Iron and Steel
Along with plastic scrap, ferrous scrap prices had the worst price performance among the major scrap commodities last year. According to data from Scrap Price Bulletin, the monthly composite price for No. 1 HMS declined from $325.83 per gross ton in January to $150.17 per gross ton in December 2015. Plunging iron ore prices, excess Chinese steel production, a stronger dollar (which both encouraged steel imports and dampened scrap export demand), and falling U.S. steel mill capacity utilization rates all weighed on the market. According to figures from the American Iron and Steel Institute (Washington, D.C.), U.S. steel mill capacity utilization rates fell from as high as 79 percent in January to less than 65 percent in December. Amid waning steel demand from the U.S. energy sector and continued steel import competition, the U.S. Geological Survey (Reston, Va.) estimates U.S. steel production declined from 88.2 million metric tons in 2014 to 81 million tons in 2015. The steel industry sought relief by filing anti-dumping trade cases against hot-rolled, cold-rolled and coated steel imports. But there was little relief in sight for recyclers as ferrous scrap tags fell to post-recession lows in the fourth quarter of 2015 and ferrous scrap exports (excluding stainless and alloy steel scrap) plunged 16 percent lower to less than 11.9 million metric tons.
Nickel and Stainless Steel
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. stainless steelmakers produced 1.81 million tons of austenitic (nickel-bearing) stainless steel in 2015, an 8 percent increase from 2014 and 53 percent greater than the output of 1.18 million tons in 2009. At the same time, USGS estimates consumption of purchased and home stainless steel scrap in the United States amounted to 1.34 million metric tons in 2015. Meanwhile, global production of austenitic (nickel-bearing) stainless steel hit an all-time high in 2015 as Chinese austenitic output rose to 17.6 million tons. But corporate earnings reports, stainless scrap industry sentiment and the nickel price performance paint a far less rosy picture than the official production statistics. Over the course of 2015, the LME official 3-mo. asking price for nickel plunged 42 percent lower, by far the worst performance among the major base metals. Outokumpu Stainless USA reported that stainless steel shipments from their North American facilities declined 5.9 percent in 2015 to 509,000 tons (as compared to target output of 700,000 tons), prompting expected workforce reductions. And as with other scrap commodities, overseas demand for U.S. stainless steel scrap declined again last year. According to Census Bureau trade data, U.S. exports of stainless steel scrap fell 5 percent by volume last year to 520,000 metric tons, the lowest level since 2004.