From The Editor

Steel Ideas to Ponder Revealed by Q&Q&A

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MCN Editor Dan Markham The old saw suggests the only dumb question is the one not asked. As anyone who ever followed Super Bowl Media Day knows, this is decidedly not true. 

However, I stumbled upon a new maxim that is not likely to catch on, but sure proved itself at the August Steel Summit put on by Steel Market Update: the best questions are the ones you ask yourself. 

SMU boss Michael Cowden was conducting a roundtable discussion with three steel mill representatives when he concluded his portion of the Q&A by asking the three men, “What are some of the questions you haven’t been asked but we should be thinking about?” Their responses provided some of the more informative moments of the as-always outstanding event.

North Star BlueScope President Conrad Winkler noted that in the midst of the excitement over the various public works programs and the undeniable push toward reshoring, there remains an
oft-overlooked element to international steel movement – the continued threat to the supply chain via indirect trade. While mills are protected through tariffs and buy-American requirements in the various spending bills, there are still large numbers of parts that will be sourced from overseas due to lower input costs. 

“The total production of steel was lower in 2022 than it was in the early 2000s, and a lot of that is due to indirect trade,” he said.

Kenneth Jaycox, senior vice president and CCO of U.S. Steel, a company that dominated conversations throughout the event, pointed to the need to worry less about the daily haggling over pricing and more on how the industry players should work together to advance the material. With major issues such as decarbonization affecting all industries, design and engineering for a steel-intensive future is crucial for the material’s success. 

“There needs to be more energy focused on how do we collectively, as an industry, come together and position ourselves than worrying about what next month’s price is going to be, or how one side can take advantage of the buy-sell relationship,” he said.

But it was SSAB Senior Vice President and CCO Jeffrey Moskaluk who hit on a topic that became a source of repeated commentary in the panels that followed. He noted the industry needs to start looking at plate and hot-rolled coil through a different lens. For much of history, industry participants observed how plate and HRC moved in lockstep. And while they might have had different inflection points, they generally were coupled as products. 

But the response to COVID set the two products on different tracks. Stimulus money went to the consumer first, spurring demand for flat-products. The money to industrial consumers came later, leading to a different cycle for plate. 

“We need to pay attention to the end-use drivers and not this co-existence of the two products,” Moskaluk said.