Final thoughts

Written by Ethan Bernard

The sun decided to greet us on the second day of the Tampa Steel Conference 2024. Attendees from the chillier northern parts of the continent got their dose of winter sunshine. But whatever the temps, it was inside the conference room where things really heated up. From the stage to the sidelines, here are the issues that seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

Dr. Walter Kemmsies, managing partner at The Kemmsies Group, kicked off the keynote session noting something that failed to materialize in 2023: a recession. He didn’t have high praise for economists who predicted a recession in general. Needless to say, he doesn’t see one in 2024, but there are a lot of unknowns.

Chief among them is the geopolitical situation in both Ukraine and the Middle East. We’ve already seen some disruptions to shipping in the Red Sea. However, a wider conflict could mean significant changes to shipping and logistics.

Politics itself is going to play a big role here in the US. It’s an election year. And by the time the next Tampa Steel Conference rolls around, there could be a new occupant in the White House. The possibility of President Trump being reelected could mean more protectionist measures.

However, Chuck Schmitt, president of SSAB Americas, noted in his Fireside Chat that while the president does have an influence, there are three branches of government. And legislation in Congress, like the Infrastructure Act and the Leveling the Playing Field 2.0 Act, had bipartisan support.

Schmitt also talked about a perennial issue in steel: the workforce. How do you find and retain young talent, especially as the trend of nearshoring manufacturing continues? That means attracting people to SSAB Americas’ mills in Iowa and Alabama. And as Michael Garcia, CEO of Canada’s Algoma Steel, explained in his Fireside Chat, it means recruiting locally in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, where Algoma is located.

During Garcia’s talk, another issue kept appearing. And then I saw it everywhere: in the presentations, on the sidelines, even at the local hotel bar. And this is not just because I cover the beat. That issue was scrap. What will happen with its price, and — more importantly — how will people get a hold of it?

Algoma is in the midst of switching from BF to EAF steelmaking and is already planning to procure more scrap. They’ve partnered with Triple M Metals in Canada. They also have a contingency plan to possibly restart their long-idled blast furnace #6, depending on scrap availability and price.

Also, Wolfe Research’s Timna Tanners spoke of a “scrap squeeze” as new EAF capacity comes online. We’ve already seen a wild January in scrap pricing, and it seems the rest of the year won’t disappoint. That new EAF capacity, both domestically and globally, promises to keep ferrous scrap a hot topic for the foreseeable future.

So, those were just a few issues making the rounds. We sincerely appreciate all who attended. We hope you all learned as much as we did and that you got a few hours of sunshine. Hopefully, we’ll see you all this summer in Atlanta! It’s going to be an exciting few months.

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