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American Steel CEOs Surprised By Mexico Tariffs Amid USMCA Fear

June 5, 2019
Tariffs will perpetuate more uncertainty for steelmakers that have seen their stock prices tumble from recent multiyear highs.

Executives of three of the largest U.S. steelmakers are pushing back against President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement he intends to slap tariffs on Mexican imports, fearing it will stymie the new North American free-trade deal.

Speaking at an industry conference in Washington, the chief executive officers of Nucor Corp., Steel Dynamics Inc. and AK Steel Holding Corp. said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal will benefit the American steel industry through new rules-of-origin requirements for raw materials sourced from North America.

“Our reaction was surprise,” John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, the largest U.S. steelmaker, said Tuesday of the tariff announcement. “We hope it does not impact the USMCA — we think that’s a good thing for the steel industry and manufacturing in general in the U.S. and the economy as a whole.”

His comments — which were echoed by Steel Dynamics’ Mark Millett and AK Steel’s Roger Newport — joined criticism of the threatened tariffs from politicians including Senate Republicans. Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, predicted that the Senate would have enough votes to override a presidential veto of any measure that would keep Trump’s tariffs on Mexico from going into effect June 10.

American steelmakers are heavily integrated with a number of industries like the automotive sector, which has a large part of its supply chain in Mexico. Tariffs will perpetuate more uncertainty for steelmakers that have seen their stock prices tumble from recent multiyear highs, according to Phil Gibbs, an analyst at Keybanc Capital Markets.

“Investors are frustrated because they don’t know how to invest in this market when you have the rules changed every day,” Gibbs said. “Plus, it’s one thing when you were using trade tactics to get trade issues done, and it’s different when you’re using this for social issues, that’s what the market is saying.”

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