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U.S. Steel Close to Decision on Keeping Slovak Plant, Fico Says

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March 25 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Steel Corp. is closing in on an agreement with Slovakia on keeping its operations in the central European country after the government offered incentives, Prime Minister Robert Fico said.

The largest steel producer in the U.S. and the Slovak administration are “on the right track” to agreeing the company won’t sell its unit, one of the largest employers in the eastern euro-area member, Fico said following a meeting with company officials in Pittsburgh today.

“In the coming hours, experts on both sides must finalize some details,” Fico said in an e-mailed statement distributed by his press department in Bratislava, the Slovak capital. “If this succeeds, we shall be able to announce good news for employees as early as this week, maybe even tomorrow.”

U.S. Steel said in November it was considering selling the unit after it received unspecified offers. Concern that the sale would lead to job losses at a time when unemployment hovers close to a nine-year high prompted Fico to offer concessions, including lower electricity-related charges.

The plant located in Kosice, eastern Slovakia, is the steelmaker’s sole operation in Europe, where slowing demand is weighing on prices and shipments. Last year, it sold its Serbian mill for $1, triggering a $450 million charge.

U.S. Steel bought its Slovak operations in 2000 for $475 million. The plant, with an annual capacity of 5 million tons, has two coke batteries, three blast furnaces and units that produce sheets, tin-mill products and pipes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Radoslav Tomek in Bratislava at rtomek@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

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