President Trump has promised to revive American industry. His campaign to Make America Great Again involves support for one of the most American of industries—steel.
The Potus has promised to protect American steel producers from foreign competition. In April, he signed an executive order to open a Commerce Department investigation into whether steel imports are a national security threat.
The Commerce Department is looking into imports from China and elsewhere under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. If the secretary of commerce decides imports are a security threat, the White House can order new tariffs and import quotas.
Trump’s executive order already got investors to buy steel stocks. Shares in U.S. Steel (X) gained 6.5% from June 27-29 after media reported rumors about the investigation’s findings. AK Steel Holding Corp. (AKS) gained 3.8% from June 27-29. Without question, steel investors want tariffs.
We’re still waiting on the results of the investigation. Last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters that he can’t make a decision until progress is made on tax reform:
“On steel [POTUS] has announced publicly that he wants that 232 report delayed until we get through the tax thing because we don’t want to interfere with the legislative agenda”, Ross said.
Steel Producers are Making Moves
We’re still holding our breath on whether the White House and Commerce Department will squash steel imports. Under the law, a Section 232 investigation can take up to 270 days.
In the meantime, the industry is making some moves.
On August 26, U.S. Steel and Kobe Steel Ltd. (Japan’s third-largest steel producer) announced their joint venture would invest $400 million in new capacity. The Ohio-based joint venture, PRO-TEC Coating Company, is upgrading to meet domestic automakers’ growing demand for lightweight steel.
The steel makers are adapting to a wider trend toward fuel efficiency in the auto industry:
“As the U.S. standards regulating fuel efficiency become stricter, car bodies need to become lighter and safer, which means demand for galvanized higher-strength steel used in the car body structure will likely increase in the future” said Yoshinori Onoe, executive vice president of Kobe Steel.
What about the President’s Infrastructure Plan?
We haven’t even mentioned President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. If that becomes a reality a lot of roads and bridges will need building. Roads and bridges create demand for steel, and Trump promises to buy from domestic producers. That would be a good reason to buy steel stocks.
American producers such as U.S. Steel, the Nucor Corporation (NUE), and Steel Dynamics (STLD) would see increased demand. All three could use it.
U.S. Steel, despite its new project in Ohio, is having a hard year. It’s currently trading at $24.22. It still hasn’t recovered from a major price drop in May after it announced Q1 losses.
Nucor has been up-and-down for most of 2017, currently trading at $54.48. Given the steel market is fairly saturated with supply, it could use a boost from the government.
The same can be said for Steel Dynamics. It’s currently at $33.42, down from a 2017 high of $38 on July 25.
Time to Buy Steel Stocks?
The outlook for steel stocks depends less on tariffs and more on demand. The World Steel Association projects annual global demand to increase by 1.3% in 2017 and another .9% in 2018. That seems small, but it isn’t. There were 1.63 billion tons of steel produced worldwide in 2016. A 1% increase is massive.
For now, we’re holding onto American steel stocks as a bellwether for President Trump’s economic program. If the White House slaps tariffs on imported steel and Congress passes the president’s infrastructure plan, steel stocks will be a definite buy. Until then, we’re holding.