While U.S. stocks continue their month-long sideways amble, emerging-market stocks have been absolutely hammered, with Chinese stocks down more than 40% from their post-crisis highs. This is a clear warning signal that all is not right in the areas most sensitive to the global economic cycle.
This is the same story being told by steel stocks, which are closely linked to the fate of the emerging markets — especially China — because steel has been the center of the Chinese infrastructure and fixed-asset investment gorge fest. As the China miracle has slowed, so too have the fortunes of steel stocks as prices have fallen and extra smelting capacity has been idled.
After recovering in the second half of 2013, steel stocks — as represented by the Market Vectors Steel (SLX) — are rolling over again.
Caroline Bain at Capital Economics sees ongoing weakness for steel prices in 2014 before a possible stabilization in 2015 if the Chinese can consolidate their overbuilt steel industry. Currently, capacity utilization is running around 75% — which means that 25% of capacity is sitting unused. It’s a politically connected industry, with steel an important source of jobs and local government revenue. But the current situation is simply unsustainable.
Also weighing on steel prices has been a drop in iron ore and coking coal prices, with lower input costs allowing steelmakers to in turn keep their prices low.
With all that said, here are three steel stocks that look like attractive short-side opportunities as the sector continues to roll over.
Melting Steel Stocks #1: AK Steel (AKS)
Click to Enlarge For the first time since June, AK Steel (AKS) is falling into a persistent downtrend as it trades below its lower Bollinger Band. Shares have already fallen 21% from their late-December highs, and more price destruction looks likely.
AKS stock suffered a 9% drop in revenue through the third quarter and is expected to report a loss of 60 cents per share for full-year 2013 — a 3-cent increase over 2012’s loss.
Analysts expect a turnaround in profitability in 2014, but that looks less and less likely now.
Melting Steel Stocks #2: Nucor (NUE)
Click to Enlarge Nucor (NUE), like AK Steel, is also falling out of an uptrend pattern going back to last summer as the sellers assert themselves. NUE stock got hit with a downgrade by analysts at BMO Capital Markets earlier this month, which added to the pressure.
The company guided Q4 earnings per share below analyst estimates, in a range of 35 to 40 cents per share vs. the 41-cent consensus estimate.
Melting Steel Stocks #3: Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (SID)
Click to Enlarge Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (SID), the Brazilian steelmaker, is falling out of a multimonth consolidation pattern on huge negative volume as the company is hit by both the negative trends in its industry as well as the troubles facing Brazil, from high inflation to currency volatility and deterioration in the government’s fiscal position.
I am adding SID short to my Edge Letter Sample Portfolio.