Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region on firmer footing heading into 2013
February 2013 - Manufacturing activity in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region recently picked up after experiencing somewhat of a lull in the second and early third quarters. Gauges of business conditions from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve have rebounded after bottoming in September and June, respectively. Although manufacturing activity has been uneven, downstream sectors like automotive have been a bright spot, with total annual sales eclipsing the 15 million mark in November for the first time since February 2008.
While gauges of manufacturing activity have remained firm in recent months, durable goods orders (NSA) growth is near its lowest level since early 2010 because companies continue to pare back investments due to the uncertainty surrounding fiscal cliff and tax issues. Despite this, both housing and automotive continue to be bright spots in the economy. Total housing starts hit their highest level since July 2008, driven by gains in the multifamily segment as opportunistic investors continued to take advantage of low rates and buoyant demand for rental units.
Turning upstream, U.S. steel prices trended lower through 2012 with mini price cycles characterizing the hand-to-mouth buying many downstream customers have been exercising. Declining utilization levels, stagnating imports and declining inventories have helped prices find a floor around $600 per short ton, in addition to stable (for coking coal) and rising (for iron ore) raw materials prices.
Going forward, buyers should be aware that prices are globally linked and activities in China heavily influence what happens domestically. Steel prices recently have been rising in China on the back of higher iron ore prices and healthy demand. However, recent strength could fade in the first quarter as restocking comes to an end and steel prices lose their upward momentum. Oversupply will remain a key issue in many markets and will likely continue to keep steel producers in price-taking mode for now.
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Data provided by Bloomberg