Despite early gains in 2012, metals shipments finished the year on a flat note, rising only slightly in some categories and falling in others. January’s end-of-year activity report from the Metals Service Center Institute showed that 2012 shipments were about even with 2011 and that inventory-to-sales ratios deteriorated across the board.

In the United States, service centers shipped more than 2.5 million tons of steel products in December, a 14% decrease compared to December 2011. For the year, steel shipments rose slightly more than 1% to 41.2 million tons. Steel inventories in the U.S. rose more than 2% in December, representing roughly 3.4 months of supply in inventory—a nearly 20% increase compared to a year ago.

Aluminum products fared worse, as U.S. service centers saw a 16% decline in December shipments compared to the same period in 2011. For the full year, aluminum shipments fell slightly, 0.9%. December inventories of aluminum products rose 2%, representing roughly four months of supply in inventory—a 22% increase compared to a year ago.

In Canada, steel service center activity fell 19% in December and 3% for the year. Inventories grew nearly 22% compared to the same period in 2011, representing about 5.4 months’ supply, a 51% increase compared to a year ago.

Although Canadian shipments of aluminum fell 12% in December, they finished the year up 7%. Inventories rose 13% for the month and stood at about 4.5 months of supply, a nearly 30% increase compared to this time last year.