Steel mills pushed through another round of price increases last week in a continued effort to push the price of Hot Rolled Coil above $600 per ton. Mills have announced ~$150 per ton worth of price increases since October, and have been able to bring the price up over $600 per ton from a sub $500 per ton price reached at the time of initial price increases. After the steep price drop in the fourth quarter, most of the fully integrated mills were operating in the red, while the mini mills were being hurt by the HRC to Scrap spread narrowing. Pricing was also pushed up by seasonal outages, increased demand from a restocking cycle in the first quarter, and a lack of imports into the U.S. market.
Moving forward, there is the potential for some softening in the steel market. At this time most of the normal market factors that would push pricing up have been played out in the near term. Short of sudden demand increases or interruptions to supply, a price ceiling has most likely been reached. Of note, as of Tuesday the CME Hot Rolled Coil futures curve is downward facing for the remainder of the year.