MRC Global October 2017 InSight

Line Pipe

Specifically in the US, demand for carbon steel line pipe continues to be strong in comparison to the last two years as more wells are completed and midstream projects gain momentum. Due to these positive conditions, we have seen pipe mills add shifts and restart idled facilities, increasing the capacity utilization to the highest level in two years. This has eased the supply restraints we felt earlier in the year on most products, including the bulk of 16” and under welded pipe. The exception to this continues to be small diameter domestic seamless in sizes 3.5” and under. US domestic seamless line pipe remains under pressure with limited allocations. We are working with our manufacturers to rectify these conditions, and we are actively looking at alternatives, including import material and a possible normalized welded product. We will keep our customers apprised of the situation as more information becomes available.

Currently, the US is the strongest sector of the carbon steel line pipe market, particularly in 20” and 24” welded products. We have seen some significant tons placed in the last several months with both domestic and foreign mills. Deliveries have extended into late Q4 2017 and early Q1 2018 for domestic supply and Q1 2018 for international options. We anticipate this market to stay robust as infrastructure spending in the midstream stays strong.

Another factor that will have a positive impact on carbon steel line pipe is the restoration of a quorum at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC is the US federal agency responsible for regulating the transportation of oil and natural gas via pipeline. An approval from FERC is required to build interstate natural gas pipelines, natural gas storage projects or liquefied natural gas terminals. For the past six months, FERC had been unable to provide these authorizations due to a lack of voting members. The backlog of major natural gas pipeline projects awaiting review and a decision has been accumulating. A decision can now be made on more than 30 such projects in various steps of the certification process.

Pricing in the market has been relatively flat as participants await the results of several government actions. In January 2017, the President of the United States signed the Memorandum on Pipelines asking the US Commerce Department to prepare a plan for all pipelines within US borders to be constructed with materials made in the US. The July 23, 2017 deadline for this plan has passed with no word from the Commerce Secretary. The prevailing theory as of this writing is that no action will be taken on this endeavor.

Instead, the US Commerce Department has been concentrating on a Section 232 action against steel imports. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 gives the US President broad powers to impose penalties, such as tariffs or quotas, against the importation of steel products due to national security concerns. While the Commerce Secretary promised a full report for review by the end of June 2017, no information was forthcoming. Current signals indicate the action may be delayed until early 2018 due to other pressing matters facing the President’s administration.

MRC Global continues to invest in inventory as we are bullish on the market in general. We have increased our on-hand tonnage over the first half of 2017 and have placed significant orders with both domestic and international manufacturers that are scheduled in Q1 2018. We will be well-positioned to meet the needs of our customers as demand increases.