Commodities & Metals

Will the Last Analyst to Downgrade Steel Turn Out the Lights?

The U.S. steel industry was poised to recover in April. The world was still awash in steel producing capacity, but the overall business climate was setting up to support steel stocks. Then came the escalation of trade tensions and tariffs with China, and then tariff threats against Mexico. Add in a slowing global economy that already was present ahead of the trade tensions, and now steel feels like it has become the news asbestos on Wall Street.

In the wake of multiple analyst downgrades and price target cuts from major Wall Street firms, Goldman Sachs now has downgraded United States Steel Corp. (NYSE: X) to Sell from an already cautious Neutral rating. Analyst Matthew Korn also slashed his price target to $11 from $17 in the call. That implied just under 10% downside.

Other key firms that have downgraded U.S. Steel were Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and UBS. Eventually, investors will use even bad news as a source for a rally, even if that bad news is that one of the last holdouts to say “sell” is finally out of the way. That said, Goldman Sachs did maintain other Neutral and Buy ratings in Tuesday’s research.

Goldman Sachs already had a Sell rating on AK Steel Holding Corp. (NYSE: AKS), but Korn lowered his target to $1.50 from $2.25.

The Goldman Sachs call even kept some Buy ratings in the top steel players. Steel Dynamics Inc. (NASDAQ: STLD) was maintained with a Buy rating, but the Goldman Sachs lowered the target to $36 from $44. Nucor Corp. (NYSE: NUE) was maintained as Buy, but the target was cut to $59 from $70.

Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. (NYSE: RS) is supposed to be somewhat immune to steel prices, but it is not immune to industry trends. And if you think commodity prices don’t matter at all to the services providers and toll-road companies when times get hard, go ask any master limited partnership owner how they did when oil prices tanked. Reliance Steel was maintained as Neutral, but Goldman Sachs cut the target to $93 from $96. Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. (NASDAQ: SCHN) was maintained as Neutral, and the price target was trimmed to $25 from $27.

We have shown how each of the stocks have done as of midday trading on Tuesday, as well as how that compares to a 52-week range and year-to-date performance for each. Consensus analyst target price data came from Refinitiv (Thomson Reuters).

The VanEck Vectors Steel ETF (NYSEARCA: SLX) traded up 1.6% at $36.45 on Tuesday, but the 52-week range of $33.66 to $50.26 should show just how bad things have been for the industry as a whole. The VanEck website shows that this exchange-traded fund has 26 holdings, but the top six are not domestic-based steel companies, and those six players account for close to 53% of the fund’s entire weighting. The ETF also only had $57.5 million in assets under management, so its impact is not exactly the so-called tail that wags the dog.

Even the Sell rated stocks were performing well on Tuesday, but perhaps a 400 point (1.7%) rally in the Dow Jones industrials and a 46 point (1.7%) rally in the S&P 500 may have created a day where a rising tide does lift all ships. U.S. Steel was last seen up 4% at $13.02, in a 52-week range of $11.67 to $38.89. Its consensus analyst price target was previously $19.43, and the shares were down 31.4% year to date. AK Steel was up 6% at $1.99, in a 52-week range of $1.66 to $5.40. Its consensus price target was $2.77, and the shares were down 16.9% year to date.

The so-called Buy-rated stocks ironically were not performing that well. Steel Dynamics was last seen up 0.5% at $26.35, in a 52-week range of $25.03 to $51.32. Its consensus price target was $40.58, and the shares were down 12.8% year to date. Nucor was relatively flat at $49.69, in a 52-week range of $47.13 to $68.84. Its consensus analyst target was $68.54. The shares were down 3.9% year to date.

The Neutral ratings were outperforming the Buys on Tuesday too. Reliance Steel & Aluminum was up 1.0% to $85.97, while the 52-week range is $68.62 to $96.70. The consensus price target was $92.89, and the shares were up 19.6% year to date. Schnitzer Steel was up 4% at $22.13. The 52-week range is $20.94 to $37.95, consensus price target was $25.38 and the shares were down 1.4% year to date.

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