Steel output in the US stalling in June

Steel output in the US stalling in June

AISI weekly figure shows loss of momentum, potential seasonal effects.

June 21, 2018
Brian Taylor

The production of crude steel, as measured by the Washington-based American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), has shown a modest decline in the week ending June 16, 2018, compared with both the previous week and the comparable week in 2017. The stalled momentum in output occurs despite domestic steel industry protections put in place by the Trump administration, though it also takes place during a time of year when automotive model changeovers can decrease activity in that manufacturing sector.

In the second full week of June 2018, domestic raw steel output was 1.74 million tons at a mill capacity rate of 74.2 percent. The tonnage figure is down 0.7 percent from the previous week (ending June 9, 2018), when output was 1.75 million tons and the mill capacity rate was 74.8 percent.

In a comparison with June 2017’s steel industry conditions (before tariffs), output was 1.747 million tons in the week ending June 16, 2017, with mills at that time operating at 74.9 percent of capacity. The mid-June 2018 weekly output represents a 0.4 percent decrease in tonnage from the same period in 2017.

Year-to-date production through June 16, 2018, according to AISI, stands at 42.06 million tons at an average mill capacity rate of 75.4 percent. That is up 1.7 percent from the 41.34 million tons made during the same period last year, when the mill capacity rate was 74.4 percent.

Several steel consuming manufacturing sectors continue to warn of negative impacts on their industries pertaining to the round of tariffs emanating from the United States and its trading partners.

“Prices jumped [in May] at double-digit annual rates for metals, lumber and plywood and diesel fuel, while ready-mixed concrete, asphalt paving and roofing materials also had unusually large increases,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist of the Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors (AGC) in a mid-June news release. “The cost of all goods used in construction rose 8.8 percent from May 2017 to May 2018, the steepest annual increase in nearly seven years,” he adds.

Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC CEO, says, “Considering the impact the mere threat of tariffs have had on materials prices and demand, prices are likely to increase further as the new trade restrictions come online. Forcing contractors to pay more for materials and wait longer to receive them will make construction more costly and slower.”

The Washington-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a late May statement, says, “The auto sector remains the leading exporter of manufactured goods in our country. During the last 25 years, 15 new manufacturing plants have been launched in the U.S. – resulting in the creation of an additional 50,000 direct and 350,000 indirect auto jobs throughout America – and new plants are on the way. We urge the [Trump] administration to support policies that remove barriers to free trade and we will continue to work with them and provide input to achieve that goal.”

On the scrap pricing front in June, figures released June 20 by the RMDAS (Raw Material Aggregation Data Service) division of Pittsburgh-based Management Science Associates (MSA) demonstrate stability in the June mill buying period. Considering all transactions conducted nationally known to RMDAS in the first 19 days of June, the value of No. 1 heavy melting steel (HMS) and shredded scrap remained unchanged at $352 and $373 per ton respectively. The RMDAS prompt industrial composite grade’s value, meanwhile, rose $9 per ton in June to $411.

In June and May, prompt grades have been gaining value while shredded scrap and No. 1 HMS, which are heavily exported, have lost value or held steady, perhaps reflecting a lack of buying interest from overseas mills that are awaiting the effects of the trade disputes.

Minimill Steel