Nucor Corporation recently announced record consolidated net earnings of $2.36 billion ($7.42 per diluted share) for 2018 compared to $1.32 billion ($4.10 per diluted share) in 2017.
The new earnings record is a 24 percent increase compared to Nucor's previous record earnings of $5.98 per diluted share reported in 2008.
"The best way to sum up 2018 is this - it was a record year for Nucor. We posted record earnings per share and record revenue, and we shipped a record amount of steel," said John Ferriola, Nucor's Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President. "Over the past decade, we have been positioning Nucor to take full advantage of an upturn in the steel market. During that time, we invested more than $9 billion to increase the Company's peak earnings power. These investments enhanced our competitive strengths by building on our product diversity and market leadership positions. Our 2018 financial results demonstrate that Nucor's disciplined strategy of investing for profitable growth is working."
As much as Nucor's "disciplined strategy of investing" is at work to drive earnings, it would be remiss of the company not to mention (which they didn't) how steel tariffs enacted last March by the President Trump are boosting profits.
In an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer on "Mad Money," Ferriola discussed Nucor's recent $3.2 billion investment in its facilities and how an investment of such magnitude would have been out of the cards for the company pre-tariffs:
“When you look at the amount of plate that was being dumped into this country three, four years ago, it would really cause us to hesitate before making such a large investment,” said Ferriola.
The tariffs, Ferriola divulged in the interview, have helped create a more level playing field. "Getting this level playing field has enabled us to make this investment, create these additional jobs," he said. But according to metals researcher Woods Mackenzie, the number of steel jobs created from the tariffs hover around 1 percent. Joe Deaux of Bloomberg reports:
Nucor Chief Executive Officer John Ferriola told Bloomberg News in May that an 80 percent capacity utilization level was “the minimum needed for the industry’s long-term financial health and viability.”
The tariffs, which have made imported steel more costly, are having an impact. The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), a trade group, reported that average capacity utilization industrywide touched the 80 percent level in the first week of 2019, up 7 percentage points from a year earlier. That’s one reason analysts expect U.S. Steel Corp. to report a 175 percent jump in 2018 profit, to $936.2 million, on Jan. 30.
Yet Wood Mackenzie predicts that while steel production rose 4 percent, the total number of American steel jobs increased just 1 percent in 2018.
Nucor predicts 2019 will be "another strong year" with some of the best earnings "in Nucor's history." But with a presidential election on the horizon and an increasingly costly trade war ballooning, it is unclear how much more longer steel tariffs will be in place to deliver record-breaking profits for domestic steel.
To view Nucor's full earnings report, visit nucor.com.