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Markets: Ferrous - 11 January

Ferrous scrap merchants have a cautious outlook on trade in 2014, with mixed business reported across the UK during December and in the pre-holiday period.

Operators that MRW spoke to in the north east were left disappointed after a hoped-for bump in trade in the run up to Christmas failed to materialise, and they reported no real movement in prices during the month.

One operator, whose experience was typical, said: “There was talk of a £5 increase but it didn’t happen. December has been a write off and there’s not a lot of material about. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year but I hope things will be better in January.”

However, some businesses were buoyed up by pre-Christmas clean-outs.

“Prices don’t seem to have moved, but we’re quite busy,” said a north-east merchant. “There are a couple of factories stripping out so we’ll be kept busy.”

Operators in some other regions sounding a slightly more positive note, with some seeing prices move up a little. But the amount of business coming their way was still variable.

A Midlands merchant said prices moved up between £5 and £10 per tonne on average in December, but trade, although steady, was not as much as usual for the time of year.

“The cash ban and new licensing system has left the public a little confused, either that or they are waiting for the new year for better prices, they normally go up then,” said one.

Another operator in the Midlands said it had experienced a last minute boost in trade and Christmas clear outs at the end of last year, which was welcome relief following very slow business during the previous six weeks.

He was one of a few merchants who anticipated a price increase in January, although this was expected to come in the second half of the month. 

Other regions saw some small increases in prices but operators said it was not enough to make any major difference, and most were still sanguine about business overall last year.

“Prices were up a touch up in December, but nothing spectacular,” said one merchant in the North West. “Trade is down on last year but up on the previous six weeks.”

Scottish merchants reported no change in prices in December. One described an experience shared by several merchants across the UK. “It’s been a bit quieter than this time last year but busier than the rest of the year,” he said.

In Wales, merchants that MRW spoke to seemed to have a more positive experience towards the end of year.  

“There’s been no movement in prices, but it’s usually busy at this time of year -people want some money before Christmas – and it this one has been really manic.”

Another reported a slight lift in prices and steady trade: “We’ve got a lot of stuff on in January too and I think it should be a better year.”

However, most merchants were uncertain of what the New Year would bring but few were expecting much different to 2013.

One merchant in the south sounded a note of caution despite a strong end to the year.

“I don’t know what prices will do this month (January), we’re waiting for direction on that,” he said. “The euro and dollar exchange rate have gone against the export market. There’s talk of a small rise this month but I think it’s going to be a very tough year.”

The end of the year also found a few operators in a reflective mood about difficulties surrounding the industry. 

As indicated earlier, ban on cash trading was still a thorny topic for some operators, and the new licensing regime was also been proving problematic for some.

One merchant said: “We used to have 100 to 200 skips out. Now I can go around them in a couple of hours. The job isn’t the same since the cash finished. We’ve tried bank transfers, pre-paid credit cards, but it hasn’t taken off. There are still people paying cash.

“We still haven’t had our licence through [in late December]. I’ve heard a few others are in the same boat.”

MRW spoke to 10 merchants for this report

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