Steel Outlook Darkens as Citi Sees Low Prices Until 2022

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(Bloomberg) -- The steel industry is suffering a bad headache as benchmark hot-rolled coil prices have fallen 38% from their peak in 2018.

Over supply and low demand are marking a the new reality for steelmakers, according to analysts. Shares in the NYSE Arca Steel Index are down 19% in the past month.

Benefits from the Trump administration’s tariffs on foreign steel imports have diminished and demand has been disappointing, Citigroup analyst Alexander Hacking wrote in a note to clients. He predicts an extended period of below-normalized prices and said he expects hot-rolled coil prices to be around $550 per ton through 2022 and $600 for the long-term. That compares to a high of $920 per ton in 2018.

KeyBanc analyst Philip Gibbs said his survey of steel product distributors showed “fragile supply demand,” prompting him to cut his pricing estimates to about $600 per ton from ~$620 for 2019 and 2020. Gibbs said he thinks more supply reduction is needed to balance the market and until then, earnings for the steelmakers are expected to trend lower.

Steel Outlook Darkens as Citi Sees Low Prices Until 2022

How bad could it get? According to Vertical Group’s Gordon Johnson, who has been the biggest bear on the sector, it’s likely to get much worse. His analysis shows that U.S. and global steel prices could hit the lows of 2015, around $364 per ton, due to over supply and trade war rhetoric.

However, Citi and KeyBanc analysts have some good news for investors. There are still ways to play this downturn as some companies are trading at a discount.

Hacking’s preferred stock is Steel Dynamics Inc. due to its cheaper valuation and “multi-year growth platform.” Meanwhile, U.S. Steel Corp. is his least preferred, given the risk of disappointing returns on its multi-billion dollar investment program. Elsewhere, Gibbs recommends being defensive and prefers Nucor Corp. and Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. versus their peers.

U.S. Steel fell as much as 3.1% on Tuesday, along with peer AK Steel Holding Corp., which tumbled 4.6% intraday. Steel Dynamics and Nucor also declined slightly.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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