Steel coils at the Thyssenkrupp steel factory in Duisburg, Germany. Talks with officials from Mexico, Canada, the EU and most other tariff-exempt places haven’t yielded longer-term deals with the U.S.
PHOTO: MARTIN MEISSNER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Exemptions for countries that account for about two-thirds of U.S. steel and aluminum imports could end May 1
By Bob Tita — April 28, 2018 7:00 a.m. ET
Manufacturers are racing to shore up supplies of steel and aluminum, as the Trump administration considers an end to some tariff exemptions on Tuesday that could tighten and push prices of both metals up further.
Qualtek Manufacturing Inc., a Colorado-based stamper of metal parts for medical equipment, has seen the delivery time for aluminum double to 14 weeks since the tariffs took effect in March. Chief Executive Troy Roberts said he’s also waiting twice as long and paying 35% more for stainless steel.
“That’s not a good position to be in,” he said.
At Jagemann Stamping Co. in Wisconsin, president Ralph Hardt is bracing for even higher prices if U.S. officials end tariff exemptions next week for major exporters of aluminum and steel. He said higher prices in the U.S. and the extra time he needs to acquire metal are threatening his ability to fill orders.
It’s causing global customers to evaluate their supply chains,” Mr. Hardt said.
Countries that accounted for about two-thirds of the steel and aluminum imported into the U.S. last year were excused from duties the Trump administration implemented on March 23. Officials put a May 1 deadline on those exemptions as an incentive for countries to negotiate longer-term deals with the U.S.
Some industry analysts said they expect the administration to extend the tariff exemptions to preserve their bargaining power in ongoing trade negotiations with the affected countries.
“They aren’t going anywhere for the time being,” said Adam Green, managing director for market consultant World Steel Dynamics Inc.
But talks with officials from Mexico, Canada, the European Union and most other tariff-exempt places haven’t yielded any such deals. If the exemptions expire, economists warn the broader tariffs could stoke inflation and discourage business investment. The Aluminum Association this week called on the administration to permanently extend the exemptions.
Some steel companies in the U.S. are urging the Trump administration to follow through on its pledge to drop the exemptions on May 1. The tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum have pushed up prices to the benefit of companies that make those metals in the U.S.
“There needs to be no more delays, no more extensions,” Nucor Corp. Chief Executive John Ferriola said last week. Rising orders and higher steel prices helped drive Nucor’s first-quarter sales up 15% from last year to $5.56 billion.
Mr. Ferriola said applying the tariff to all foreign countries wouldn’t cause steel shortages in the U.S. Imports make up about a quarter of the U.S. steel supply. “If steel needs to come into the country, people will pay the tariff,” he said.
But some manufacturers say they have shifted their steel purchases away from countries hit with tariffs. That is creating a backlog of orders at steel mills in the U.S. and countries that have been exempted from the tariffs, giving them leverage to raise prices.
“There’s a run on steel,” said , owner of Ohio-based Allied Machine & Engineering Corp., which has imported specialty alloy steel from Western Europe for years.
The U.S. price of hot-rolled coiled sheet steel widely used in manufacturing is up more than 40% since October to $875 a ton, according to S&P Global Platts. Aluminum prices also have jumped since the administration on April 6 sanctioned Russian aluminum producer United Co. Rusal in retaliation for the Kremlin’s interference in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. The price of delivered aluminum in the U.S. rose 27% in two weeks to $3,098 per metric ton before the administration on Monday pushed back the start of the sanctions.
The scanctions left Jordan Aluminum Co. scrambling to replace the Rusal-made aluminum that the Memphis, Tenn., company bends into shape for building materials, office furniture and pontoon boats.
“We went through our Rolodex trying to find more aluminum, but it’s not so easy for additional aluminum to show up in the U.S. next week,” said Lewie Smith, the company’s chief executive.