Stainless steel mills push for price rises
Market conditions in the global stainless steel sector remain uncertain as the second half of 2023 begins.
Demand remains weak in most countries. Despite hopes of a September uptick, most observers anticipate no significant increase in activity in the remaining months of the year.
Nevertheless, buyers in several regions believe that the market has reached its lowest point and confirm that stainless producers are proposing price increases for third-quarter bookings.
Weak demand, particularly in China, continues to limit purchasing activity in Asia.
In Europe, buyers are placing smaller but more frequent orders with the mills while attempting to rebalance their stocks. Inventories in the region are decreasing but at a much slower rate than had been anticipated.
The mood in the US market is more positive, but distributor restocking is still at a low level.
Several stainless mills have altered their production schedules to cut output due to the lack of orders.
Market participants in the United States and Europe reported hearing of mill capacity utilisation rates of between 60 and 70 percent.
However, delivery lead times for commodity grades in standard sizes are short in all regions. They have extended into September in Europe, mainly as a result of the summer maintenance shutdowns.
Producers anticipate that a post-holiday uptick in demand combined with reduced output will support a rise in prices. The current selling values, according to some mills in Europe and Asia, are unsustainable.
Buyers report that Chinese prices have risen in recent days, particularly for hot rolled material. Prices in other Asian countries are likely to follow the upward trend.
The European mills are attempting to boost the price of grade 304 coils by €50 to €150 per tonne by the end of September.
Producers would like 304 cold rolled sheet prices to return to more than €2500 per tonne, according to several market participants. This is perceived to be a profitable price level based on current input costs.
The mills hope that the reduced capacity combined with less competitive import offers from Asia will assist their pricing aspirations.
Despite fewer bookings, US stainless producers are reluctant to increase the discounts to their list base prices for cold rolled coils.
Buyers believe that having generated significant profits over the past few years, the mills are content to accept lower tonnages and keep the higher selling values. However, prices in the region are falling because of declining alloy surcharges.