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Uncertainties seem certain to dominate 2014 business

Keywords: Tags  AMM survey, AMM’s 19th Annual Mexican Steel Forum, President Obama, AMM Staff

As 2014 gets under way, the near-term future of the metals sector isn’t any clearer than it was at this time a year ago, judging by the views put forward in AMM’s annual survey of executives. Or to put it another way, the only certainty in the metals business is uncertainty itself.

“Uncertainty and lack of business confidence about what to expect in 2014 are the biggest issues for all of us,” one survey respondent said, echoing a view expressed by many.

There are many causes for concern: the continuing mistrust of President Obama among business leaders; the slow growth of the overall U.S. economy as it continues to struggle toward a full recovery; unease that Congress is not functioning in a healthy manner; the lack of foreign markets bouncing back dramatically; and uncertainty about where important segments of the economy, such as construction, may be headed.

Throughout 2013 at conferences, roundtables and corporate meetings and in countless interviews, metal executives and analysts discussed all of these issues and more as they struggled to find ways to interpret economic signals.

These views from leading metal players and AMM readers carried over in the annual survey on what may lie ahead in the coming year. The poll results offer a glimpse into what people are thinking in general about issues that affect the metals industry. For instance, despite their concerns, only 8 percent of survey respondents said they were less optimistic about business heading into 2014. A majority said business should improve this year, with the auto and energy sectors leading the charge. But three out of four respondents said recent political events will make the year ahead less certain, especially with midterm elections looming. Perhaps this is why only about 30 percent expect the economy to turn around significantly in 2014.

In addition to the results of AMM’s annual survey, on the following pages analysts and experts from a variety of metal businesses share their viewpoints on what fortunes--or misfortunes--the new year might bring to everything from flat-rolled steel to imports and exports.

And to get an even more in-depth look at the steel industry’s prospects, AMM is once again hosting two annual conferences in January and March.

AMM’s 19th Annual Mexican Steel Forum, scheduled for Jan. 28-29 in Cancun, will provide an outlook of the Mexican market as steel industry players continue to build up their businesses in that country and new producers, service centers and distributors look to expand there. Consumer demand for steel, led by a flourishing automotive sector, is growing and the Mexican government seems determined to support the sector and implement investment-attracting reforms.

More than 250 senior-level decision-makers from the entire supply chain--delegates at last year’s event represented commodity providers, Mexican and foreign steel producers, service centers, distributors, processors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and leading construction and automotive industry representatives--are scheduled to attend the forum. Discussions will include steel market dynamics globally and in the Mexican market, along with analysis of steel import and export levels; insights into what proposed government reforms may mean for the industry; and views from foreign OEMs on their regional strategies, expansion plans and capacities.

AMM’s 7th Steel Tube and Pipe Conference March 3-4 in Houston is being held at a time when the industry is grappling with a number of uncertainties. The import market has been shaken by impending anti-dumping cases, demand for pipe is healthy but with no signs of increases on the horizon, and with a competitive domestic landscape set to continue, squeezed margins are beginning to become normal. The conference will shed some light on these uncertainties, with particular attention paid to the squeezed margins and the implications of rising tensions between the import and domestic markets.

With more than 250 delegates expected to assemble at this leading event, topics will include how recent acquisitions, capacity expansions and new entrants point to a new era for oil country tubular goods (OCTG) and line pipe; the importance that raw materials, technological developments and logistics play in the pricing, profitability and movement of OCTG and line pipe; and potential export markets and ways to improve margins in a competitive market.

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