Conditions in the European flat products market are exceptionally quiet at present, leading to renewed downward pressure on basis values. As consumption has not improved, both end-users and distributors are reluctant to place forward orders of any significant volume. The mills are so short of business that their determination to lift prices appears to be crumbling. However third country offers are no longer attractive since the euro has started to weaken.
The German mills still have free capacity for the second quarter as order intake is slow. Buyers, who are currently in negotiations for that period, expect to pay less, once deals are concluded. Service centres are trying to keep inventories as low as possible because they have little confidence in the performance of the market, either in terms of price or consumption.
End-user activity remains subdued in France, with very short order books and completion times. As a result, steel demand from distributors is weak. Consumption by the auto sector is down, while activity in the remainder of industry is stable at a modest level.
The Italian economy is very depressed. The results of the recent election have produced an uncertain political scenario. Steel market conditions are described as “tough”, with few buyers. Final demand is weak and, consequently, distributors are sourcing only limited quantities as they try to cope not only with a lack of sales opportunities but also payment issues with their customers.
There is little, or no, import threat in the UK at present because the exchange rate is favourable for the domestic producers. Certainly, some, if not all, of the proposed £30 per tonne rise, announced in early February, has been secured. However, service centres are keeping inventories at a low level as resale values are not moving up as quickly as mill figures.
There has been no improvement in Spanish demand. Service centres are struggling as a result of minimal profit margins. They are fighting over every available order. End-users say they can virtually put their business out to tender if they have any to place.