Steel bars inventory
Service centers’ steel and aluminum inventories remained generally flat from November to December, and mostly higher than the levels reported at the end of the previous year.

Metal Shipments Dip, but Stronger Year over Year

Deliveries of steel and aluminum fell in the final month of 2017, but the 12-month record shows apparent improvement.

North American metals service centers reported declining shipment volumes for December 2017, closing out a year that nevertheless demonstrated some notable increases in deliveries totals, as well as rising inventory levels. The figures are supplied by the Metals Service Center Institute, which documents service-center steel and aluminum shipment and inventory totals, as reported by its member companies.

Service center metal products represent a substantial volume of the metals consumed by machine shops, fabricators, and other manufacturers.

Chicago-based MSCI headlined its final report on 2017 activity as a “pattern of relative strength in the U.S.” during December. U.S. service centers’ steel shipments during December declined slightly to 2.66 million tons, down 0.16% from November but 2.8% higher than the tonnage recorded for December 2016.

The daily shipping rate for steel by U.S. service centers declined by more than 17,000 tons from the November rate, to 132,800 tons/day, though holiday schedules may be partly responsible for that decrease. With the December figures included, U.S. service centers’ steel shipments for 2017 totaled 38.78 million tons, a rise of 3.8% over the 12-month total for 2016.

U.S service centers’ steel inventories at the close of December were reported to be 7.7 million tons, 1.5% higher than at the end of November. At their current shipment rate, U.S. centers are estimated by MSCI to be holding a 2.9-month supply.

Steel shipments by Canadian service centers totaled 280,100 tons for December, a dramatic 29.8% drop from November, and a 3.4% drop from the December 2016 shipment total. The Canadian centers’ daily shipping rate was down by more than 4,000 tons to 14,700 tons/day. The annual total rose 2.7% from 2016 to 4.53 million tons.

Inventories of steel products at Canadian service centers registered a negligible decline from November, totaling 1.13 million tons at the end of December 2017, 3.1% less than at the end of December 2016. At their current shipment rate, Canada’s service centers are estimated to have a 4.0-month supply of steel products.

Aluminum products shipments by U.S. service centers fell 9.5% from November, totaling 119,400 tons for December, though this total was 12.5% higher than the December 2016 tonnage. Even so, the daily shipping rate slipped by 300 tons to 6,000 tons/day.

Total aluminum products shipments by U.S. service centers totaled 1.64 million tons for all of 2017, which was 8.5% higher than the 2016 total.

U.S. service centers reported inventories of aluminum products at 391,400 tons at the end of December, slightly less (-0.2) than at the end of November, and 1.9% higher than at the end of December 2016. At the current rate of delivery, U.S. service centers are holding a 3.3-month supply of aluminum products.

Canadian service center aluminum shipments fell 3.05% from November to 7,300 tons for December 2017, a figure that is 2.4% lower than the December 2016 total. The December daily shipping rate slipped by 100 tons to 400 tons/day — the first decline reported for that measure in 12 months. The 12-month total for Canadian centers’ aluminum shipments was 121,500 tons, a 0.7% year-over-year decline.

Aluminum products inventories at Canadian service centers were reported to be 31,900 tons at the end of December, 1.9% higher than at the end of November, and 4.7% higher than at the end of 2016. Their current rate of deliveries means that Canadian service centers are holding a 4.4-month supply of aluminum products, according to MSCI.

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