US Steel should remain American owned and operated, says President Biden | World News


By Jordan Fabian, Josh Wingrove and Joe Deaux


President Joe Biden said United States Steel Corp. should retain American ownership, coming out against a takeover by Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp. despite the risk of upsetting a key ally.

 


US Steel shares retreated in early trading, after plunging 13% on Wednesday when news first broke that Biden would express concern about the deal. The shares are now trading at levels last seen before the Nippon deal was announced in December, suggesting investors are increasingly skeptical about its chances of success amid an ongoing federal review.


“US Steel has been an iconic American steel company for more than a century, and it is vital for it to remain an American steel company that is domestically owned and operated,” Biden said in a statement. “It is important that we maintain strong American steel companies powered by American steel workers. I told our steel workers I have their backs, and I meant it.”


Biden’s statement marks a rare presidential intervention in a transaction that outside an election year would have drawn less public scrutiny. Despite its storied history, US Steel’s role in the economy has diminished over several decades, a period during which producers in Asia have risen to dominate the global steel market. And while Nippon Steel’s proposed $14.1 billion acquisition targets an iconic business name, a takeover in the US commodities industry by a company based in a friendly country is hardly unusual.

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Biden was silent on the pending review of the deal by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, and stopped short of an outright pledge to block it. CFIUS is led by the Treasury Department, and has the power to approve, block or amend the deal on national security grounds, or send it to Biden for a decision.


Timna Tanners, an analyst at Wolfe Research LLC, said the deal suffered from the “unfortunate timing” of being brokered in the midst of an election in which both candidates have vowed to bolster domestic manufacturing and use their power to stop jobs from going overseas.


“The deal is facing a much more difficult chance of going through now that Biden has come out against it,” she said. “It’s an alarming precedent that the US government is setting.”


US Steel fell 2.5% by 10:16 a.m. on Thursday, trading more than 25% below the $55 a share being offered by Nippon Steel. US Steel and Nippon Steel did not immediately respond to request for comment.


Even though its share of the market has shrank, US Steel carries heavy symbolic value. It is based in Pennsylvania, Biden’s birth state and a battleground in the presidential election, and embodied the nation’s economic might in the 20th century. 


The announcement of Japanese company’s acquisition triggered opposition from Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as the influential United Steelworkers union. Biden’s allies have urged the administration to kill the deal over national security concerns and the threat to unionized steel jobs.


The White House issued Biden’s statement as he campaigns in Michigan and Wisconsin, two Midwestern industrial strongholds that are crucial for him to win in November. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is vying for the same blue-collar workers in those states as Biden and has pledged to block the deal outright.


Biden moved against the deal as he prepares to host Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a White House state dinner on April 10. The US president has looked to Japan as a bulwark against China in the Asia-Pacific region, but his opposition to the deal deal could strain the two countries’ relationship. 


Bloomberg has reported previously that the Biden administration is examining Nippon Steel’s connections to China in its review of the US Steel deal, as it looks to ratchet up pressure on Beijing.


Biden’s comments on Thursday also drive home the influential position of the steelworkers’ union and its president David McCall. Talks between Nippon Steel and the USW have been rocky so far: the union is seeking written guarantees about honoring all labor contracts, while the company is offering at least $1.4 billion in additional capital spending as a sweetener.


It’s not clear what impact, if any, Biden’s statement will have on the CFIUS review. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey, who faces reelection in November, praised Biden for his “commitment to maintaining an American steel industry” but did not explicitly oppose the Nippon Steel sale, only saying he would “work like hell against any deal that leaves our Steelworkers behind.” Some stakeholders have concerns that US Steel might shutter facilities and cut jobs without a capital infusion.


John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s other Democratic senator, cheered on Biden’s statement, posting “jam this up” on X, formerly Twitter.


Biden’s statement also raises the question of whether there’s an American alternative. The combative chief executive officer of Ohio-based Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. has said his offer is off the table. “It’s no longer a backstop for their failure,” he said in an interview last month. 


Late Wednesday, US Steel and Nippon Steel said they welcomed scrutiny of the deal, claiming it would strengthen economic and national security. 

First Published: Mar 15 2024 | 12:16 AM IST

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