EU HRC stable, buyers see congested ports, other transport challenges

European HRC prices were stable Dec. 16 as the market braces itself for the first signs of a slowdown amid the fast-approaching holiday season.

With mills and stockholders trying to wrap up for the year’s end, discounts have been handed out to try and secure last-minute orders causing less clarity on a unanimous market price, sources told S&P Global Platts.

Market participants were already beginning to feel the slump late in the fourth quarter, with one Italy-based mill source lamenting the lack of upside in what has now become mostly a buyers’ market.

“It seems that the year is closing [on] a weak note with full control in buyers’ hands,” the source said, adding that HRC prices were mostly around Eur840-Eur850/mt ex-works Italy.

Prices like Eur870/mt EXW Italy were only achievable for very small orders, with Eur840-Eur850/mt EXW Italy a realistic workable level for 2,000-3000 mt or more, the same source said.

Meanwhile, a Benelux service center said increasing costs for energy and transport could be a stabilizing factor for prices, with Northwest European mills heard to have enough orders in the pipeline.

A Benelux buyer was holding back purchases because of challenges with transport logistics and the uncertainty around automotive demand, with varying opinions about when the components shortage could ease.

“With the auto situation, most people think it’ll be back at the end of the second quarter,” the buyer said. “There are vessels, truck shortages – transport is difficult, but also ships arriving into Antwerp can’t arrive and need to go to other ports.”

The same source said that the port of Antwerp’s workforce has been confronted with coronavirus quarantine measures, causing further delays for incoming material.

Platts assessed North European HRC prices stable at Eur925/mt EXW Ruhr Dec. 16 and in Italy, prices fell by Eur7.50 to Eur850/mt EXW Italy.

— Amanda Flint