Industry News

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin confirmed Wednesday that the Trump administration aims to lower business tax rates to 15%, saying a forthcoming proposal will constitute the “biggest tax cut” for Americans in history.

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“This is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country,” Mnuchin said, as administration officials prepare to outline Wednesday afternoon what he described as “principles” of their tax plan.

Mnuchin, speaking at a Washington forum, would not reveal many specifics but confirmed that they want to lower the business rate to 15%.

“I will confirm that the business tax is going to be 15%,” he said. “[Trump] thinks that’s absolutely critical to drive growth.”

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He indicated that the rate for small businesses and the corporate tax would both drop to 15%. The top small business rate is 39.6%; the current corporate tax is 35%.

The launch of the London Metal Exchange‘s new precious metals contracts will be delayed until July 10, more than a month later than previously announced, it said on Monday.

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The new gold and silver contracts, a mix of daily and monthly contracts designed to enable industrial users to hedge specific dates, were due to go live in early June.

Lighthizer Clears Committee for Confirmation as US Trade Rep

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday, bringing the administration closely to enacting its full trade policy.

Washington lawyer Robert Lighthizer’s nomination cleared the Senate Finance Committee 26-0. Lighthizer is seen as an ally of the manufacturing industries. The panel also voted to approve a legal waiver for Lighthizer from a 1995 law that prohibits people who did work on behalf of foreign governments from serving as the top U.S. trade negotiator.

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“Bob Lighthizer understands the issues that the U.S. steel industry faces today and we are certain he will make an outstanding United States Trade Representative (USTR),” said Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest trade group of North American steelmakers. “We thank Senator Hatch and the other members of the Senate Finance Committee for holding an executive session to progress Bob’s nomination. American manufacturers need a qualified USTR and we urge the Senate to promptly confirm Bob Lighthizer.”

Lighthizer’s confirmation now moves on to the full Senate.

Oil prices slipped nearly 1% on Monday, extending last week’s decline, on lack of confirmation that OPEC will extend output cuts until the end of 2017 and as Russia indicated it can lift output if the deal on curbs lapses.

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Russian oil output could climb to its highest rate in 30 years if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers do not extend a six-month supply reduction deal beyond June 30, according to comments by Russian officials and details of investment plans released by oil companies.

Freeport Gets Copper Export License

Freeport-McMoran Inc. has secured a permit to resume copper exports from Indonesia on Friday after a hiatus of more than three months, hours after a state visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who discussed the copper miner’s dispute with Jakarta.

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Indonesia’s trade ministry issued Freeport with a permit to export 1.1 million metric tons of copper concentrate up to February next year, although it was unclear how long shipments would last.

UPDATED 11:47 AM with Comments from President Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the American Iron & Steel Institute.

President Donald Trump will sign a directive asking for a speedy probe into whether imports of foreign-made steel are hurting U.S. national security, two administration officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

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Trump signed the memorandum related to section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 at the White House with leaders of some domestic steel companies, such as U.S. Steel‘s CEO Mario Longhi and SSAB Americas President Chuck Schmitt in attendance. The law allows the president to impose restrictions on imports for reasons of national security. The order would only task the Commerce Department with starting a probe into the imports and if they, indeed, harm national security. Reuters reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already tasked Commerce personnel with starting the probe.

Trump said Ross and Commerce would be back “very, very soon” with recommendations about how to protect the American steel industry. He also repeated campaign trail criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement and said that farmers in Wisconsin are also suffering from cheap imports of dairy products from Canada.

“Times of crisis call for extraordinary measures. Massive global steel overcapacity has resulted in record levels of dumped and subsidized foreign steel coming into the U.S. and the loss of nearly 14,000 steel jobs,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest trade organization of North American steel producers. “The Administration launching this investigation is an impactful way to help address the serious threat posed by these unfair foreign trade practices, and we applaud this bold action.”

According to Ross, the investigation was “self-initiated” by Commerce and will consider “the domestic production (of steel) needed for the projected national defense requirement” and if domestic industries can meet that requirement. It will also look at “the impact of foreign competition on specific domestic industries and the impact of displacement of domestic product because of foreign imports.”

There are national security implications from imports of steel alloys that are used in products such as the armor plating of ships and require a lot of expertise to create and produce.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Inc., the largest refiner on the U.S. East Coast, will not be taking any rail deliveries of North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil in June, a source familiar with delivery schedules told Reuters on Tuesday, a sign that the impending start of the Dakota Access Pipeline is upending trade flows.

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At its peak, PES would have routinely taken about three miles’ worth of trains filled with Bakken oil each day. But after the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline begins interstate crude oil delivery on May 14, it will be more lucrative for producers to transport oil to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Alcoa Moves Headquarters Back to Pittsburgh

Alcoa Corp. announced today that the company’s expansive Pittsburgh, Pa., office will soon serve as its global headquarters again, a decade after its predecessor, Alcoa Inc., left for New York City.

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Alcoa said in a statement that its headquarters in New York would be one of seven offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia that would shut in the next 18 months in a cost-cutting initiative. Alcoa had kept its offices in Pittsburgh’s North Shore even after it moved the headquarters to Manhattan, with the bulk of its administrative functions remaining in Pittsburgh. Now, the Pittsburgh presence will once again serve as the company’s international headquarters.

The Department of Commerce started investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Belarus, Italy, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, and companion countervailing duty investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Italy and Turkey. The investigations cover hot-rolled products of carbon and alloy steel.

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The alleged dumping margins range from 18.89% (Italy) to 756.93% (Russia) and both of the alleged countervailing subsidies are above de minimis (less than 2%). The U.S. International Trade Commission is scheduled to make its preliminary injury determinations on or before May 12, 2017.

The petitioners are Gerdau Ameristeel US Inc. in Florida, Nucor Corporation based in North Carolina, Keystone Consolidated Industries of Texas, and Charter Steel in Wisconsin.

President Donald Trump (R-N.Y.) is set to sign an executive order this afternoon ordering enforcement and review of the H-1B visa program, popular in the technology industry, on a visit to the headquarters of Snap-On Inc., a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., according to senior administration officials.

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He will also use what the White House called the “Buy American and Hire American” order to seek changes in government procurement that would boost purchases of American products in federal contracts, with one aim being to help U.S. steelmakers.

The moves show Trump once again using his power to issue executive orders to try to fulfill promises he made last year in his election campaign, in this case to reform U.S. immigration policies and encourage purchases of American products.

“Strong Buy America domestic procurement preferences for federally funded infrastructure projects are vital to the health of the domestic steel industry, and have helped create manufacturing jobs and build American infrastructure,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, the largest trade group for North American steel manufacturers. “The foundation of a strong Buy America program is the longstanding requirement that all iron and steel-making processes occur in the U.S. for a product to be Buy America compliant — from the actual steel production to the finishing processes. This ‘melted and poured’ standard has been successfully applied since 1983 and must continue to be the standard used in federal Buy America rules for steel procurement. We applaud President Trump for affirming his commitment to full and effective enforcement of our Buy America laws, and to addressing the issue of unfairly dumped and subsidized steel, in signing this Executive Order today.”

Arconic Inc. said today that Klaus Kleinfeld has stepped down as chairman and chief executive officer, leaving the specialty metals company after heavy pressure from activist investor Elliott Management Corp.

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Kleinfeld’s departure came after he sent an unauthorized letter to Elliott Management that Arconic’s board said showed poor judgement. The internal battle between Kleinfeld and Elliott had been going on ever since the company was created by a split with the commodity aluminum production half of what used to be Alcoa, Inc., that company is now Alcoa, Corp.

Kleinfeld was appointed CEO of Alcoa, Inc. in May 2008 and shepherded the combined company through the commodities down-cycle. Leaving with Arconic was supposed to be a path to consistently higher profits, without the threat of commodity cycles harming the bottom line. But, as we have noted before, Alcoa Corp. has been flying high along with all other commodity aluminum producers ever since while Arconic has not been able to take advantage of the higher price of commodity-grade products.

Pruitt-Led Obama Rewriting Coal Plant Emission Rules

The Trump administration is moving to rewrite Obama-era rules limiting water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Scott Pruitt , the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency , sent a letter announcing his decision to a coalition of energy companies that lobbied against the 2015 water pollution regulations.

The EPA’s regulations would have required utilities, by next year, to cut the amounts of toxic heavy metals in the wastewater piped from their plants into rivers and lakes often used as sources of drinking water. Arsenic, lead and mercury and other potentially harmful contaminates leach from massive pits of waterlogged ash left behind after burning coal to generate electricity.

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The Utility Water Act Group petitioned Pruitt last month to reverse course on the regulations, which they claim would result in plant closures and job losses. Pruitt responded Wednesday, saying he would delay compliance with the rule while EPA reconsiders the restrictions. EPA will also request that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit freeze ongoing lawsuits filed over the rules by energy companies.

China will offer the Trump administration better market access for financial sector investments and U.S. beef exports to help avert a trade war, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing officials familiar with the matter.

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China is prepared to raise the investment ceiling in the Bilateral Investment treaty and is also willing to end the ban on U.S. beef imports, the newspaper also reported.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Friday that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to a new 100-day plan for trade talks on Friday.

Steel Shipments Down in February, But Up Year-Over-Year

The American Iron and Steel Institute recently said that for the month of February 2017, U.S. steel mills shipped 7,232,341 net tons, a 6.2% decrease from the 7,708,416 nt shipped in the previous month, and a 2.4% increase from the 7,059,442 nt shipped in February 2016. Shipments year-to-date in 2017 are 14,940,757 nt, a 6% increase vs. 2016 shipments of 14,090,749 nt for two months.

A comparison of February shipments to the previous month of January shows the following changes:  hot rolled sheets, down 3%, hot-dipped galvanized sheets and strip, down 6% and cold-rolled sheets, down 8%.

The U.S. is preparing a review of China’s bid for market-economy status in the World Trade Organization, the Wall Street Journal reported today. Finishing a busy day in trade, Trump also signed two executive orders designed to enhance enforcement of current trade pacts and promised to end “the theft of American prosperity.”

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The Trump administration appears ready to formalize China’s unfavorable status in trade cases, which means the country’s goods would be eligible for higher U.S. tariffs, the paper said, citing documents from the Commerce Department website. The review is expected to be announced as early as this week, it said.

The first of the two trade orders Trump signed today calls for completion of a large-scale report to identify “every form of trade abuse and every non-reciprocal practice that now contributes to the U.S. trade deficit,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the Washington Post.

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