As we wind down 2023, Chicago’s ferrous scrap market soared to unexpected levels, with all scrap metal grades enjoying a significant month-to-month price increase.
Chicago’s Ferrous Scrap Metal Market
Domestic scrap metal buyers were met with a surge in export activity, fueling stiff competition for tons this month. In Chicago, Scrap Dealers leveraged demand and ultimately pushed prices up $80 per gross ton for prime grades while cut grades and steel turnings increased $40 per gross ton compared to November. The surge in export demand, coupled with depressed scrap flows and rising hot-rolled coil demand and prices, bolstered the scrap metal market for the third consecutive month.
“Here we are again, mid-December, with two shipping weeks left to the month, and mills have not put solid offers on the table,” states Lou Plucinski, President. “There’s little motivation for dealers to sell into this market.”
In Chicago, the direction of scrap metal prices reversed in October 2023 when trade resumed along the Illinois River. Prime grades have soared by 26% throughout the fourth quarter, and cut grades increased by over 14%. Domestic and export demand have worked together to elevate scrap prices, and the outlook is bullish into 2024. Scrap Dealers have reportedly held back tons since they’re challenged to fill orders with only two shipping weeks left in December. Dealers are also motivated to sell short in pursuit of higher scrap prices in 2024. Busheling futures reached $545 per gross ton in January.
A surge in US ferrous scrap exports fueled even stiffer competition for tons this month and a the increased demand has bolstered prices for cut grades. Turkish mills booked seven spot cargoes from the US East Coast in November — which is broadly considered to be the volume at which exports are considered a significant drain on domestic inventories. Tighter supply of scrap in the EU and US domestic markets along with rising bulk freight rates have led to rising costs for deep-sea scrap cargoes into Turkey, the largest importer of US scrap metal. Reduced flow into US scrap yards and Turkey’s desire to secure January’s scrap quota are bolstering prices.
Chicago’s Non-Ferrous Scrap Metal Market
Stainless steel scrap producers have been given a break following the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. At a time where productivity is down, adding to the already limited demand, has kept prices for all grades of stainless steel scrap (300 and 400 series alike) trading sideways this week, despite a retreating LME Nickel price which is down over 11% in the past 30 days. Prices are expected to remain unchanged for the next seven to ten days business days, but as Christmas holiday shutdowns loom expect scrap stainless-steel prices to fall, as 2023 ends.
“Warehouse volumes are up, demand and the LME Nickle price is down,” states George O’Brien, Director of Non-Ferrous. “A decrease of interest rates and an increase of EV vehicle production could help 2024 prices rise for stainless steel and nickel.”
Aluminum scrap metal prices ticked down slightly as December’s trade kicked off. Both domestic and overseas aluminum markets look to the LME Aluminum price to help dictate scrap purchase prices and sales of finished aluminum products. The LME Aluminum price is down more than 5% month to month, and both domestic and international prices for aluminum scrap have decreased about half of that number, down approximately 2.5%.
Copper prices declined slightly this week after reaching a four-month high, signaling an uncertain outlook heading into 2024. A strengthening U.S. dollar, increased warehouse inventories, and uncertainty surrounding China’s economic trajectory continue to pressure copper prices. China is central to the metal’s outlook, accounting for two-fifths of all global copper imports. Despite the Chinese government rolling out several stimulus packages, the Chinese economy and the 2024 price of copper have much to overcome. At the forefront, the severe risks of the Chinese property sector, which is down 23.2% year over year and the less than encouraging Chinese domestic economic data, despite the imposed health restrictions implemented by the country. These factors are leading the top analysts to curb their enthusiasm about any increase in the price. Most are predicting 2024 copper prices to trade sideways year over year with prices averaging approximately 3.80/lb.