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US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (2)

A general view of the exterior of the US Steel Clairton co*ke Plant, in Clairton, Pennsylvania, in March.

New York CNN

US Steel shareholders Friday overwhelmingly approved a deal for the iconic American manufacturer to be purchased by Japan’s Nippon Steel. But the outlook for the controversial merger has never looked so bad.

The deal is significant, not just for the future of what is still a key US industry central to building everything from cars to appliances to roads and bridges, it is also at the center of election year politics and relations between the United States and Japan, a major ally.

The company announced that 98% of shares voted on the measure were in favor of the $14 billion deal.

“The overwhelming support from our stockholders is a clear endorsem*nt that they recognize the compelling rationale for our transaction with Nippon Steel,” said US Steel CEO David Burritt. “This is an important milestone. This transaction truly represents the best path forward for all of US Steel’s stakeholders – union and non-union employees, customers, communities and stockholders – and for the United States.”

But the deal faces signficant opposition from the United Steelworkers union and politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“We are not surprised by stockholders electing to cash in and sell out the iconic American company’s employees and retirees, along with the communities where we live and work,” said a statement from the USW. “Wall Street investors and U.S. Steel executives obviously stand to gain the most from Nippon … while leaving union members in the cold. Thankfully, today’s vote isn’t the end of the story:The decision ultimately isn’t simply up to shareholders and executives.”

For the deal to close, it needs approval from both the Justice Department, which enforces antitrust laws, and the normally low profile but powerful Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, made up of members of the President Joe Biden’s cabinet, including the secretaries of Treasury, Commerce, Defense, State, Homeland Security and the Attorney General.

And last month Biden came out publicly against the proposed deal.

“It is important that we maintain strong American steel companies powered by American steelworkers,” he said. “US Steel has been an iconic American steel company for more than a century, and it is vital for it to remain an American steel company that is domestically owned and operated.”

Experts said opposition from Biden and other politicians — both Republican and Democrats — make it unlikely the deal will win approval.

“It’s readily apparent … that electoral politics has overwhelmed any serious evaluation of this deal’s national security risk,” said Michael Leiter, head of the CFIUS and national security practices at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “That’s regrettable, but if you’re a US Steel shareholder it is impossible to ignore when evaluating the diminishing likelihood of a successful sale.”

Impact on US-Japanese relations

Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, who is on a state visit to the United States this week, both dodged questions about the deal at a joint press conference Wednesday.

“We understand that discussions are underway between the parties,” said Kishida. “We hope that discussion will unfold in a direction that will be positive for both sides. Japan believes that appropriate procedures based on law is being implemented by the US government.”

“I stand by my commitment to American workers,” said Biden. “I’m a man of my word. I’m going to keep it. And in regards to that, I stand by our commitment to our alliance. This is exactly what we’re doing with a strong alliance as well.”

The U.S., Japan, and the Philippines participated in historic defense talks at the White House. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports from Hong Kong on what has come out of the trilateral summit and how China is responding. Clipped From Video video Related video U.S. hosts historic summit with Japan and Philippines at the White House

A senior administration official, in a briefing with journalists before the prime minister’s visit, said the administration’s opposition to the deal shouldn’t hurt relations between the countries.

“The relationship between the United States and Japan is far bigger and more significant than a single commercial deal,” said the official, who spoke on background. “Six weeks ago, the United States gave Mitsui, a Japanese company, a $20 billion deal to build a crane factory here in the United States and replace all our port cranes throughout the United States. Nothing says ‘trusted ally’ like a $20 billion contract with a Japanese company.

“Everybody understands where we are,” the senior official continued. “We’re in a different place fundamentally. And I just think that this single commercial transaction does not define not only the visit, but the relationship.”

Concern for union jobs

In his statement last month, Biden acknowledged that opposition to the deal by the United Steelworkers union was part of the reason for his decision.

“I told our steelworkers I have their backs, and I meant it,” he said.

And a week after Biden came out against the deal, the USW endorsed Biden for re-election.

It’s not just Biden opposing the deal. Numerous Republicans, including Ohio Senator JD Vance, have also denounced the deal, and this week charged that US Steel misled shareholders when seeking support for the deal because it failed “to accurately convey the significant political obstacles and regulatory risks the merger faces.”

Shares of US Steel stock plunged Thursday in the wake of Biden’s comment, closing 23% below Nippon’s $55 a share asking price. It made shareholder approval a virtual certainty ahead of the vote, said Phil Gibbs, steel analyst with KeyBanc, even if the deal is eventually blocked. Share were down nearly 3% in afternoon trading Friday even after the vote.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (4)

A man in a crane charges slabs of iron at the Gary Works plant in Gary, Indiana, in 1945. Gary Works, US Steel's largest manufacturing plant, was the largest steel mill in the world for most of the 20th century, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (5)

A group of workers from US Steel attend an English class in Pittsburgh in 1913. The Pittsburgh-based company formed in 1901 as a merger of the nation's leading steel companies, including Carnegie Steel Corp.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (6)

Workers strike outside the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, in 1919.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (7)

An open hearth furnace is seen at a US Steel plant in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, in 1936.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (8)

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is constructed in California in 1936. It is one of many famous structures that US Steel supplied steel for and erected.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (9)

During World War II, US Steel played a critical role in the Allied forces' war efforts. Here, Irma Engstom operates a punch machine in Gary, Indiana, that cut steel discs for 75mm shell cases.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (10)

An electric furnace is tilted to pour 40 tons of stainless steel at a plant in Pennsylvania in 1945.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (11)

Striking steelworkers picket in Homestead, Pennsylvania, in 1946. An estimated 750,000 workers took part in the walkout, shutting down 1,200 plants in 30 states.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (12)

US War Secretary Robert P. Patterson, left, congratulates US Steel President Benjamin Fairless after he was awarded the Medal of Merit in 1946. At right is Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would later become president.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (13)

At left, steel beams for the United Nations Secretariat Building are loaded at a US Steel plant in Munhall, Pennsylvania, in 1948. On the right, a woman knits from a fire escape in New York as the Secretariat Building is under construction.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (14)

Workers wash off pulverized coal before forging a steel plate at a plant in South Charleston, West Virginia, in 1950.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (15)

A temporary television antenna is adjusted atop New York's Empire State Building by a worker from US Steel's American Bridge Co. in 1950.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (16)

A US Steel worker poses for a portrait circa 1951.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (17)

A worker oversees pipe production at a plant in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, circa 1955.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (18)

New twin blast furnaces operate at US Steel's South Chicago Works in 1956. They were among the world's largest at the time, standing 235 feet tall.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (19)

A tavern sign tries to entice striking steelworkers in Chicago in 1959.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (20)

Workers toil around the clock to complete the installation of the main support cables of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York in 1963.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (21)

Men work at the Homestead Steel Works factory in Homestead, Pennsylvania, circa 1970. From its peak in the 1950s, the company began to fall behind upstart competitors both foreign and domestic. Competitors in Japan and Germany, which were forced to rebuild from scratch after World War II, used new technologies that required far less labor and energy.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (22)

A helicopter lifts a panel of steel over the Louisiana Superdome that was being built in New Orleans in 1973.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (23)

A worker helps construct the top floors of the Sears Tower building in Chicago in 1973.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (24)

Bob Simmons monitors controls for a furnace and rolling machine at a US Steel research and development facility in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, in 2005.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (25)

A man arrives at a US Steel plant in Clairton, Pennsylvania, in 2018. In recent years, US Steel has fallen far below other American steel companies in steel output and stock market value.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (26)

President Donald Trump speaks to steelworkers in Granite City, Illinois, in 2018. Trump's administration imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% tariff on aluminum to shore up the struggling industries.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (27)

Steelworker Amanda Menendez watches the steel production process from office monitors in Granite City, Illinois, in 2018.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (28)

The US Steel plant in Clairton, Pennsylvania, is seen along the banks of the Monongahela River in 2023.

In pictures: The history of US Steel

“The stock was trading at $20 a share not long ago. Of course they they think it’s a great deal,” he said.

What happens next?

If the deal ends up being blocked, it’s not clear what happens next.

The nation’s automakers wrote to the White House after Biden announced his opposition to the Nippon-US Steel deal to say a Cleveland Cliffs-US Steel deal would place 65% to 90% of steel used in vehicles under the control of a single company. It said it therefore supported the Nippon deal for US Steel instead.

United States Steel Corp. Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. A narrow win in Pennsylvania helped decide the presidency for Trump in 2016, ending a two-decade-long winning streak in the Keystone State by Democratic presidential candidates. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden leads the president in Pennsylvania by 4.3 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics' average of recent polls. Photographer: Justin Merriman/Bloomberg via Getty Images Justin Merriman/Bloomberg/Getty Images Related article From powerhouse to afterthought: US Steel, once a symbol of America’s economic might, set to be sold to Japanese rival

US Steel rival Cleveland Cliffs, the nation’s other major unionized steelmaker, tried to buy US Steel last summer, only to have its $32.53 a share cash-and-stock offer rejected by the company. And Gibbs said despite the support such a deal would have from the USW, it’s not clear it would be able to win approval from antitrust regulators.

“American jobs … rely on a fair and competitive steel industry too,” the auto industry trade group said in its letter to the White House. “If the administration has concerns about the Nippon Steel deal, it must seriously consider alternative outcomes. One option that should not be on the table is an arrangement that creates a market concentration of domestic steel production in a single company.”

Different ways to make steel

Neither US Steel nor Cleveland Cliffs are the largest American steel company today. That would be Nucor, which makes steel with electric furnaces that melt scrap and other raw materials, rather than with the massive blast furnaces used by US Steel and Cleveland Cliffs.

US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (30)

A giant ladle backs away after pouring its contents of red-hot iron into a vessel in the basic oxygen furnace as part of the process of producing steel at the US Steel Granite City Works facility in a 2018 file photo.

Electric furnaces are more efficient, both in energy use and labor needed, than traditional integrated steel mills that use blast furnaces to make steel from raw materials like iron ore. But Nucor and other steelmakers using electric furnaces have been unable to produce the quality of steel needed by the auto industry — despite decades of trying — partly because their business model means its more profitable to make mass quantities of lower grade steel, said Gibbs.

This is United States Steel Mon Valley Works Clairton Plant in Clairton, Pa., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Gene J. Puskar/AP Related article Biden says it’s ‘vital’ US Steel remain American owned and operated

“Auto steel is still a relatively niche product,” he said. “I think new mills are working in that direction. But it’s not something they can do overnight. Nucor has been working on this for a long time.”

He said Nucor could make automotive quality steel, but it just can’t make much money doing it.

“In this market, it hasn’t been a good use of their time,” he said.

US Steel has purchased its own electric furnaces to make steel in Arkansas, a nonunion operation that is valued more highly by Nippon in this deal than its unionized blast furnace operations, to which it has assigned relatively little value.

That’s a major reason the USW so strongly opposes the deal, the fear that Nippon would eventually close the blast furnaces operations that employ its members. Nippon insists it will honor US Steel’s contracts with the union should the deal go through.

US Steel still wants the deal

US Steel said last month in the wake of Biden’s comments that it is still hopeful the deal will be approved and close.

“The President said he has the backs of the steelworkers. So do we,” US Steel said in a statement. “As part of this investment to grow US Steel and the American steel market, it has been made clear that there will be no job losses, no plant closures and no transfer of production resulting from this transaction.”

“US Steel’s union commitments will be honored and benefit from increased financial strength. US Steel products, supported by significant capital investments from Nippon Steel, will remain mined, melted and made in America,” the company said. “We strongly believe this is the best path forward for employees, customers, stockholders and the United States.”

But the USW said there is nothing in the negotiation behind the deal that would lead it to trust either company to live up to its commitments. It said a letter it received last month from Nippon was “nothing more than another collection of empty promises and open-ended language that would enable it to skirt obligations to workers and retirees.”

“Essentially, the loss of critical natural resources and the loss of capital needed to produce it is a national security issue,” said KeyBanc’s Gibbs. “It’s a building block for anything you want to do from infrastructure to consumer durables.”

The national security concerns of the union and politicians opposed to the deal are legitimate, even if steel isn’t thought of as a military asset the way computer chips or other technology might be, according to Gibbs. The loss of the ability to make steel from raw materials — and have the workers trained to make that steel — would have a significant impact, he said.

And given the election year politics, the USW and its ally at Cleveland Cliffs have a fair amount of leverage in fighting this deal, said Gibbs.

“I don’t think the union has held this much leverage in a transaction like this. It’s decided it might as well use it,” he said.

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US Steel’s shareholders just voted to end more than a century of American ownership. It may not matter | CNN Business (2024)

FAQs

Who owns the U.S. Steel Company? ›

Pending regulatory and shareholder approval, US Steel is set to be acquired by Nippon Steel, Japan's largest steel producing company, for US$14.1 billion. The deal, announced in mid-December 2023, retains US Steel's name and headquarters in Pittsburgh.

Did Nippon Steel buy U.S. Steel? ›

Key Takeaways. Japanese steelmaker Nippon agreed in December 2023 to acquire U.S. Steel at a 40 percent premium to its stock price. Although once a crown jewel of American industry, U.S. Steel in recent decades has shuttered factories, sold others, and exited segments of the industry.

What is the history of U.S. Steel? ›

United States Steel Corporation, leading U.S. producer of steel and related products, founded in 1901. At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of businessmen were involved in the formation of United States Steel Corporation, including Andrew Carnegie, Elbert H. Gary, Charles M. Schwab, and J.P. Morgan.

What family owned U.S. Steel? ›

U. S. Steel was formed with the joining of American business icons Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Charles Schwab, led by Elbert H. Gary, U. S. Steel's first chairman.

Who is trying to buy U.S. Steel? ›

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBMA) — Nippon Steel Corporation (NSC), Japan's largest steelmaker, is set to acquire U. S. Steel. The deal will likely be finalized in the second or third quarter of 2024, according to a spokesperson for U.S. Steel.

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