Correction: Trump Tariffs-Steel Industry story

WASHINGTON — In a story March 6 about the financial strength of the steel industry, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the steel industry added more than 8,000 jobs between January 2017 and January 2018. The industry actually added 8,000 jobs over that period.

A corrected version of the story is below:

As Trump weighs tariff, US steelmakers enjoy rising profits

The Trump administration has chosen an odd time to offer special protection to the U.S. steel industry: Steelmakers are actually faring pretty well.

By PAUL WISEMAN

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has chosen an odd time to offer special protection to the U.S. steel industry.

As President Donald Trump prepares to impose a 25 percent tax on imported steel, America's steelmakers are actually faring pretty well: The U.S. steel industry last year earned more than $2.8 billion, up from $714 million in 2016 and a loss in 2015, according to the Commerce Department. And the industry added 8,000 jobs between January 2017 and January 2018.

Even before Trump mentioned the tariff last Thursday, the price of the benchmark U.S.-made hot-rolled steel had reached the highest level since May 2011, according to S&P Global Platts. The price surged even higher on the tariff news.

"We finished 2017 in a good position. We look forward to 2018," U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt told industry analysts Feb. 1, according to a transcript at the website Seeking Alpha. He continued: "We're seeing increased demand from our customers and have rescheduled some projects to ensure that we can make enough steel to support our customers' needs."

Still, the steel companies complain they're victims of unfair foreign competition.

"The industry isn't doing as bad as their press releases say it is," says steel analyst Charles Bradford, president of Bradford Research. "Any time world economic growth is over 3 percent, the steel industry usually does OK." The International Monetary Fund says the global economy grew 3.7 percent last year and expects it to grow 3.9 percent in 2018.

The U.S. economy grew 2.3 percent last year, an improvement on 1.5 percent growth in 2016. Also raising demand for steel: Florida and Texas are rebuilding after last year's ruinous hurricanes.

Ned Hill, a professor at Ohio State University's John Glenn College of Public Affairs who studies economic development, says that after decades of cost-cutting and restructuring, American steel is "a vastly improved industry. It seems to me that they've established a competitive equilibrium."

In the 1980s, American steelmakers needed 10.1 man-hours to produce a ton of steel; now they need 1.5 man-hours, says Joe Innace of S&P Global Platts.

Most American steel is now made at super-efficient mini mills, which use electric arc furnaces to turn scrap metal into steel. (Traditional integrated steel mills make steel from scratch, feeding iron ore and coking coal into blast furnaces.) Some mini-mills need just 0.5 man-hours to produce a ton of steel, Innace says.

Increased productivity means today's steel mills don't need as many workers. Steel industry employment peaked at 650,000 in 1953. By the start of this year, U.S. steelmakers employed just 143,000.

The industry definitely faces long-term problems. Massive overproduction by China has flooded world markets with steel and kept world prices lower than they would have been. Some countries subsidize their steel producers and allow them to sell steel at unfairly low prices.

But the United States has already aggressively defended U.S. steel producers. As of mid-2017, the government was imposing 149 different restrictions on steel imports.

Steelmakers don't just face competition from foreign producers. They also vie against lighter materials — plastics and composites — that increasingly can be used in building construction and auto production, says Ohio State's Hill.

Most economists oppose Trump's proposed steel tariffs, along with his call for a 10 percent duty on imported aluminum. Taxing imported steel would help domestic steel producers, they concede, but it would drive up steel prices and put pressure on the far more numerous companies that consume steel, such as automakers and aircraft manufacturers.

The Trade Partnership, a consulting firm, says the tariffs would increase U.S. employment in the steel and aluminum sector by about 33,000 jobs but would cost 179,000 jobs in the rest of the economy.

A better option, Bradford says, would be increasing the gasoline tax to finance road, bridge and other public works projects that require lots of steel. The steelmakers "don't really need tariffs," he says. "What they do need is more infrastructure spending."

____

Follow Paul Wiseman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/PaulWisemanAP

Must Read

A look at China's foreign policy challenges

Aug 10, 2016

China's simmering feud with South Korea over deployment of an American missile defense system is the latest in a string of foreign policy challenges piling up on President Xi Jinping's desk as he prepares to host next month's annual summit of G20 nations

10 Things to Know for Thursday

Aug 11, 2016

Among 10 Things to Know: Criticism may be slowing Trump train; 'Grim Sleeper' sent to death row; versatile ESPN sportscaster dies at 61

Trump on sidelines as Clinton fills Olympics airtime

Aug 9, 2016

Clinton is taking advantage of the millions of Americans tuned in to NBC to watch U.S. athletes rack up medals during the Olympics in Rio

People also read these

Hearing on Johnny Depp domestic violence allegations delayed

Aug 9, 2016

A judge is briefly delaying a restraining order hearing involving Johnny Depp and his estranged wife because it is expected to span several days; depositions of both actors set

Criticism of lavish funeral for Anne of Romania

Aug 10, 2016

The presidents of Romania and Moldova pay their last respects to Anne of Romania at a 19th-century royal castle amid some criticism about the grand royal funeral

Father of Orlando shooter sighted at Hillary Clinton event

Aug 10, 2016

Father of Orlando gay nightclub shooter spotted at Hillary Clinton campaign event in central Florida

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather
+7

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather
+27

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather
+6

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather
+9

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather
+7

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH