Steel Import Permits Decline 9% in December

Finished Steel Imports Decline 46% in 2009 vs. 2008

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported on Jan. 6 that steel import permit applications for the month of December totaled 1,326,000 net tons (NT). This was a 9% decrease from the 1,450,000 permit tons recorded in November 2009 and an increase of less than 1% from the November preliminary imports total of 1,321,000 NT.

Import permit tonnage for finished steel in December was 1,116,000 NT, which was an increase of 17% from the preliminary imports total of 954,000 NT in November.

Full year 2009 total and finished steel import tons (including preliminary November and SIMA permit tons for December) are 16,075,000 NT and 14,107,000 NT -- down 50% and 46%, respectively, from the 31,927,000 NT and 25,956,000 NT imported in 2008. While this would be the lowest yearly tonnage of finished steel imports since 1991, finished steel import market share has remained high in a severely depressed domestic market, AISI explained.

This finished steel import market share in December is estimated at 18% and at 21% for the year as a whole.

In December, the largest finished steel import permit applications for offshore countries were for Korea (124,000 NT, up 18% from November), Japan (100,000 NT, up 83%), India (58,000 NT, up 204%), China (44,000 NT, down 28%) and Germany (37,000 NT, up 20%).

The largest offshore suppliers of finished steel for 2009 as a whole were China (1.4 million NT), Korea (1.3 million NT) and Japan (1.0 million NT). Below is a 2009 country review.

Finished steel import permits for major product categories that registered significant increases in December vs. the November preliminary include oil country goods (up 70%), wire rods (up 57%), hot rolled bars (up 34%), line pipe (up 20%) and cold rolled sheets (up 17%).

While full year 2009 total imports decreased by 50% vs. 2008, semi-finished imports declined by 67%, reflecting the much lower production levels of domestic producers. With respect to the 46% decrease in full year 2009 finished steel imports, several key categories (including bar and tubular products) declined more than 50%, while the decline for sheet products was less than 40%.

While the across-the-board decline in finished steel imports was significant, it did not result in a substantial loss of market share for import suppliers, AISI said.

The 2009 finished steel import market share of 21% was similar to 7 of the past 10 years, with only 2003 (a year of Section 201 trade relief) being measurably lower.

In commenting on the December SIMA and full year data, Thomas J. Gibson, AISI CEO, stated that, "The thing that stands out about the steel import situation in 2009 is that three major Asian suppliers were each able to send to the U.S. market a million tons or more at a time when domestic capacity is more than sufficient to meet U.S. needs, and that imports overall were able to maintain a high market share despite the worst domestic steel market conditions since the end of World War II. As the United States begins what promises to be a long and very slow road of economic recovery, it is critical -- not only for steel, but for America's manufacturing base in general -- that we preserve and enhance our vital laws against unfair trade and that there be zero tolerance of dumped and subsidized imports."

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