EU long stainless steel base prices rise, February surcharge hike expected

European stainless steel base prices for grade-304 bright bar rose by €20-30 ($21-32) per tonne this week, as market participants accepted further increases from mills, sources said on Friday January 13

Metal Bulletin’s weekly price assessment for grade-304 bright bar was €970-1,000 ($1,030-1,062) per tonne delivered, up from €950-970 ($1,009-1,030) per tonne last week.

"While we’ve had offers of €1,000 [$1,062] per tonne, I feel €970 [$1,030] is closer to where the market is after the recent price rises," one distributor in the Benelux region said.

Metal Bulletin’s weekly base price assessment for 2mm, grade-304 cold rolled (CR) stainless sheet was unchanged at €1,130-1,150 ($1,200-1,222) per tonne delivered in Northern Europe on Friday.

The price range for grade-316 CR stainless sheet was also steady at €1,445-1,470 ($1,535-1,562) per tonne delivered in Europe on Friday.

Mixed market activity was reported across Europe, with a second distributor in the Benelux region reporting a lack of underlying demand from end users.

"We don’t expect further base price rises in the near future, as the previous rise was achieved despite a lack of underlying demand – and currently we’re not selling enough," he said.

Inventory levels at distributors ranged from sufficient to "a bit too high", following strong restocking activity in the final months of 2016. Lead times at European mills remained at March, participants said.

"I’m not sure if we’ll see buying speculation at end of the month, although alloy extras will definitely rise," a distributor in the Nordic region said.

"The price driver right now for the surcharge is the ferro-chrome quarterly benchmark, so March [when the benchmark is next settled] will be very important to see what happens," he said.

Metal Bulletin’s weekly price assessment for 6-8% ferro-chrome to major European destinations fell to $1.34-1.52 per lb on January 13, compared with $1.40-1.55 per lb on January 6. The quarterly European high-carbon ferro-chrome benchmark for the first quarter of 2017 is at $1.65 cents per lb.

If calculated on January 13, Outokumpu’s February surcharge for 2mm grade-304 cold rolled stainless sheet would rise month-on-month by €103 ($109) per tonne to €1,443 ($1,533) per tonne, Metal Bulletin understands.

January’s monthly alloy surcharge for 2mm grade-304 CR stainless sheet – based on data published by Outokumpu, Acerinox and Aperam – was €1,283-1,340 ($1,363-1,424) per tonne, its highest level since March 2015.

"With the nickel price fluctuating recently and news about renewed nickel ore exports from Indonesia, I have a feeling that prices will go flat over the next few months and may even drop in the second half of 2017," the Nordic distributor said.

"We will have to be careful in terms of our inventory levels and buying strategy," he added.

The LME three-month official nickel bid/offer fell by $55/60 per tonne week-on-week to $10,175/10,180 on January 13. This was down from $10,230/10,240 per tonne on January 6.