Metal service center inventories
Service centers’ shipment and inventory volumes represent a substantial volume of the metals consumed by machine shops, fabricators, and other manufacturers.

Metal Service Center Shipments Still Rising

August tonnage for steel and aluminum deliveries maintained a modest pace of year-over-year increases, while inventories stayed mostly even.

U.S. and Canadian metal service centers upheld a tepid rate of expanding shipment volumes during August, though the fairly level performance of inventory volumes for steel and aluminum products may be a more indicative reading of current activity. The results are found in the latest Metals Service Center Institute monthly Metals Activity Report, which details shipment and inventory totals for service centers across North America.

Both indexes offer insight to the current state of manufacturing activity, as aluminum and steel shipped by service centers constitute to a substantial volume of the metals consumed by machine shops, fabricators, and other manufacturers.

In its August comment, MSCI noted that, apart from Canadian centers’ aluminum shipments, “the modest year over year growth in service center shipments of the last four months continued”. That detail is consistent with other indices of activity in the manufacturing sector, including new orders for machine tools and cutting tool consumption.

U.S. service centers shipped 3.47 million tons of steel products during August, a rise of 17.2% over July shipments and of 2.7% over August 2016 shipments. The average daily shipping rate increased by 2,800 tons to 150,800 tons/day, and the year-to-date total for steel products shipments rose to 26.5 million — up 3.2% over the January-August 2016 total for steel shipments.

Steel products inventories at U.S. service centers actually rose by 2.1% from July, to 7.7 million tons, which is 1.9% less than the reported inventory total for August 2016. It leaves U.S. service centers holding a 2.2-month supply of steel products, according to MSCI’s estimation.

Canada’s service centers increased their shipment total by 11.8% from July to August, totaling 387,500 tons during the latest month. That also signified a 6.2% increase over the August 2016 figure, and pushed the daily shipping rate to 17,600 tons, about 300 tons/day higher than the July rate. Through eight months of the current year, the Canadian service centers have shipped 3.1 million tons of steel products, 3.5% more than the comparable total for 2016.

Inventories of steel products at Canadian centers ticked up less than 1% to 1.18 million tons, and that represents a 2.9% rise over steel inventory levels at the end of August 2016. Based on their current rate of deliveries, Canadian service centers are estimated to be holding a 3.1-month supply of steel products.

U.S. centers’ shipments of aluminum products increased 29.4% from July to August, totaling 152,900 tons for the month, which is 10.8% higher than the August 2016 total. The daily shipping rate grew by about 400 tons to 6,600 tons/day. The year-to-date shipment total rose to 1.1 million tons, 7.3% higher than last year’s eight-month result.

Aluminum inventories at U.S. centers declined 7.9% from July, and are estimated now at 397,400 tons. That is a 3.2% rise over the August 2016 inventory total. At the current rate of aluminum products’ shipments, service centers appear to be holding a 2.6-month supply.

Finally, Canadian service centers shipped 10,600 tons of aluminum products during August, 10.4% more than during July but 3.4% less than during August 2016. The daily shipping rate remained at 500 tons/day — a level it has maintained since January. Year-to-date shipments through August total 82,900 tons, slight less (-0.3%) than the January-August 2016 total.

Canadian service centers are holding 31,100 tons of aluminum products, up just 1.6% over the previous month’s inventory, but down slightly (-0.3%) from last August’s total. At their current shipping rate, Canadian service centers have a 2.9-month supply.

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