U.S. Steel Is Retreating From Greatest Rally in a Generation
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Steel Corp. is retreating from the greatest metals rally in two decades even as rival producers post record profits on soaring demand during the economic recovery.
The American steelmaker is choosing to pay down debt instead of return money to shareholders and is also scrapping a $1.3 billion plan to revitalize its Mon Valley Works, one of its oldest steel mill operations near Pittsburgh, just as demand for the industrial metal is surging.
“As we step forward to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world we must set aside the Mon Valley endless casting and rolling and cogeneration project,” Chief Executive Officer David Burritt said in a Friday call with analysts. “So very clearly it’s about the balance sheet, making sure we’re in a good position.”
The move comes as a massive vaccine rollout spurs economic reopening across the U.S. and as President Joe Biden’s infrastructure stimulus spending plan gains more support -- two moves that are leading to unprecedented demand for American-made steel. Domestic steel prices are at a record high of $1,500 per ton, a price so high that it costs less for consumers to import foreign steel that still has former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on it.
U.S. Steel also said it won’t restart a blast furnace in Granite City, Illinois that services the energy industry, because demand remains too weak to justify it. The decision to keep blast furnaces shut is serving as a frustration to steel buyers who say the American mills simply can’t produce enough to satisfy their needs, and must look elsewhere for as much as two years right when Biden’s infrastructure projects would begin coming online.
The Pittsburgh-based producer reported $551 million in adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for its first quarter, slightly less than the $555.4 million average estimate of seven analysts in a Bloomberg survey.
Investors were already used to a string of fat earnings for American steelmakers, with Steel Dynamics Inc. forecasting better results ahead after a record first-quarter profit earlier in the month. Nucor Corp., the largest U.S. producer, said this month that order activity is “very robust” and it sees solid non-residential demand into next year.
U.S. Steel shares rose 2% to $22.94 at 11:51 a.m. in New York, suggesting investors are encouraged by the company’s decision to hold on to more than $1 billion previously earmarked for pricey capital expenditures.
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