Baosteel, the Chinese price leader, surprised the market with unchanged prices for most products for the coming month, according to the trade press. We too were surprised, particularly given the recent price hike by competitor Wuhan earlier this week, and given surging demand for steel in Asia overall.

We suspect Baosteel's flat pricing is a thinly-veiled negotiating ploy as the benchmark iron ore price is expected to be set in the next month. However, April prices on hot-rolled coil and plate haven't yet been revealed, leaving the possibility that a sheet price increase from Baosteel could still come in the next few days. If the company decides to hold the line on hot-rolled coil and plate in April, we expect a larger increase will be in store for all sheet products in May.

According to the press, Chinese price leader Baosteel announced most of its April prices, raising wire rod by 150 to 300 yuan (4% to 6%) and keeping sheet prices (CRC, HDG, silicon) flat. Cold-rolled coil is currently priced at 5,826 yuan and hot-dipped galvanized coil is priced at 7,317 yuan. The company hasn't yet announced April prices for HRC or plate.

This follows Baosteel's move last month, raising sheet prices 300 to 600 yuan for March shipments. It was widely expected by the market that Baosteel would lead sheet prices up again in April, and this sentiment became stronger after Wuhan came out first, announcing April price hikes of 300 yuan on HRC, 300 to 600 yuan on CRC, and 200 yuan on plate earlier this week.

Baosteel may be trying to time the increase around iron ore benchmark discussions; the company previously held the line on February prices as the iron ore benchmark discussions were getting started. However, this is unlikely to provide any negotiating benefit given Wuhan's increase and general market sentiment that steel prices will continue up.

Demand for flat-rolled sheet in China remains strong and with raw material costs continuing to rise, we view Baosteel's decision to keep sheet prices unchanged for April as just a small blip in a continued upward trend.
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.