U.S. steel imports declined 4.5 percent in February month-to-month despite a large increase in slab imports, according to preliminary government data.
Steel imports in February totaled 2.688 million tons, down 4.5 percent from January’s imports of 2.815 million tons, but up 45.7 percent from February 2011.
“While the preliminary data show a decline, a decline of this size could be erased when the final data are released in mid-April — adjustments usually run between 2 to 10 percent,” said David Phelps, president of the American Institute for International Steel. “It is notable that imports of slabs for domestic mills jumped by over 56 percent in February compared to January. The level of total imports for February — finished and semi-finished — reflect improved market conditions in late fall 2011 when non-NAFTA products were ordered.”
For the year to date, imports increased 38.9 percent, reflecting the slow but steady improvement in the steel market in the U.S. compared to last year.
“With stronger demand and pricing in late in 2011 and early 2012, we see continued healthy levels of imports in the short to medium term. Whether the strength of the market is sustainable into the second and third quarters is, at this point, open to debate,” Phelps said.
He expects the improving economy to act as a catalyst for the rest of North America so improved U.S. exports to its North American Free Trade Agreement partners is likely in coming months. For the year-to-date period, imports of steel totaled 5.503 million tons, up 38.9 percent year-over-year.
Imports of semi-finished products, at 637,000 tons, increased 57 percent in February year-over-year. For the first two months of 2012, semi-finished product imports grew 36.5 percent year-over-year, to 1.123 million tons.