While the carbon steel market tends to grab most headlines with regards to higher prices and tight availability, it’s not the only industrial metal experiencing these conditions.

What is the Price of Stainless Steel?

Each month, Nick Webb, Ryerson's director of risk management, commodities hedging, provides an update on the factors driving the price of metals. It seems as though the price of nickel (a key ingredient in the production of stainless steel) has come off of its volatile ride following a short squeeze in March. 

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Like with other metals, the price of stainless steel is driven largely by the price and availability of the commodities that make up the grade. In the case of stainless steel, that includes nickel and chrome.

That price impact is felt by you in form of the stainless steel surcharges. These are additional charges added to the base price per pound of an alloy typically vary by mill. Typically, the base price for each is established using the following:

  • Alloy
  • Production Cost
  • Yield Factor
  • Supply-demand Fundamentals
On March 8, 2022, LME halted trading of nickel after a short squeeze caused prices to rise 250% to over $50/lb. in the matter of hours.

 

Here is a closer look at what happened:

 

 
Typically, mills price surcharges similarly based on market dynamics. However, with such an unusual situation at the LME, stainless producers had varying approaches to addressing the situation. 

 

Outokumpu (OTK), for example, put the shorted price of nickel into its surcharge, which settled at $15.30. However, North American Stainless (NAS) pulled the price out of its calculations for its April 304 surcharge, and artificially set the price to $12.60. That put the spread between it and OTK at $118.40/ton for 304 in April.

However, indications are that NAS will indeed factor in the LME price going forward like normal, which unfortunately would mean an increase of 304 and 316 surcharges.

 

What are Stainless Steel Allocations?

 

Looking at the broader market for stainless steel, all domestic mills are currently on allocation. Lead times for offshore shipments remain 4-5 months out, and even when they do arrive port congestion continues to be an issue. Combined, these factors mean the outlook for getting stainless in a timely manner remains uncertain.

 

Here is some additional information:

 

 

The Production Dilemma

In terms of the production-cost factor, look at stainless steel grade 430 as one example. This grade has been in short supply as of late, due in large part to the fact that some domestic mills have reduced their production levels.

Part of that reasoning relates to the additional time and cost it takes to produce this grade. For instance:

  • The 400 series starts with more carbon steel-based scrap, which means it takes much more argon to melt than stainless steel 304, for example.
  • The 400 series spends more time in the melt furnace compared to 304.

In response, some metal buyers turned to the import market, namely China, to get 430 earlier in the year. But as of late, even foreign mills have begun to limit their production for North America due to heavier demand domestically.

The Alloys Behind the Grade

Historically, nickel has had the biggest impact on these surcharges. But chrome has a certain impact as well, as described by Nick Webb, Ryerson’s director of risk management, commodities hedging, below:

But another to consider is molybdenum. This is used as a hardening agent in stainless steel 316 to improve corrosion resistance.

 

As the price of molybdenum goes up, it impacts that 316 stainless steel surcharge.

What is the Current Price of Stainless Steel?

For a monthly update on the price of stainless steel, as well as that of all other metals, be sure to sign up for Cup o' Joe with Nick Webb. 


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