Weaker-than-expected demand for sheets of steel has sparked Bethlehem Steel Corp. to partially back away from its previously announced price increase.
Company spokesman Henry Von Spreckelsen said Bethlehem has reduced price increases to 4 percent from 8 percent. The 8 percent increase, announced three weeks ago, was to affect the sheets of steel used by automakers, appliance manufacturers and machine shops.
Industry experts said they expect other steel producers to also cut back pending price increases.
Bethlehem and other steel producers followed the lead of industry leader USX in announcing price increases for sheets of steel, but Bethlehem is leading the retrenchment, said Mike Via, an industry analyst for Anderson & Strudwick, a Virginia investment firm.
Mr. Von Spreckelsen said the 8 percent price increase was "totally cost-justified" but that Bethlehem had to reduce it to "better reflect the realities of the marketplace."
Jerry Fox, general manager of US Metalsource Steel Supply, a Baltimore-area steel distributor, said that "the demand is not there."
Sales of steel have been improving from last winter's poor levels, but Mr. Fox said he and other steel buyers are keeping their inventories low.
The weak demand results primarily from a decline in new-home starts. "No building starts means no new refrigerators, no galvanized ductwork," he said.
Mr. Von Spreckelsen said Bethlehem, though it has backed off from its hoped-for price increase, would like to follow up with further price increases "at an appropriate time in the months ahead."
Under the new price list to take effect Dec. 30, Bethlehem will raise to $480 the current $460-a-ton price for hot rolled sheets, some of which are made at Bethlehem's Sparrows Point plant in Baltimore, he said.
The price for sheets of galvanized steel will be raised to $701 a ton, up $30, he said.