December US import licenses through January 10th, as reported by the US Census Bureau’s Steel Import Monitor, totaled 440,000 tons (44 kt) a 3% increase over preliminary November long product imports. November licenses requested totaled 482 kt, yet preliminary imports totaled only 425 k, leaving 57 kt of unfulfilled import licenses. Unfulfilled licenses that could be utilized within the next 75 days, giving December the potential for imports closer to 497 kt.
Year to date imports plus December licenses totaled 6.08 million tons (mt), down 4% y/y. 2016 was the first annual decline in six years for long product imports, (Table 1).
December Rebar licenses were up 9% compared to November preliminary imports. Year to date the US has imported in excess of 2 mt of rebar, up 6% y/y. Monthly rebar imports continued to be erratic with as little as 106 kt tons imported during April and as much as 291 kt imported during July. Figure 1 shows annualized rebar imports, and a clearer picture of the 404% import increase over the last seven years. A total of 85% of the US’s imported rebar is shipped from Turkey.
Wire rod licenses fell 5% m/m, totaling less than 100kt for the month. November preliminary imports had 15 kt tons of unfulfilled licenses that could be used in December. Brazil, Germany, and South Korea were among those countries “sandbagging” November import applications. Japan and Brazil both had significant increases in December wire rod licenses compared to what they exported to the US in November, as licenses from NAFTA, and Europe fell. Year to date imports plus December licenses totaled 1.56 mt, and were flat y/y.
Bars-light shapes, as defined by S.I.M.A., includes lighter structural shapes such as angles and channels. December licenses for these products fell for a 3rd consecutive month, down 3% in December, importing 173 kt YTD which was flat YTD y/y. Heavy structural shapes, including beams were flat m/m, totaling 875 kt YTD, and down 3% YTD y/y. The beam component rose 4% in December while the heavier angles and channels fell 5% m/m, a second monthly decline.
Hot-rolled and cold-finished bars comprise products defined as merchant bar quality (MBQ) and special bar quality (SBQ). Based on the last 24 months of final import data, we have extrapolated that an average of 20% of hot-rolled bars are MBQ products. This percentage has fluctuated as high as 27% and as low as 14% over the last 2 years, but gives us a good postulation of how much tonnage can be expected to reach US shores. Based on this knowledge, MBQ December licenses were up 34% m/m while SBQ license were flat, up 2% in December. Year over year MBQ imports plus licenses total 244 kt, down 9% YTD y/y. SBQ imports plus December licenses exceeded 1.1 mt, down 22% YTD y/y compared to 2015 end of year imports. SBQ imports have declined for the 3 consecutive years, (Figure 2).