SMU’s May at a Glance

Written by Brett Linton

Steel prices eased each week in May, following increases in March and most of April. Hot rolled prices were $1,440 per ton ($72 per cwt) the first week of May, just $40 lower than the mid-April peak. Prices then slipped between $15 and $75 each of the following weeks, with the SMU index averaging $1,255 per ton as of last Tuesday. The SMU Price Momentum Indicator was adjusted to Lower for flat rolled products on May 10 and Lower for plate products on May 24, meaning we expect prices to decrease over the next 30 days. Recall that the Momentum Indicator was previously adjusted from Higher to Neutral on April 12.

Raw material prices eased from April’s historical highs: Busheling and shredded scrap prices declined $75 per ton in May, while HMS scrap fell $95 per ton from April. Click here to view and compare prices using our interactive pricing tool. Zinc spot prices eased in the first half of the month, reaching a four-month low of $1.61 per pound on May 13 per Kitco. Zinc prices rose from that point, reaching $1.78 per pound as of May 31. Aluminum prices were overall down in May, moving from $1.48 per pound at the beginning of the month to $1.36 per pound on May 31. On May 9 aluminum prices also reached a four-month low of $1.34 per pound.

The SMU Buyers Sentiment Index remains high, with optimism ranging from +70 to +80 last month. Viewed as a three-month moving average, buyers’ sentiment rose to +78 as of the end of the month, a level not seen since late 2021. Future sentiment readings also remain optimistic, but there were signs of cracks emerging. And the future sentiment index slipped from +80 in early May to +64 as of last week.

Hot rolled lead times peaked in mid-April at 5.8 weeks. They declined throughout May and stood at 4.6 weeks by the end of the month. The percentage of buyers reporting that mills are willing to negotiate on hot-rolled coil prices continues to grow. Data through last week indicates 88% of buyers report that mills are now willing to talk price to secure an order, up from 52% in early May. A history of HRC lead times can been found within our interactive pricing tool.

Key indicators of steel demand remain positive overall. The AIA Billings Index indicated that construction activity remains strong, and the energy and automotive sectors continue to improve. March import and export volumes are up over recent months, with apparent steel supply rebounding to 9.5 million tons in March.

See the chart below for other key metrics in the month of May:

By Brett Linton,

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