Special to CONTRACTOR
WASHINGTON — Despite a sharp drop in steel imports in March, U.S. mills shipped less steel in the first quarter than in the same period a year ago. Domestic suppliers shipped 23.94 million net tons, down 3% from the first quarter of 2001 when 24.68 million net tons were shipped, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
The construction industry, however, continues to be a bright spot among steel’s major markets. A year-to-year comparison shows that shipments for construction and contractors’ products rose 6.8% in the first quarter. Only domestic shipments for appliances, utensils and cutlery showed a stronger gain with a 7.4% increase.
In contrast, steel shipments for oil and gas markets dropped 36.5%; electrical equipment decreased 29%; and machinery, equipment and tools declined 22%.
Imports of steel dropped 39.4% to 2.03 million net tons in March from February, but only after steep increases earlier this year. Through the first quarter, steel imports remained higher than in the same period last year. A total of 8.08 million net tons of steel products were imported, up 17.8% from the first quarter of 2001.
While the March decline in imports may be attributed directly to tariffs slapped on steel products by the Bush administration, the decrease follows dramatic increases in February. The United States that month imported a total of 3.05 million net tons of steel, 13.4% higher in January and the highest level since August 2000.
AISI characterized the steep hikes as an effort by some foreign steel producers and domestic customers to “beat” the onset of the tariffs. Imports in some product categories rose in February by as much 112% from January.