Steel Advance/Decliner Index Posts Nominal Increase. Our Advance/Decliner Index rose to 92%, the second-highest level since June 2008, from 90% last week. Global pricing continued upward with particular strength in the U.S. as several domestic steelmakers announced price increases on a range of flat-rolled, tubular and plate products. Our China index dropped to 75% from 100% last week, which we believe stems from concerns about high inventory levels in China.

Global Pricing Continues Upward; Beams Picking Up. The U.S. posted seven price increases this week, followed by China with six and Saudi Arabia with four. Korea, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf reported three price hikes. There were two price increases each for Europe, Taiwan, the Black Sea region, Poland, Egypt, and India, while Japan, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, the U.K., Vietnam, Singapore, and Iran posted one apiece.

There were two price cuts in China and one each in Brazil and Thailand. Flat-rolled products had 21 price increases, followed by beam with six, rebar and plate with five, while pipe had four, billet had three, and wire rod and merchant bar posted one price hike apiece. Long products still show the only weakness, with one price decline each in rebar, beam, merchant bar, and wire rod.

Relative Domestic Prices Begin the Month Mixed. Relative domestic prices for flat-rolled have risen thus far in March while long product prices are unchanged. U.S. plate prices have increased 6% and are up relative to Europe and China where prices have climbed 3% and 4%, respectively. Domestic hot-rolled coil prices have jumped 10% already in March after rising similar amounts each month so far this year. U.S. HRC prices are up sharply relative to Europe and China where prices have increased a nominal 1.2% and 3.2%, respectively, but are flat vs. Japan where prices also have increased 10%.

Recent press reports indicate HRC prices in Japan will eclipse domestic prices significantly in the coming months with a near-record increase of $200 a ton expected by JFE Holdings and Nippon Steel for the April-June quarter. Absolute rebar prices in the U.S. remain unchanged at $540 a ton in March and are flat vs. China but down vs. Europe and Japan where prices have picked up by 3% and 11%, respectively. Domestic beam prices continue to be lethargic, coming in unchanged at $710 a ton so far in March and are flat vs. China but down relative to Europe and Japan where prices have moved up 1.9% and 5.7%, respectively.

Outlook. Sheet prices continue to lead the upward trajectory resulting from a combination of bare-bones inventories with globally-driven pricing upticks exacerbated by the long lead time of blast furnace startups creating a mini-shortage. Surging raw materials prices -- with both coal and iron coming in meaningfully higher than we'd expected-- and booming demand from emerging markets are pushing global steel prices to the highest level since pre-Recession. We are becoming more convinced that this recovery has legs. We'll be watching restarts very closely in coming months.
Michelle Galanter Applebaum spent more than 20 years as a managing director at Salomon Brothers in New York and was the No. 1-rated steel analyst from 1988-2003, according to Institutional Investor magazine. In 2003, Ms. Applebaum formed Steel Market Intelligence, a 5-person Chicago-based equity research boutique providing advisory services to institutional investors. In addition to publishing 10-15 reports/week, Ms. Applebaum sponsors numerous CEO-level meetings for her investor clients during the year. She is regularly quoted on Bloomberg, Dow Jones, The New York Times and makes frequent appearances on CNBC and other news programs. Ms. Applebaum lives near Chicago with her husband, visiting children and 2 dogs.