October 8, 2019 12:30 PM, EDT

GM Strike Sends Another Knock to Wobbly US Steel Sector

Steel coils sit at an Ohio factoryGalvanized steel coils await shipment at ArcelorMittal Steel's hot dip galvanizing line in Cuyahoga Heights, Ohio. (Mark Duncan/Associated Press)

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With its midyear recovery already in doubt, the American steel industry now has a little more to worry about with each passing day a strike drags on at General Motors Co.

Analysts at UBS Group AG remain cautious on domestic steelmakers such as U.S. Steel Corp., arguing in a report that the market likely has weakened since producers provided worse-than-expected guidance last month. Compounding the concern is the GM strike because the automaker represents roughly 5% of annual steel demand in the U.S.

“Kind of the way to think about it is each day GM isn’t producing cars is one more step towards that roughly 5% of annual demand,” Cleve Rueckert, an analyst at UBS, said Oct. 7 in a phone interview.

Optimism has been fading for steelmakers more than a year after the introduction of tariffs meant to bolster the industry. The U.S. trade actions encouraged companies to expand capacity by investing in new mills or upgrading aging assets, leading to fears of oversupply. Despite the hope in July that new steel-price gains may stick, faltering economic growth and U.S.-China trade tensions have dented prospects for the metal.

An S&P gauge of steelmakers has tumbled 8.6% since the GM strike took effect Sept. 16.

Domestic hot-rolled coil, the benchmark steel price, is down about 39% in the past 12 months, and is near the lowest price since 2016. Meanwhile, U.S. Steel has fallen 63% in the past year, AK Steel Holding Corp. has dropped 53%, Steel Dynamics Inc. has lost 38%, while U.S. industry leader Nucor Corp. is down 23%.

“Right now we’re struggling to find positive catalysts to support steel prices,” UBS’ Andreas Bokkenheuser, who co-authored the report with Rueckert, said by phone.

Aoyon Ashraf contributed to this report.

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