Transport issues hamper German plate supply

Shortcomings in maritime and railway transportation have been stressing the patience of plate buyers in Germany, when ordering domestic as well as overseas.

A manager at a distributor in Lower Saxony tells of delays in railway freight due to maintenance work on the lines. “Deutsche Bahn is a massive construction site; freight trains often need to take considerable detours these days,” he tells Kallanish. From one mill, for example, “I wait only three days for delivery, but a colleague in the west waits three weeks,” he adds.

The distributor itself was hurting more when ordering overseas. Last year, “one Asian mill had our material ready within a week, but then needed three weeks to get a ship organised. And after three weeks of travel, it had to wait two months for clearance in Antwerp. Low prices do not compensate for such delays, and many importers have subsequently refrained from ordering in Asia,” he says.

The shortage of shipping space since Covid-19 impacted trade, with many vessels parked outside of closed Chinese ports, did not hurt everyone equally, though. A manager at a processor says he cannot complain about long wait times, probably because buyers of small volumes may be less affected. He is now about to place an order for material from India, which he expects to arrive within three months, in April/May. The price for S355 grade plate here is at €920/tonne ($997) delivered, ordered through a German distribution group, which suggests that direct buyers can get prices below €900/t.

Domestic European mills are ambitious to bring up prices, “but I’m not sure I will get a higher price from my customers yet”, the distributor’s manager cautions. He and a source in the Benelux state that current offer prices inch up to €980/t, from below €950 previously.

The manager also points to the large volumes of Russian-origin slab supply, which he partly blames for last year’s price deterioration. “After the European Commission granted a grace period for Russian slab, people went for it because they can still feel safe from paying penalties,” he says.

Christian Koehl Germany