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Election may not end policy doubts

Keywords: Tags  U.S. presidential elections, U.S. policy, President Obama, Mitt Romney, Lewis Leibowitz, Hogan Lovells, Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Businesses hoping for more certainty following the U.S. presidential election might be in for a rude surprise, according to one trade attorney.

President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney got a "bounce" after their parties’ conventions, according to Lewis Leibowitz, a partner at Hogan Lovells US LLP. "But Romney’s was small and didn’t last very long," he added.

If Romney hopes to become commander in chief he will have to win several tight races, in particular in Florida and Ohio, Leibowitz said at the 26th annual AMM Stainless & its Alloys conference in Chicago.

He declined to predict a winner given that any number of events could change current polling.

"If you come to a fork in the road, take it—that’s the 2012 election," Leibowitz said, citing a quote from Hall of Fame Yankees catcher Yogi Berra. "I wish I could be more certain. .... But I think we are going to be faced with a closely divided government."

The Republican Party needs to win four of six "toss-up" seats to take control of the U.S. Senate, Leibowitz said. Current polls suggest the Republicans are ahead in most of those races, "but only by a whisker."

In the House, the Democrats would need to take 25 seats to gain control, although polling suggests the chances of that are unlikely, Leibowitz said. Still, the election could see the Republicans with a slimmer majority in the House, he added.

The most likely result will be a split government no matter who prevails in the presidential race, Leibowitz said. "It’s not clear what policies, if any, will go through the House and the Senate," he warned.

There is a possibility that Republicans and Democrats could strike a "grand bargain" on pressing issues such as infrastructure after the election, Leibowitz said. But it’s equally possible that the current "gridlock" will remain in place, he said.

Leibowitz brushed aside questions about possible new trade petitions in the stainless steel arena. "I don’t bring them. I just defend against them," he said, although he acknowledged that there were "rumors flying around."

That’s, in part, because trade tensions are on the rise around the world, Leibowitz suggested.

China feels that it is being treated unfairly in trade petitions in the United States and vice versa, he said, adding that Romney has generally struck a more aggressive tone toward China than Obama.

In Brazil, higher import duties on a range of products have upset the United States. But those duties were boosted partially as a reaction to the increased value of the Brazilian real that has resulted from a third round of quantitative easing in the United States, Leibowitz said. Trade fights have also broken out downstream among big stainless consumers such as Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS, as well as upstream in the rare earth metals sector, he said.

But while those disputes are ongoing, there is also increased talk of free-trade agreements, for instance between the United States and the European Union, Leibowitz said.

One certain tailwind for U.S. stainless companies is low natural gas pricing resulting from the country’s shale gas boom, Leibowitz said, echoing comments made by other speakers at the event. "This (the United States) is a good place to be for an energy-intensive market like stainless steel," he said.

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