Joins Steelmakers in Filing Complaint with U.S. Government – by John Miller (Wall Street Journal – February 3, 2015)

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Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. plans to join steelmakers in filing complaints over steel imported into the U.S., its chief executive said, a move that could increase pressure on the U.S. government to add more tariffs on steel products.

Under chief executive Lourenco Goncalves, who took over last August, Cliffs has been restructuring to focus on five profitable iron ore mines in Minnesota and Michigan that sell exclusively to U.S. Steel , ArcelorMittal and other steelmakers with U.S. mills.

Those mines are now vulnerable to the sudden slide in steel prices. Most steel experts have attributed, principally, to the collapse in oil prices. As energy companies have pulled back, they have canceled orders for steel pipe.

But Mr. Goncalves said in an interview that a rise in steel imports is the biggest factor in depressing prices. Steel imports rose 34% to 41.5 million during the first 11 months of 2014, according to Global Trade Information Services. “The collapse of the steel price is not about the oil price,” Mr. Goncalves said. “The reason is the avalanche of imports.”

Adopting an aggressive trade stance is the latest move in the Cleveland-based iron-ore and coal miner’s struggle to return to profitability amid falling steel, iron ore and oil prices.

Mr. Goncalves highlighted Cliffs’ stance on trade after the company reported a net loss of $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter, or $8.25 per share, compared to a net profit of $30.5 million, or 20 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago. For the year, Cliffs reported a net loss of $7.2 billion, compared to a profit of $364.8 million in 2013, due mainly to falling iron-ore prices and a $6 billion charge related to a disastrous 2011 investment in a Canadian iron ore mine.

It has been a bleak year so far. Benchmark prices on hot-rolled coil are down 9% to $548 per ton since the start of the year. U.S. Steel last month said it would likely have to lay off almost 3,000 workers.

Although the steelmakers have pointed to falling oil prices for their malaise, some have also fingered imports and threatened possible trade action. “We’ll be aggressive,” Nucor Corp. CEO John Ferriola told analysts last week.

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