According to MEPS, an absence of competitively-priced third country import offers enabled European flat product producers to target and secure significant increases, in May. They seized this window of opportunity to try to rectify their huge loss-making situation, which was not sustainable. Over the last month, supply tightness became more acute by the day.
Buyers, although amazed by the scale and speed of the price increases, still believe that some short-term potential to support a further hike exists in the market. However, they expect prices to peak in the autumn. The ongoing upward trend in Chinese export prices has gone into reverse, in recent days. If this continues, it could create negative pressure in Europe, later in the year.
German demand is relatively stable, at present, although exports of manufactured goods to Asia and the Middle East weakened. The auto market continues to flourish, with widespread discounting bolstering sales. EU steelmakers continued to ramp up basis values for strip mill products, aided by a lack of any outside competition. Supply on the spot market is constrained and, in some cases, inadequate. However, the larger service centres, having restocked over the last few months, will probably have sufficient material to see them through the summer.
French basis numbers increased very quickly, due to a dearth of imports. Distributors tried to secure tonnages before further rises but certain products are difficult to obtain. Meanwhile, downstream activity remained at a similar level to the first quarter. Nonetheless, end-users started to place orders as they realised that resale values were also moving up.
Italian values strengthened significantly on a lack of import offers and local output issues. The upward movement has been rapid, in May. Quotations from China, Iran and India were far too expensive to interest buyers. Domestic mill delivery lead times lengthened from two to three months. Some customers, concerned that they may not get material in time, are trying to buy more than normal. However, real demand has changed very little. Auto demand is ticking over but is described as ‘not exciting’. Any improvement in building activity is only seasonal. Service centres report that a very large proportion of their customers are not resisting higher resale values.
Price rises have been particularly dramatic, in the UK. Suppliers and buyers feel that another increase of £20 per tonne is possible. Sourcing has proved difficult. Some mainland European mills have reduced allocations to UK customers. Distributors report that sales are good. They can obtain resale prices based on their replacement costs plus profit.
Positive price momentum has continued in Belgium. Mill delivery lead times are long. A number of buyers, both stockholders and end-users, are purchasing more than they need immediately, anticipating further increases in the future. Others report they have been unable to secure sufficient quantities.
The sharp decrease in competitively-priced import offers has led to further rapid advances in the Spanish flat products market. Buyers have started to examine import opportunities for September/October delivery now that local selling values have become so high. However, competitive offers are difficult to locate. Most domestic deliveries are now into August/September. Demand is stable at an acceptable level. Distributors’ inventories have been rebuilt and may even be on the high side, at present. Therefore, many service centres do not need to re-order any large quantities immediately.