CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- Preliminary February steel imports dropped some 3.7% from January's level reflecting an increasingly strengthening global demand picture combined with near record-low domestic relative prices. While the report overall was good news, there were a few warning bells. In particular, hot-rolled sheet imports bucked the declining trend, rising some 10.5%. While this seemingly anomalous trend might surprise some -- particularly when taking into account that HRC prices in the U.S. are near all-time relative lows vs. foreign -- it is reflective of the near-panic surge in demand hitting the sheet market today. Buyers began to see "vertical" price increases a few months ago; import orders went out, despite less attractive pricing. We suspect we'll see increased HRC imports in coming months reflecting the same panic late in the year as buyers worried the slow blast furnace restarts would leave them coil-less. The good news is most evident in beam imports which dropped some 48% in the month clearly reflecting aggressive "freedom fighters" in the marketplace -- port discount pricing -- late in 2009. The data supports the nascent $50 a ton beam price currently in the marketplace. While virtually all product lines showed some decline, most meaningful on a tonnage basis was the 4.4% drop in semi-finished steel (semis surged in the last few months as blast furnace sheet mills sought to supplement their own supply in the face of slow restarts of blast furnace capacity, which is now happening). Oil country tubular goods showed a meaningful drop as well, down about 23.6% as strengthening prices overseas kept more pipe in home markets. Few products showed up with any increases but most notable was a surprising double for reinforcing bar, up 108.7% from January, which was equally reflected in licenses (which we had assumed was a glitch) because domestic rebar pricing relative to offshore is about as low as it's been, ever. Rebar imports had virtually collapsed in the later months of 2009, but we suspect there may be a glitch in the reporting to show this kind of an increase.