Fabricators watch for steel-price fluctuations

Green Bay Press-Gazette

Steel prices aren’t as weighty as a few months ago, but metal fabrication shops aren’t counting on the tab to retreat for much longer.

Tom Bella, vice president of operations at Custom Fab and Finishing in Waupaca, is keeping a close eye on the next few weeks.

“I think the second quarter is going to tell whether prices are going to go back up or stable off,� he said. “I think if anything they’ll go up a little bit.�

Since last October, the maker of building components like mezzanines, stairs and guardrails plus heavy duty trailers through a sister company has absorbed the price hikes rather than pass them on to customers.

“We’re not making money. We’re staying alive,� Bella said.

Despite the forecasts, Bella is confident the firm, which employs 18, will continue to grow by adding different product lines.

Other observers, like Craig Fitzgerald, were not as optimistic.

The Southfield, Mich., attorney who has many clients who make auto parts predicted half of the metal stamping plants that supply parts for the automobile industry won’t be around in six years. That means a large number could be at risk in Wisconsin, which claimed 2,029 small and large metal fabricators at last count, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

“I think we are going to see some bankruptcies and quite a number of sales,� Fitzgerald said.

Prices still are unstable enough to merit inclusion of surcharges in contracts between fabricators and their customers.

“We’ve had to put a standard disclaimer on our quotes that prices are based on material availability and cost at time of quote subject to review at time of order,� said Steve Schick, an estimator at Baum Machine in Buchanan. “We’re basically having to requote everything twice.�

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