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U.S. imports of steel in June were only 850,000 tons, down 18 percent from May and down 68.9 percent compared with June 2008, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.
Year-to-date (January through June), steel imports decreased 46 percent from the same period last year, amounting to only 8.6 million tons in 2009. Imported semi-finished products decreased by 91.5 percent in June 2009 compared with June 2008. Year-to-date, semi-finished imports decreased by 82.2 percent to only 566,000 tons in 2009, based on preliminary reporting. Compared with June 2008, U.S. steel imports in June 2009 dropped 53.3 percent from Japan, 58.4 percent from the EU, 73.4 percent from Brazil, 76.4 percent from South Korea, and 88.1 percent from China.
June imports of hot-rolled steel, the product most used by metalforming manufacturers, fell 26 percent to 75,932 metric tons from May. Cold-rolled steel imports also fell, dropping 8 percent from May levels to 58,154 metric tons. Hot-and cold-rolled imports, when combined, are now down 38 percent, compared with June 2008.
"Import arrivals in June were at very depressed levels due to weakness in the marketplace during the order period for non-NAFTA arrivals," said David Phelps, president of the American Institute for International Steel. However, "As we move deeper into the summer, we are beginning to see an improvement in import order taking as the inventory draw-down has mostly been completed and U.S. market prices are starting to move up. The AIIS monthly import survey has begun to show some reason for optimism for the steel market and imports in coming months," Phelps said.
Precision Metalforming Association President William E. Gaskin said the continuing decline in U.S. steel imports dramatized the obstacles faced by manufacturers and other industries who are hoping for an economic recovery. "The slow recovery of manufacturing, especially in automotive, truck, appliance and construction-related markets, continues to depress demand for domestic and imported steel in the U.S.," Gaskin said.
However, like Phelps, Gaskin said he saw some reason for optimism. A survey of PMA members conducted a few weeks ago "signaled the beginning of a slow recovery," Gaskin said. "In fact, metalformers are more optimistic about overall economic activity than they have been since April 2006, and they anticipate an improvement in incoming orders during the next three months. Current average daily shipping levels are also beginning to firm, and increased in July."