Nucor

The steel market is doing rather well, particularly in the U.S., but an improvement in demand is helping lift earnings in Europe, too.

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The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is probably true of steel companies — it is also true to say it doesn’t lift all boats equally.

ArcelorMittal, part way through a major re-structuring program to re-focus the business on value add growth areas and exit less attractive market segments, is doing rather well judging by both the share price and recent reporting.

The Northwest Indiana Times reported last week that the world’s largest steelmaker grew its second-quarter profit by 19% to $1.3 billion, lifting its first-half profit to $2.3 billion (compared to just $696 million during the same period in 2016).

Demand in the U.S. — though it has been impacted by imports, the firm claims — was high, as the firm shipped 21.5 million tons of steel in the second quarter, a 2% increase over the first quarter. So far this year, however, its steel shipments in H1 declined by 2.4% to 42.5 million tons compared to the year before.

So, margins are up but volumes are down. North American shipments dropped 3.4% to 5.4 million tons and crude steel production fell 7.3% to 5.8 million tons, the Northwest Indiana Times reports. Yet, with sales prices up 5.7%, sales values were up 3.3% to $4.6 billion in North America, leading to much-improved profits.

Even U.S. Steel is doing better. CEO Dave Burritt said U.S. Steel saw “higher prices and volumes in all of our segments.” Burritt also said management believes that if the steel market continues going as it is currently, it could earn as much as $1.70 per share this year – adding the caveat that unfortunately it doesn’t see the market continuing in the same manner for the rest of the year.

Analysts are questioning whether the present share value is justified, suggesting after falling some 30% already this year it could have further to go.

Analysts such as Citi see major “downside” in 2018 and 2019 to U.S. Steel’s share price, predicting a loss for the year even though the first half has been relatively (for U.S. Steel) strong.

Waning Optimism and What Comes Next

Some steel sector share prices were boosted earlier this year by the hope President Trump would pump billions into infrastructure. Then, as hopes faded for that outcome, they got a sugar rush from the prospect of trade measures to curb imports of foreign steel.

But the Motley Fool, quoting the Wall Street Journal last week, reported comments by the president suggesting he was kicking trade action into the long grass.

Trump said he does not want to impose tariffs and quotas on imported steel “at this moment.” Objections from trade partners (who don’t want their exports curbed), and from domestic steel users as well (who like the idea of cheap foreign steel) are sapping the administration’s support for the trade action. It’s hardly surprising, but until recently the steel lobby had been putting a powerful case for action, and it took time for counterarguments to gain traction.

The president went on to say that instead of imposing sanctions “very soon,” as the steel industry was hoping, his staff will need to do “statutory studies … addressing the steel dumping” issue. And while the president promised action “fairly soon,” he also said the administration plans to address health-care reform, tax reform, and may even want to get an infrastructure bill passed by Congress before returning to the steel issue.

So, for the time being, forget about it — “he has other fish to fry” seems to be the position.

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Without curbs to imports, the view for steel companies’ profits remaining robust becomes less compelling.

Companies like Nucor and Arcelor will continue to do well, but others, like U.S. Steel and AK Steel, will struggle later this year and into 2018.

Those not involved in the steel industry tend to look at large, integrated blast furnace steel plants as dated technology light-years from the gleaming glass and concrete operations of IT or electronics. However, steelmakers are constantly striving for technological improvements.

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In fact, the very marginal nature of steel production in the western world means that constant innovation is a necessity for a firm’s survival. Comparisons between U.S. Steel and Nucor Corp. illustrate this point. When U.S. Steel was focused on cost reduction and rationalization at the turn of the century, Nucor was innovating and investing not just in alternative electric arc furnaces, but in direct casting and other downstream technologies. As a result, Nucor is now North America’s most successful steel company but they’re not alone in looking to technology for their future prosperity.

Continuous Casting

An interesting article in the Economist details efforts at a number of steel producers around the world to find a better alternative to the traditional blast furnace. The slab casting and re-rolling route is epitomized by the likes of U.S. Steel and the major Asian steel mills. For years, the only real challenger to this process was the electric arc furnace which enjoys the benefits of scrap as a raw material and greater flexibility and economies of scale allowing it to operate profitably on a fraction of the cost required throughout for a traditional blast furnace-based integrated steel plant.

Liquid steel.

Innovation in steelmaking is coming from novel uses of liquid metal. Source: Adobe Stock/Photollug.

One of the major attractions most EAF plants have is that they produce final product by the continuous casting route. The liquid metal is taken from the refining vessel and, for flat-rolled products, continuously cast into 80-120-mm thick slabs, which can then be further rolled to thinner gauges. Read more

President Donald Trump has formed a manufacturing jobs initiative, one that will include executives from Ford Motor Co., Dow Chemical, U.S. Steel Corp. and others.

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Part of Trump’s overall jobs creation agenda, the project will involve ongoing meetings between the president and business leaders to “share their experiences and gain their insights.” According to a press release, Trump will call on the executives listed for perspectives on “how to best promote job growth and get Americans back to work again.”

Many of the executives listed as part of the initiative met with Trump on his first full day in office on Monday: Dow’s Andrew Liveris, Dell Computer‘s Michael Dell, Under Armour‘s Kevin Plank, Tesla Motors‘ Elon Musk Lockheed Martin‘s Marillyn Hewson, Klaus Kleinfeld of Arconic, Inc. and Nucor Corp.‘s John Ferriola. Scott Paul, President of the trade association the Alliance for American Manufacturing and union leaders Richard Trumka and Thea Lee, both executives in the leadership of the AFL-CIO, are also in initiative.

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Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing on Monday that the group will meet next month and then going forward on a quarterly basis.

Here’s the full list of Trump’s manufacturing jobs initiative members:

  • Andrew Liveris, The Dow Chemical Company
  • Bill Brown, Harris Corporation
  • Michael Dell, Dell Technologies
  • John Ferriola, Nucor Corporation
  • Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool Corporation
  • Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company
  • Ken Frazier, Merck & Co., Inc.
  • Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson
  • Greg Hayes, United Technologies Corp.
  • Marilynn Hewson, Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Jeff Immelt, General Electric
  • Jim Kamsickas, Dana Inc.
  • Klaus Kleinfeld, Arconic
  • Brian Krzanich, Intel Corporation
  • Rich Kyle, The Timken Company
  • Thea Lee, AFL-CIO
  • Mario Longhi, U.S. Steel
  • Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Company
  • Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing
  • Elon Musk, Tesla
  • Doug Oberhelman, Caterpillar
  • Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing
  • Kevin Plank, Under Armour
  • Mchael Polk, Newell Brands
  • Mark Sutton, International Paper
  • Inge Thulin, 3M
  • Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO
  • Wendell Weeks, Corning

The Department of Commerce issued final anti-dumping and subsidy orders on Thursday, affirming and adding on to initial tariffs on cold-rolled steel flat products from Brazil, India, Korea, Russia, and the U.K. The duties are already in effect and will remain so for five years to counteract dumping and government subsidization.

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Commerce determined that imports of cold-rolled steel from Brazil, India, Korea, Russia, and the U.K. have been sold in the U.S. at dumping margins of 14.43% to 35.43%, 7.60%, 6.32% to 34.33%, 1.04% to 13.36%, and 5.40% to 25.56%, respectively. Commerce also determined that imports of cold-rolled steel from Brazil, India, Korea, and Russia have received countervailable subsidies of 11.09% to 11.31%, 10%, 3.91% to 58.36%, and 0.62% to 6.95%, respectively.

Some producers in Brazil were hit with 46.5% total duties while some producers in the U.K. will only receive 6.02% tariffs, which will continue to be collected by Customs and Border Protection upon import into the U.S. One producer in the Republic of Korea was hit with 64.62% total duties on cold-rolled imports.

Brazil Investigation

Brazil’s Usiminas Siderurgicas de Minas Gerais did not respond to all of Commerce’s requests for information and, therefore, Commerce calculated a final dumping margin based on adverse facts available of 35.43% and levied 11.09% countervailing duties on the company for a total penalty of 46.52% tariffs.

Korea Investigation

In the Korea anti-dumping investigation, Commerce found that dumping had occurred by mandatory respondents POSCO/Daewoo International Corporation and Hyundai Steel Corporation at dumping margins of 6.32% and 34.33%, respectively. Commerce calculated a final dumping margin of 20.33% for all other producers/exporters in Korea.

What’s interesting about this investigation is that while Commerce calculated a final subsidy rate of 3.91% for Hyundai Steel, the second mandatory respondent, POSCO, was unable to confirm certain key elements of its response when the Commerce team conducted verification at its headquarters in Korea. Therefore, Commerce calculated a subsidy rate based on adverse facts available of a whopping 58.3% meaning that POSCO gets a total anti-dumping/countervailing duties tariff of 64.62%. Commerce calculated a final subsidy rate of 3.91% for all other producers/exporters in Korea.

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The successful petitioners for these investigations were AK Steel Corporation, ArcelorMittal USA, Nucor Corporation, Steel Dynamics, Inc., and United States Steel Corporation.

Today, the Commerce Department announced its affirmative preliminary determinations in the countervailing duty investigations of imports of cold-rolled steel flat products from Brazil, China, India, and Russia, and its negative preliminary determination in the CVD investigation of imports of cold-rolled steel flat products from South Korea.

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The investigations cover cold-rolled, flat-rolled steel products. It should come as no surprise that the largest subsidies are being assigned to Chinese importers.

Chinese Imports Take a Hit

In the China investigation, Commerce preliminarily determined that mandatory respondents Angang Group Hong Kong Co., Ltd. and Benxi Iron and Steel (Group) Special Steel Co., Ltd. and, a non-cooperative exporter — Commerce’s term for companies that do not respond to requests for information in the investigation — Qian’an Golden Point Trading Co., Ltd., received whopping subsidy rates of 227.29%.

steel coil processing machine inside of steel  plant

Imports of cold-rolled steel from the China, Brazil Russia and India will now have countervailing duties collected upon import into the US. Source: Adobe Stock/icarmen13.

All other exporters of cold-rolled steel flat products from China will be subject to that same subsidy rate of 227.29%. The rates are based on adverse facts available. Commerce determined that the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the mandatory respondents, did not fully cooperate in the investigation.

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United States Steel Corporation’s CEO Mario Longhi made the media rounds recently, evangelizing U.S. Steel’s – and most of the domestic industry’s – key plank in their policy platform: creating a globally fair playing field when it comes to international trade.

He showed up on Maria Bartiromo’s show, denouncing unfair subsidies in foreign economies and tariffs on certain US imports into countries such as China.

mario longhi us steel

Screenshot from video of Maria Bartiromo’s interview with Mario Longhi. Source: Fox Business.

He also spoke to Politico about the granting of “market economy” status to China next year, which would change how the Commerce Department determines anti-dumping duties on Chinese goods, including steel.

RELATED: MetalTalk! Podcast Episode 1 – ‘Dumping 101’

As you may know, China is pushing a bunch of steel beyond its borders. As my colleague Stuart Burns reports, while China’s steel production may have dropped, its exports have risen. In the first 8 months of this year, product exports reached 71.87 million metric tons, up 26.5% compared to the same period of 2014.

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In fact, the China Iron and Steel Association’s vice chairman is quoted as saying that this year, the country will export more than 100 mmt of steel – that’s equivalent to more than the entire production of North America. Or nearly as much, purely in exports, as the next largest producer, Japan, produces both for domestic and export combined, according to Burns.

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John Correnti, an American steel executive who helped shift the domestic industry geographically and technologically, died Tuesday in Chicago.

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Correnti, 68, was chairman, founder and chief executive officer of Big River Steel LLC and was in Chicago for a board meeting of Navistar International Corp., the company said in a statement. The cause of death was not immediately provided.

Correnti was leading Big River Steel to build a $1.3 billion mill in Osceola, Ark., near the Mississippi River. The facility is planned to supply high-quality steel products to customers including automakers and energy companies.

Correnti served as CEO of Nucor Corp. from 1996 to 1999 and helped move the US steel industry away from its regional roots by expanding its reach to the South. Correnti also opened a steel mill for Severstal in Mississippi which was later sold to Steel Dynamics.

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Big River Steel released a statement saying, “Big River Steel will be one of many legacies John leaves with us all. John was a visionary, an innovator and a leader who dedicated his career to improving the steel industry and creating opportunities for those that worked within it.”

USW, ATI Digging in For Long Lockout

Picket lines staffed by locked out union workers appeared at several Allegheny Technologies, Inc. facilities this week. ATI has vowed to staff the plants with management and replacement workers and the United Steelworkers of America personnel locked out will be eligible for unemployment benefits during the lockout.

The two sides disagree about healthcare contributions for the union workers.

While US steel producers have reason to celebrate the signing of a trade package that includes Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), other manufacturing organizations will also benefit from the opening up of new markets. However, procurement professionals may perceive the legislation less favorably.

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jennifer-diggins-still-closedmouthMetalMiner asked Jennifer Diggins, Director of Public Affairs at Nucor, to explain why these trade initiatives are so important for all manufacturers and specifically how the legislation will positively impact metal buyers.

MetalMiner: A lot of your customers purchase imports. How is this legislation helpful to them in any way?

Jennifer Diggins: The legislation is not targeting fairly traded imports. The American steel industry does not have a problem with imports; imports will always be part of our market. But we do have a problem with unfairly traded imports, where governments break trade rules they agreed to and provide illegal subsidies that allow foreign steel producers to sell products below costs.

If a company cheats on price, it raises serious questions about other ways they may be cutting corners to gain an advantage, which could ultimately come back to hurt their customers. We know China has tried to evade duties on some of their steel products by routing them through third-party countries to hide the point of origin and avoid the trade duty.

Steel producers in China have also added chemicals to products to avoid trade duties. Several years ago, China added boron to cut-to-length plate to avoid a duty. Nucor brought that case to the attention of the Department of Commerce who ruled that the boron added did not change the product and was subject to the trade duty.

Behavior like this should raise concerns for any customer. If China is willing to bend the rules like this, can you trust claims of product quality? Do you really know what you are buying? A free, transparent marketplace is best for both producers and consumers.

MM: Arguably the Chinese have done a lousy job curbing excess production and shutting down excess capacity. Do you think this legislation will provide the stimulus necessary for Beijing to finally shutter excess and obsolete production? Why/why not?

JD: The main goal of the legislation is to provide more effective tools to enforce our trade laws to ensure that countries sending products to our market are playing by the rules. The provisions in this legislation should create a disincentive to dump products in our market, but the legislation is not intended to address overcapacity issues in China.

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Six steelmakers with major US operations filed a trade complaint Wednesday seeking punitive tariffs for alleged unfair pricing of imported steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan.

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The suit, which concerns corrosion-resistant steel used in automobile and construction industries, is the first salvo in the campaign this year by the beleaguered US steel industry to protect itself against a record flood of imports.

The steelmakers are U.S. Steel Corp. , Nucor Corp., Steel Dynamics Inc., ArcelorMittal USA, AK Steel Corp. and California Steel Industries. All are based in the US except multinational ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, which is based in Luxembourg and London but owns big mills in Indiana and elsewhere in the country.

Prices have been sluggish—down about 25% since the start of the year—despite strong demand in the US. That has forced the companies, which make most of their steel near auto factories in the Midwest and South, to lay off thousands of workers and idle plants around the country.

They blame imports, particularly from China. The US International Trade Commission must decide within 45 days whether the business of US producers was sufficiently “injured” to merit duties. The Department of Commerce will issue a preliminary ruling by the end of 2015. Final rulings by both agencies are expected by mid-2016. The steel companies are expected to argue before the USITC that foreign companies benefit from subsidies from their governments and from currencies that have been intentionally depreciated relative to the dollar.

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The US steel industry is suffering because a barrage of imports has reached a record 34% of market share, steel executives said today at the American Iron and Steel Institute‘s press briefing in Chicago.

steelexecs

From right: Roger Newport, AK Steel: Regulo Salinas, Ternium Mexico; Jim Baske, ArcelorMIttal NA Flat-rolled; John Ferriola, Nucor Corp.; Chuck Schmitt, SSAB Americas and Thomas J. Gibson, AISI. Photo: Jeff Yoders.

Nucor Corp. CEO John Ferriola said 4 million people whose livelihoods depend on the steel industry are at risk, but also that enforcing existing trade and anti-dumping laws consistently would make a wealth of difference for today’s producers.

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“The first step is enforcing existing law as written,” he said. “Legally and consistently enforcing the laws on the books would help immensely… The American worker is still the most efficient worker in the world. We have relatively inexpensive energy, we have the raw material available, we have the best market in the world. When you look at those natural advantages, it makes no sense we should be operating at 60-70% capacity while the rest of the world is overproducing.”

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