Cinco de Mayo Steel Report

Since signs of life within China's industrial base are rekindling the decoupling debate, for Cinco de Mayo this year, I'm heading south of the border to check on the status of steelmakers south of the Rio Grande.

In recent weeks, I've peered into the stone-cold furnaces north of the Alamo through earnings from steelmakers like Nucor (NYSE: NUE  ) and miners like Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF  ) . Every attempt to gauge the state of steel over in Asia, as with POSCO (NYSE: PKX  ) , paints a picture of relative strength, so let's see how these geographical dynamics are playing out in Central and South America.

Ternium (NYSE: TX  ) delivered earnings just in time for Cinco de Mayo, but after missing estimates by $0.40 per share, reporting nearly a 40% revenue decline, the company may already be feeling a hangover. Although Ternium still derives 58% of revenue from sales to North America, that proportion is down considerably from 80% as reported last summer. The company watched shipments in Central and South America plummet by 47%, suggesting that steel demand has deteriorated on a comparable scale throughout the Americas. Prices in the region held up relatively well as revenue per ton increased 4% for Central and South American sales, but dove by 20% for North American sales.

These numbers from Ternium were unsightly, but no worse than we've witnessed here in gringo-land from companies like U.S. Steel (NYSE: X  ) . And yet, Deutsche Bank analyst David Martin issued sell ratings this week on both Ternium and Brazil's Gerdau (NYSE: GGB  ) , citing impaired balance sheets. Given the weak outlook for steel volumes going forward, Ternium's reduction of net debt by $345 million since the fourth quarter failed to impress. I particularly enjoyed Martin's commentary on the recent steel rally: "We aren't yet prepared to accept this as a sustainable rebound as we haven't observed any meaningful improvement in leading indicators in steel, and steel price pressure hasn't abated." This mirrors precisely what I've been communicating to Fools for weeks now with respect to heavy industry in the United States.

Although Brazil's Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (NYSE: SID  ) shared some impressive numbers last week, featuring a six-fold increase in net earnings, the results are for the fourth quarter of 2008 and simply highlight the momentum behind Brazil's growth before the demand collapse set in. We'll keep a close eye on the region's bellwethers, but for now, it's clear that Latin America has found no measure of refuge from the global industrial downturn.

Further Foolishness:

If you believe that China will be a keystone to recovery for countless companies with exposure there, then consider taking the Motley Fool Global Gains newsletter service for a free test-drive for 30 days. The Global Gains team watches China carefully as part of its search for exciting and Foolish investment opportunities around the globe.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker is the Nat King of Coal and the wild boar of iron ore. He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He owns shares of Cliffs Natural Resources. POSCO is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is busy learning Mandarin.


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