On Those Aluminum Tariffs
Originally Published March 3, 2018
The global price of aluminum fell below $1500 per metric ton by the end of 2015. By June 2017, it had risen to $1885 per metric ton. This source suggests that this price is even higher. So what happened yesterday?
The stock market dip reflects the enormous impact that a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum will have on the economy. That's because so many American industries need steel and aluminum: They're used to build cars, skyscrapers, roads, bridges, washing machines, refrigerators, and a whole host of other products. More expensive steel and aluminum means higher costs for the American businesses that make these products - higher costs that will likely get passed on to consumers. Trade groups and businesses didn't wait long to slam the president's decision. Some of the country's most influential industry groups warned that the tariffs would hurt more than a company's bottom line
C'mon man! Aren't there winners from these tariffs?
There are a handful of winners from the proposed tariffs: the companies that produce steel and aluminum in the United States. The CEOs of the big American steel companies were invited to the White House for Trump's big announcement. David Burritt, the CEO of US Steel, was thrilled. "This is vital to the interests of the United States," he said at the White House after the announcement, according to a pool report. "This is our moment, and it's really important that we get this right." As the stock market slid, share prices for his company - and other steel companies - jumped.
Forget steel - what about Alcoa (AA)? Alcoa has seen a recent slide in its revenues and profitability so we will look at certain information from its 10-K filing shortly. But first, let's check with Census to see how much bauxite and aluminum we imported last year. End use code 14200 shows that total imports were $16.255 billion, but only $1.267 billion was from China. Yes boys and girls, it was those socialists in Canada that sold us $6.978 billion of these products in 2017. That damn NAFTA! I saw some pro-Trump cheerleader commenting on another economist blog that we had to protect our U.S. smelters from foreign competition, which brings me to Alcoa's most recent 10-K filing: From 2016 to 2017, its sales picked up and it returned to profitability. But the details on its smelters is interesting:
In March 2015, management initiated a 12-month review of 500 kmt in smelting capacity for possible curtailment (partial or full), permanent closure or divestiture. This review was part of management's target to lower Alcoa Corporation's smelting operations on the global aluminum cost curve to the 38th percentile (currently 38th) by the end of 2016. In summary, under this review, management approved the curtailment of 447 kmt-per-year and the closure of 269 kmt-per-year. The following is a description of each action. At the same time this review was initiated, management decided to curtail the remaining capacity (74 kmt-per-year) at the São Luís smelter in Brazil; this action was completed in April 2015. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Alcoa Corporation curtailed capacity of 194 kmt-per-year at the São Luís smelter under a prior management review. Additionally, in November 2015, management decided to curtail the remaining capacity at the Intalco (230 kmt-per-year) and Wenatchee (143 kmt-per-year) smelters, both in Washington. These two smelters previously had curtailed capacity of 90 kmt-per-year combined. The curtailment of the remaining capacity at Wenatchee was completed by the end of December 2015 and the curtailment of the remaining capacity at Intalco was expected to be completed by the end of June 2016; however, in May 2016, Alcoa Corporation reached agreement on a new power contract that will help improve the competitiveness of the smelter, resulting in the termination of the planned curtailment. Furthermore, in December 2015, management approved the permanent closure of the Warrick smelter (269 kmt-per-year). This decision was made as this smelter was no longer competitive in light of prevailing market conditions for the price of aluminum at that time. The closure of the Warrick smelter was completed by the end of March 2016.
Its most recent 10-K lists 16 smelters with only 4 in the U.S., Canada and Spain have 3 each. Brazil and Norway have 2 each. Alcoa also has smelters in Australia and Iceland. If Alcoa's sales are enhanced by this tariff - it is not clear that the company will not outsource the smelter operations to Iceland:
Alcoa, formerly the Aluminum Company of America, and another American company, Century Aluminum, have opened factories like this in Iceland, and closed factories in the United States, for a simple reason: Electricity is much cheaper here.
Century Aluminum's (CENX) share price also rose. Its 10-K also notes its smelters:
We operate three U.S. aluminum smelters, in Hawesville, Kentucky ("Hawesville"), Robards, Kentucky ("Sebree") and Goose Creek, South Carolina ("Mt. Holly"), and one aluminum smelter in Grundartangi, Iceland ("Grundartangi").
It has constructed another facility in Iceland known as the Helguvik project, which has struggled in a competitive aluminum market. I'm sure Century Aluminum is delighted with these tariffs. After all - Make Iceland Great Again!
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