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RWR 2018 seeks to “manage expectations” of an uncertain market

The 9th annual SteelOrbis Rebar & Wire Rod conference was held at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 22, 2018, and attended by 124 registered attendees from countries around the world.

The expert panel included John Foster, Chairman of the American Institute for International Steel (AIIS) and President of Kurt Orban Partners; Philip Bell, President of the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA); and Frank Bergren, Executive Director of Metal Partners International. The panel was moderated by Murat Eryilmaz, CEO of SteelOrbis.

Mr. Eryilmaz began by addressing the optimism that was prevalent at RWR 2017, when a new US presidential administration and Republican majority in Congress promised legislative victories in the realm of infrastructure, trade and taxes. Panelists admitted that many expectations were not met in the last year, but still remained optimistic for 2018.

In particular, Mr. Bell elaborated on the benefits of a possible infrastructure bill, noting the improved “psyche of the public” when they can see tax dollars at work in their own communities. Additionally, Mr. Bell said that if a comprehensive infrastructure package is not prioritized in Congress this year, demand for construction-related steel products could suffer. But any package would have to include strong “Buy America” standards in order to best benefit the US steel industry.

Other topics discussed included the ongoing NAFTA renegotiations, which all panelists agreed was useful in terms of steel imports and exports. Mr. Bell said the US, Canada and Mexico are a “formidable trading bloc” when up against other major economies such as China, although he hoped the “rhetoric” around the negotiations will be “toned down.” Mr. Foster noted that in the event the US pulls out of the trade agreement, Canada and Mexico will likely continue with it, one of several ways in which the US has “abdicated its leadership role in the world.”

By far, the most anticipated topic of the event was the Section 232 investigation. Mr. Foster outlined several direct and indirect consequences of potentially high steel tariffs, including trade retaliation in other US industries and significant job losses, especially in the realm of transportation and logistics. Mr. Bergren noted that higher steel prices are likely if steel imports decline, although price increase amounts would vary depending on region and its current import saturation level. When asked how the Section 232 investigation directly relates to national security, Mr. Bell suggested taking a “broader view of what national security means.” Military equipment is one of several factors in national security, he said, which also includes waterways, pipelines, and transportation. He also said that over the course of the last year, he’s had to “manage expectations” for trade remedies and other topics among SMA members.

A lively audience Q&A session followed the moderated panel, with attendees aiming to clarify statements made by the panelists and offer their own view of trade policies and other major issues facing the US steel long product market. At the cocktail reception following the panel session, attendees continued conversations, particularly in regards to the Section 232 investigation. In the end, the only general consensus on the matter was that there is no general consensus. “We’re in an all-new era of uncertainty,” said one attendee. “Realistic expectations are a thing of the past.”

*This was published on SteelOrbis website on January 24, 2018.


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