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Commercial Metals earnings, and domestic steel market updates



June 20, 2008 – Comments (7) | RELATED TICKERS: CMC , USAP , RS

Last month I wrote about the pricing power many US based steel firms had. I also posted how the weak US dollar, and low inventory levels would lead to above average returns for my steel focus list. Here are those steel firms and their price increases since May 2:


Gerdau Ameristeel (GNA):                23%

Steel Dynamics (STLD):                    20%

Reliance Steel (RS):                         23%

Commercial Metals (CMC):               28%

Insteel Industries (IIIN):                     43%

Universal Stainless (USAP):               9%


Thats an average return of over 24%, while the S&P is down over 5% over the same time period. With an annualized return of 144%, one would be a pig not to some take profits, and I have sold my position in GNA, but have added to my USAP position.


My research continues to show very low inventory levels, as the weak US economy is moving many industries from just in case, to just in time inventory levels. Lets investigate CMC latest earnings release, and conference call for more insight into US steel markets.


Commercial Metals results


CMC reported net earnings of $59.5 million or $0.51 per diluted share on  2.9 billion of revenue. This eps includes a record .71 eps LIFO expense.  Last year CMC had 2.2 billion of revenue with eps of .82 per share, including a .16 LIFO charge. On a comparable basis without the LIFO charge, CMC had eps of 1.22 verses .98 last year, a 25% increase. Sales were up 32%.


As an investor I would not get to worried about the LIFO expenses. As CMC uses up its inventory, those much lower cost basis inventory units will create LIFO profits in the future. As of the end of the quarter, the LIFO reserve is at $422 million. If you tax effect that, it means that CMC's equity is $2.40 a share lower than what a FIFO reporter would have, according Bill Larson, CMC CFO.


CMC anticipates a fourth quarter LIFO diluted net earnings per share between $0.90 to $1.00, with no LIFO effect. This would be a 10% increase from last year.


CMC President and Chief Executive Officer Murray R. McClean said "The quarter was marked by unprecedented upward volatility in ferrous scrap and steel finished goods pricing. Following the upward movement in scrap prices, rebar and merchant pricing increased $212 a short ton during the quarter."


The Global steel pricing environment 


Unbelievable, rebar prices in the US rose to about $950 a short ton, a 25% in just 3 months. During the conference call it was clear that global economics is affecting US pricing and dynamics for rebar, and all semi-finished steel products. This includes blooms, billets, and slabs. As an example, outside the US rebar prices are ranging from $1200 - $1500 a ton, a 40-50% premium to US pricing.


Many analysts during the call were asking CMC executives why they are not selling into these much higher priced markets? CMC responded that their production was at 100% just to satisfy domestic demand, and if they had any spare capacity they would ship overseas for those much higher margins. The shipping cost are only between $80-100 a short ton.


As a steel investor, I am really liking this changing global environment. China, India, and other foreign steel producers are imposing export tariffs on all their steel products to curb local inflation. Also china, and others are reducing the energy subsidies as energy prices increase. This will also have the effect of shutting off imports into the US.


So, with prices much higher everywhere else, and no imports to compete with, you add in record low inventories across the US and you get one thing - future pricing power for domestic steel firms. CMC had the following comments on semi-finished product global demand:


"it does appear that the demand for semis in the merchant market will continue because countries like Russia, Ukraine, are using more of their own raw material, also with China basically cutting off the exports of semis, we think globally semis, billets, and slabs are going to be in tight supply for the next two years"


CMC investments in the future 


CMC is not idle. They just broke ground on a new facility in Arizona. Also CMC has eastern European operations in Croatia, and Poland. At the Croatian mill, CMC is to improve the melt shop and also the caster, in order to produce round billets that have huge demand, especially in the middle east. With these capex investments, Bill Larson the CFO see's big improvements in future profitability.


The Polish wire rod block facility will be commissioned by the end of this year. Also the brand new flexible section mill in Poland is expected to be commissioned in early 2010. These are low production cost mills, that will be selling into very high priced markets like Europe, and the middle east.


Domestic steel demand 


In summary, it has become clear that domestic steel firms will continue to have pricing power and solid margins for a least 2 years, due to the global pricing dynamics in steel products, and low US inventories.


But what about current and future US steel demand? An important factor to point out is that the beleaguered residential housing market does not use much steel. As for CMC, Murray Mcclean the CEO states:


"But there is a big sector out there non-residential -- I’m not saying it’s immune but like the highway work, et cetera, and that continues quite strong. The energy sector, clearly anything related to energy is very strong. And maybe we’re blessed in this part of the world being in the Gulf Texas area. Those areas are really quite strong."


It is obvious that CMC is in a sweat spot in the US. As I have written in earlier articles, the steel firms that sell into infrastructure, or oil and gas industries will continue to outperform. At this point in time, I feel these steel equities will outperform the market.


US consolidation in the steel industry 


Another factor to consider is consolidation. Many of my favorite steel firms have been bought out at huge premiums over the past few year (IPS, CHAP, OS, MUSA, etc..). This will continue as the global dynamics mentioned above evolve. In just the past week we have seen more acquisition announced:


Reliance Steel(RS)  will acquire for about $1.1 billion PNA Group Holding Corp, a national steel service center group owned by private equity firm Platinum Equity. RS states the deal will be immediately accretive to our earnings.


Global steel major ArcelorMittal has acquired US-based Bayou Steel, a producer of structural steel products, for $475 million.


Nucor announced that its subsidiary Harris Steel will pay $185 million to buy the Auburn, Ind.-based Ambassador Steel, which makes steel rods and bars, and its Delta Erecting affiliate.


Remember Nucor raised it forecast to 1.8 a share for the next quarter. Also Nucor completed its offering of nearly 27.7 million shares, each valued at $74, for combined proceeds of about $2.05 billion, and will use the funds for corporate purposes as acquisitions, capital expenditures, working capital needs and debt repayment. Nucor is on a shopping spree, and any domestic steel firm with a market cap below 2 billion is in play IMHO.

 Nucor states:

 "Continued strength in our sheet, plate, beam and bar businesses due to the solid global demand for steel and better than expected margins have favorably impacted the second quarter."

 I really don't know what more an investor would want - Great global pricing dynamics, strong domestic demand, low inventories, and accelerating acquisition is the industry!

 I have changed my steel focus list by taking out Insteel Industries(IIIN) due to valuation, and adding in the microcap Friedman Industries(FRD). Here is my new steel focus list:


 Gerdau Ameristeel (GNA): Infrastructure, mining, commercial, rail
Steel Dynamics (STLD): Recycle, Infrastructure, fabrication
Reliance Steel (RS): Aerospace, fabrication, farm, wind power
Commercial Metals (CMC): Recycle, infrastructure, Europe
Friedman Industries(FRD): oil country pipe, structural pipe, finished sheet
Universal Stainless (USAP): Power generation, aerospace, oil/gas, tools


Disclosure: Author currently owns stock in USAP and GNA

7 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 20, 2008 at 12:19 PM, ricoy5 (25.65) wrote:

Good post, Bill.

Heard on NPR this morn that Houston is adding to their light rail and other 'dense population' infastructure... it's probably this type of growth that you are looking at in the domestic steel market over the next few years.

Do you have any insight on plays that are more foreign in core, specifically any China based companies?  What about the growth stability of metals recyclers, like Metalico?

Thanks for taking the time.

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#2) On June 20, 2008 at 12:40 PM, bellard (97.08) wrote:

Hi Ricoy;

I like MEA. But I am fully invested in USAP, and GNA right now. For intl. play I like PKX.  

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#3) On June 20, 2008 at 3:24 PM, binv271828 (< 20) wrote:


Excellent post! I definitely took your advice last month, researched all of those steel companies, and picked several of these stocks. They have posted very nice gains! Excellent analysis (as always) and excellent advice (again, as always). Keep up the superlative work, you are doing all of us a service! Thanks!

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#4) On June 20, 2008 at 5:54 PM, alstry (< 20) wrote:

What happens to steel companies if the world simultaneously implodes into a universal depression from Isreal attacking Iran and oil going to $400 per barrel?

I guess there will be a lot of steel needed for rebuilding.

In the absence of a serious recession/depression, excellent analysis.

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#5) On June 21, 2008 at 12:25 PM, bellard (97.08) wrote:

"world simultaneously implodes into a universal depression from Isreal attacking Iran and oil going to $400 per barrel?"

This will effect the US economy big time - that is why I have been writing about how the US needs a HUGE plan to move our vehicle fleet off of oil - and now! We can do it, and it would actually help our economy!

As for steel firms, they use coal, and natty gas, so they are a bit more protected. But any kind of large worldwide slow down would hurt all the US based steel firms....

To cope with the US slowdown, the US will initiate a large infrastructure plan in 2009, once bush and his wasting Iraq spending policies are gone. This will help all the steel firms. Why don't you green thumb USAP?


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#6) On June 21, 2008 at 1:09 PM, lntwo (< 20) wrote:

Nice post nothing to add but thanks - this is what CAPS is all about.


... Simultaneous implosion?? .... can't we invoke some sorta genesis device ... maybe intervention by alien space babes...

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#7) On July 17, 2008 at 5:05 PM, VTEngineer2001 (< 20) wrote:

NUE has been hammered the past few days and is taking down the sector (in sympathy). However, NUE has a history of underpromising and then over producing regarding their earnings - so I wouldn't be too worried. NUE is about as safe a play at $58 as ever.

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