Are Steel and Metal Stocks Forming a Bottom?

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Investors are always on the lookout for solid value in stocks, and sometimes that value comes from down and out stock sectors. It turns out that many of the key steel and aluminum stocks have sold off sharply from their highs. Blame a slow rest of the world, blame a strong dollar or unfair competition, or blame other reasons. Despite poor performance in shares, is it possible that the steel and aluminum giants are trying to find a bottom?

Across the board, the brokerage firm and investment bank, Jefferies, issued calls downgrading or lowering price targets for companies within the steel industry just this past week. Other analyst calls have been seen selectively as well. It turns out that some of the metals companies have been at least partially ignoring those calls. When stocks start ignoring bad news, and when stocks start to ignore widespread downgrades, it is time for investors to start doing some homework.

24/7 Wall St. has decided to review the trading activity and the news flow of late to see if it seems as though a bottom has been forming in these stocks. The review covers United States Steel Corp. (NYSE: X), Nucor Corp. (NYSE: NUE), AK Steel Holding Corp. (NYSE: AKS), Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) and Commercial Metals Co. (NYSE: CMC).

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The aim of this review is not to call a hard bottom — that can be like trying to catch falling daggers. The aim is to identify whether a group is trying to form a bottom, and whether the conditions in the United States and around the world can hold up long enough that a bottom could be possible. Some of the gains seen just on Monday were striking on what was a very mixed stock market — and the gains from the 52-week lows in some cases have been somewhat impressive.

If you go back just to March 20, we looked just at the news reactions and were wondering if steel companies could ever realize their turnarounds. Is it at least possible that was the crucial moment?

U.S. Steel

Jefferies maintained a Hold rating on U.S. Steel Corp. (NYSE: X) on March 16 and lowered the price target to $21 from $26. Recently, the steel company has closed two plants in Texas and Louisiana and laid off 750 employees as demand for pipe in the oil and gas drilling business has faltered. The company announced last week that it will close a Minnesota plant temporarily as it works through its own inventory issues.

U.S. Steel recently idled yet another plant. It also did not sound like the activity would be reversed any time soon.

Shares of U.S. Steel closed Monday up 4.4% at $24.19, in a 52-week trading range of $20.13 to $46.55. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $29.04. It is very unimpressive to be down almost 50% from a 52-week high, but the overall bounce has been close to 13% in just the past five trading days.

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Nucor

Nucor Corp. (NYSE: NUE) was reiterated with a Buy rating but a lower price target at $57 from $61 at Jefferies on March 16. The company said on Thursday that it now expects earnings per share (EPS) in a range of $0.10 to $0.15. That is well below its previous estimate of less than fourth-quarter 2014 EPS of $0.65 but “slightly exceeding” first-quarter 2014 EPS of $0.35.

On Monday, Nucor shares closed up 1.1% at $47.64. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $53.31 and a 52-week trading range of $42.93 to $58.76.

Nucor shares have not been under $45 since the start of February. That being said, they were also up at $49 prior to the earnings confession of last week.