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Trump’s Latest Foreign Policy Moves Have Been Great for U.S. Aluminum Makers

Updated on
  • Alcoa, Century surged as likely beneficiaries of U.S. measures
  • Rusal sends about 700,000 tons of aluminum to the U.S.: Harbor

Russia's Wealthiest People Net Worth Plummeted

The American aluminum industry is getting a double benefit from Donald Trump’s harder stance on trade and Russian oligarchs.

Alcoa Corp. and Century Aluminum Co. appear to be two of the main U.S. beneficiaries of Treasury Department sanctions on Rusal and seven other firms linked to Oleg Deripaska. The U.S.’s proposed tariffs on aluminum imports also stand to give local producers an edge over the competition.

Shares in the two U.S. companies have rallied more than 17 percent since March 29 along with surging aluminum prices on the London Metal Exchange. Shares extended gains on Tuesday after the London Metal Exchange said it’s placing curbs on the use of Rusal metal from April 17.

“If the U.S. uses all of its capacity that’s not being used right now, we can cover our imports,” Jorge Vazquez, managing director at Harbor Intelligence, said in a telephone interview. “But every smelter would have to restart and every potline would need to restart.”

That would be a reversal for an industry decimated by smelter shutdowns in states such as South Carolina and Kentucky at a time Chinese production of the lightweight metal surged, pushing down global prices.

Alcoa produced about 360,000 metric tons of aluminum in the U.S. in 2017, which will grow to about 520,000 as it restarts the Warrick smelter in Indiana, according to Justin Bergner, a research analyst at Gabelli & Co. The company also produces about 650,000 tons of aluminum in Canada, two-thirds of which will end up in the U.S.

‘Every Potline’

Century is looking to bring back 150,000 tons of annual production. It will start bringing online one of three idled pot-lines at its Hawesville, Kentucky, smelter, with all three back up and running fully about nine months after that.

Rusal sends about 700,000 tons of aluminum to the U.S annually that would have to be made up somehow, according to Harbor Intelligence. The U.S. researcher estimated that if the U.S. restarted all of its idled capacity, it could produce an additional 753,000 tons -- though it would take at least a year to get there.

Alcoa declined to comment ahead of its first-quarter earnings release next week. Century didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Friday, Washington sanctioned Rusal and other entities and individuals for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and for their country’s actions in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. On Monday, the biggest aluminum producer outside China lost half its value in one day.

The U.S. aluminum premium, or the amount added to the LME price to ship metal to the U.S. Midwest, rose to 19.5 cents a pound, up from 18.4 cents. Aluminum for delivery going out to December of 2019 surged, which future months ranging from 18.5 cents to 19.8 cents a pound.

For Alcoa, every 2-cent per pound increase in the premium adds about $50 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to Morgan Stanley estimates.

(Updates with LME announcement in third paragraph.)
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