Big Metal Is Conspicuously Tight-Lipped on U.S.-China Rift

(Bloomberg) -- If mining companies are as bothered by Trump’s tariffs as investors appear to be, they’re not saying.

A full-out trade war between the U.S. and China could negatively affect the metals and mining sector in several ways. China could respond to Friday’s U.S. tariffs by cutting imports of raw materials, hurting corporate revenue and weighing on metals prices.

If it also hikes domestic production of resources like copper or coal, the boost to supply could be a double-whammy for prices. Meanwhile, U.S. tariffs on a huge range of equipment and parts could feed inflation, driving up miner’s costs.

Despite this -- and a sell-off in metals equities that made the sector the worst performer on the S&P 500 -- many miners opted to bite their tongues.

“We do not have comments at this time,” Eric Kinneberg, a spokesman for Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Inc., said by email as the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer’s stock fell as much as 5.3 percent. Barrick Gold Corp., which has significant assets in Nevada, also declined to comment. Nucor Corp., the largest U.S. steelmaker, said by email it had “nothing today” -- a stark contrast to its positive reactions to U.S. tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum imports earlier this year.

Other metal producers opted to deliver carefully measured statements.

‘Not Clear’

“It’s not clear at this point if the proposed tariffs will have any material impact on our costs or operations,” Omar Jabara, a spokesman for U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp., said by email. “We would have to analyze the proposed list and see what if any of the targeted products are sourced in China.”

Most of the gold miner’s machinery is provided by Caterpillar Inc., he said. Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of mining equipment, declined to comment.

Alcoa Corp.’s commentary was slightly more direct. “Alcoa encourages the administration to engage China in addressing the critical issue of global overcapacity,” the largest U.S. aluminum producer said by email.

Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd., which was heading for its biggest loss of the year in Toronto trading, noted most of its operations are outside the U.S.

“We don’t believe the measures will have a direct impact on our business,” Chris Stannell said by email. “However, ultimately commodity demand is directly linked to global economic growth.”

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