Shipments of steel and aluminum had been rising across North America since late spring, but in September service centers’ deliveries indicated a break in that trend.

Service Center Shipments Slowed in September

Oct. 15, 2013
U.S. service center activity suggests uncertain market demand Canadian activity better for aluminum than steel

North America’s metals service centers registered some sharp declines in shipments of steel and aluminum from August to September, and yet the year-on-year comparisons were mostly positive, allowing the Metals Service Center Institute to label the results a “modest recovery” in its latest Metals Activity Report. The trade association prepares the monthly summary of steel and aluminum shipments from data reported by member companies in the U.S. and Canada.

“September U.S. shipments of both steel and aluminum displayed their highest year-over-year growth yet in 2013,” MSCI noted, and “Canadian shipments returned to a small positive growth rate, as well.”

Notwithstanding these points, the atmosphere is one of uncertainty, as U.S. centers reported slightly higher inventories for both steel and aluminum than in the previous month, and Canadian centers reduced their stocks of steel but kept aluminum at steady levels.

Slide in Steel Shipments

U.S. service centers shopped 3.4 million tons of steel during September, 6.9% less than they shipped during August (3.63 million tons), even though the average daily shipping rate rose to 169 tons/day for shipments from 165.1 tons/day during August.

The more positive perspective is gained in the year-on-year comparison: the latest monthly figure is 9.8% higher than the September 2012 result. Also encouraging, the year-to-date total for steel shipments from U.S. service centers increased to 31.5 million tons, a figure that is 1.7% less than the nine-month total for 2012 – and that year-on-year gap has been narrowed nearly in half over in the past four months.

Steel inventories rose to 8.03 million tons for U.S. centers during September, and that represents a 2.4-month supply at their current shipping rates according to MSCI’s estimates.

The Canadian service centers shipped 475,000 tons of steel products during September, a decline of 7.9% from August shipment rates. The average daily shipping rate increased though, from 22.8 tons/day in August up to 23.7 tons/day last month.

Inventory levels declined to 1.3 million tons of steel at the Canadian centers, 20.4% below the inventories recorded for September 2013, and the operators’ available tonnages indicate a 2.7-month supply of steel at the current shipping rate.  

Autumn Aluminum Activity  

U.S. service centers shipped 121,700 tons of aluminum products during September, 8.6% less than during August but 8.2% more than during September 2012.  The average daily shipping rate ticked up from 6 to 6.1 tons from August to September.

But, while the U.S. centers’ year-to-date total for aluminum shipments climbed to 1.1 million tons, that figure is 3.4% less than the nine-month total for 2012.

Inventories of aluminum declined at U.S. service centers, from 365,000 tons in August to 362,700 tons last month, but at the current shipping rate that represents an increase from 2.7-months to 3.0-months of material available.

Canadian service center shipped 12,400 tons of aluminum products during September, a decline of 2.4% from the August total, but a 1.1% increase on September 2012. The average shipping rate held steady at 600 tons/day, and the year-to-date total for shipments rose to 117,400 tons – 3.4% less than the nine-month total for 2012.

Inventories of aluminum at Canadian centers decreased from 35,800 tons in August to 35,000 tons in September, but at the current shipping rate that kept the supply at 2.9 months available, even with the previous month.

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