CHICAGO Aluminum product
shipments by North American distributors tumbled in December,
but service center sources dismissed the fall as a typical
year-end slowdown in business activity and predicted better
times for 2013.
U.S. service centers shipped
91,900 tons of aluminum products in December, down 15.8 percent
from 109,100 tons the previous month and off 15.9 percent from
December 2011, according to Metals Service Center Institute
(MSCI) data, and full-year shipments of 1.49 million tons were
down 0.9 percent from the previous year.
inventories inched up to 365,600 tons (4.0 months supply
at current shipping rates) from 365,300 tons (3.3 months
supply) in November.
Canadian distributors shipped
8,500 tons of aluminum products last month, down 35.1 percent
from 13,100 tons in November and off 12.1 percent from a year
earlier, but inventories fell to 38,800 tons (4.5 months
supply) in December from 39,300 tons (3.0 months supply)
in November. Full-year shipments of 157,100 tons were up 7.3
percent from 2011.
Market sources expressed
optimism about 2013, contending that the decline in shipments
was a result primarily of traditional seasonality and year-end
holidays cutting into the number of business days.
"We lost pretty much that whole
last week (of December), which drives the numbers down. But I
think overall we got what we expected to see," a service center
source said. "In January, we didnt see the ramp up we
expected in the first week. But since then, things have picked
up and every day I am getting a little bit more encouraged. ...
I think were going to have a good year."
He said his optimism is a result
in particular of stronger-than-expected demand in the
automotive and aerospace sectors. He noted that every year
since 2009 has been slightly better than the year before and
2013 was likely to follow that same pattern, although he
cautioned that the year was unlikely to break any records.
Another service center source
said his company also was optimistic about 2013, brushing off
the December figures to seasonality. "Things have not exploded
in January the way I wanted them to. But were busy. There
is demand because people just dont have metal on the
floor," he said.
The second service center source
said he didnt see any one sector driving the pickup in
demand, but instead was across the board. "The only thing that
can screw this up is politics. Were seeing and hearing
good things from our customers," he said.
Even a source in the
construction sector, which has been slow to recover since the
financial crisis, said his firm was "cautiously optimistic"