Commodities & Metals

Merrill Lynch Still Sees Massive Turnaround Upside in AK Steel

Analyst upgrades are a great opportunity for investors to reevaluate their positions in different markets, whether it is commodities or technology. In this case, Merrill Lynch sees a buying opportunity for AK Steel Holding Corp. (NYSE: AKS). Note that this stock is one of the great turnaround candidates for 2015 that just hasn’t taken off yet.

Key steel and metal stocks have sold off sharply from their highs, and analysts took it upon themselves to downgrade the industry and many stocks within it. However, AK Steel is still considered a winner out of the group.

Merrill Lynch’s analysts Timna Tanners and P.T. Luther reiterated their Buy rating for AK Steel with a $9 price objective, which implies an upside of 64% from current prices. This valuation is based on better global electrical steel demand, falling iron ore costs and an improving free cash flow story as estimated 2015 project spending tapers off.

The brokerage firm also pointed out that AK Steel is the only beneficiary of lower iron ore prices in the Merrill Lynch coverage universe, as even with its Magnetation investment AK Steel will still rely on third party iron ore for half its needs.

The brokerage firm listed opportunities that the stock has to grow:

  • Better-than-expected electrical and stainless steel prices
  • Cost-savings above expectations from greater vertical integrations
  • Falling pension and liability costs
  • Delay in new capacity additions
  • Takeout risk believed to be low

AK Steel is the sixth largest U.S. steelmaker and has the capacity to produce nearly 7 million tons of a total 110 million tons of U.S. steel capacity. The company produces flat-rolled carbon sheet in addition to stainless and electrical steels. Revenues were $5.6 billion in 2013 and average capacity utilization was 75%, just under the U.S. average of 77%.

ALSO READ: More Turnaround Concerns for Steel Industry, Including US Steel

Merrill Lynch detailed in its report:

Last week we hosted CFO Roger Newport in investor meetings with New York, where he was upbeat that the recent $20/t price hike was sticking and more could follow. Contract prices for AK have yet to reflect the ytd drop in spot prices, and when volumes improve in H2 as we expect, prices may fall with more commodity grade tons as costs fall on greater utilization. He also spoke confidently about trade cases being filed (against sheet imports), and said they could be filed independent of separate legislation aiming to lessen the proof of injury standard in the process.

In early trading Monday, shares of AK Steel were up 4.3%, at $5.53 in a 52-week trading range of $3.62 to $11.37. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $5.35.

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