industry seemed positive. In the week ending March 11, 2017, domestic output was 1.79 million tons at a mill capacity rate of 75.6 percent. That is a 6.3 percent increase in output compared with the 1.68 million tons made in the week ending March 11, 2016, when the mill capacity rate was 72.1 percent.
Production for the week ending March 11, 2017, also was up by 1.8 percent from the week prior.
Recyclers and steelmakers alike are watching the construction sector of the U.S. economy to gauge whether a Republican president and Congress in tandem will boost private sector investment levels or result in an agreement on infrastructure spending.
One piece of encouraging news on that front was issued by the Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors (AGC) in mid-March, when it released its summary of national construction sector employment figures, which showed the increase from January to February 2017 was the largest one-month gain since 2007.