RESEARCH: HRC prices strengthen in May, buyer resistance grows

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  • United States sheet prices hit record highs again in May, with upward momentum carrying into June. Actual US HRC prices averaged $1,712 per tonne in May, largely in line with our forecast of $1,698 per tonne. Strong underlying supply-and-demand conditions both in the US and globally are supporting prices as well as long lead times, elevated costs and low inventories through the supply chain, with further pricing gains forecast in the coming weeks.
  • We are hesitant to forecast the peak of the US HRC market given the unprecedented price rises so far in 2021. A downward correction in prices is inevitable, although the ultimate timing of the pricing reversal remains unclear. We understand consumer resistance to higher prices is climbing, which is an indication that the market is approaching a tipping point. We hold the view that while June may prove to be the pricing peak, bullish factors remain that could continue to underpin prices well into the third quarter of 2021.
  • European coil prices continued their uptrend in May as expected, with north European and Italian HRC indices averaging €1,084 per tonne and €1,069 per tonne respectively, settling within 2% from our forecasts. 
  • An ongoing shortage of material, with lead times stretching into the last quarter of the year, has not left much room for buyers in need of material to negotiate discounts to official offers and so continues to determine the price trend.
  • We maintain the view that European coil prices should start easing in June but declines are likely to be moderate. On a monthly average basis, prices may still register increases. Local production should rise, which will weigh on the price. Elevated prices in the EU have also started to attract imports.
  • Chinese flat-steel prices have been on a roller coaster ride in May, with sharp increases early in the month followed by declines that took prices back to mid-April levels. Despite these fluctuations, Chinese export HRC prices rose to $963 per tonne in May, exceeding our forecast by 2% while HRC prices in Eastern China averaged 5,900 yuan ($926) per tonne, as we forecast. We expect price decreases in June and for the downtrend to continue throughout 2021. Chinese domestic demand should remain strong, preventing the price collapses from previous market cycles so prices are likely to remain at historic high levels over 2021.
  • Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) export HRC prices steadily increased over May despite declines in Asian markets, staying above $1,000 per tonne during the month. We have upwardly revised our forecast to reflect the latest spot prices but we maintain our forecast of a downtrend during the second half of 2021. Lower-priced supplies from Asia should force CIS mills to reduce their offers because they have to compete in their traditional markets, with reports of significant sales of Indian HRC to Turkey representing the trend.

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