The close of summer showed some good news for the steel sector, but little has changed for the overall economy.
The September news letter of The American Institute for International Steel (AIIS) says that on the macro side, unemployment continues to be a drag on the health of the overall economy. The rate declined in August compared to July, from 7.4% to 7.3%. However, this small decline was the result of 312000 workers giving up on finding work, which means they are no longer counted as ‘unemployed.’ There were 169000 jobs created in August, far too small a number to reduce the unemployment rate in any appreciable way and obviously less than the number of workers who left the workforce during the month.
After a larger than normal decrease in auto employment in July of 10,000 – for the model year changeover – the auto companies added 19000 jobs in August. Over the past 12 months, the auto sector has added 34000 jobs.
The ISM index posted two strong gains since July, jumping to 54.0% then and in August, to 55.4%.
In the construction sector, notwithstanding the improvement in non-residential builds, that sector remains weak. The most recent government data show that sector running at around 71% of the level experienced prior to the recession starting in 2008.
For the steel sector and importers, the summer doldrums in 2013 turned out to be not so. After a weak first quarter and first half of the second quarter, the steel market rebounded.
Given the reports that underlying demand continued weak or at least unchanged in many steel sectors, one has to come to the conclusion that this was largely due to inventory restocking – at least for the flat rolled market – that would quickly fade.
So far, in early September, the price increases from earlier in the summer appear to have some staying power, but reports suggest that some believe that softness is beginning to appear.
The good news for the importing business is that the stronger prices have created selling opportunities and so import tonnages should be stronger for at least a few months. Whether this current stronger market reflects the hoped for improving underlying demand remains to be seen.