Steel imports in December rose 6.6 percent year-over-year, pushing annual inbound shipments 18.9 percent to 23.9 million tons in 2011, the Commerce Department said.
The increase in 2011 showed “the continued slow improvement in market conditions in many steel-consuming sectors,” said David Phelps, president of the American Institute for International Steel. He noted that semifinished imports used by domestic industries jumped 31.7 percent to 6.68 million tons.
Phelps said early signs point to continued market strengthening this year. “With steel consumers and distributors starting the year with low inventories in the environment of improving demand and rising prices, there is some optimism in the marketplace for both the domestic industry and importers at this time,” he said.
December volume totaled nearly 2 million tons, down 5.9 percent from November. Phelps said import orders slowed last fall when domestic steel prices softened amid concerns about a double-dip recession.
“After that lull in import ordering, pent-up demand and low inventories have appeared to have created a new confidence in consumers which is being reflected in a new round of import ordering, hopefully bolstering arrivals in the first quarter. We also believe that many consumers delayed deliveries of steel in December due to end-of-year inventory taxes in many states, suggesting that some of the decline was seasonal in nature,” Phelps said.