Steelmakers, Caterpillar Jump on Bigger Stimulus Hopes

Caterpillar Inc. excavators are displayed for sale at the Whayne Supply Co. dealership in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.  Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg
Caterpillar Inc. excavators are displayed for sale at the Whayne Supply Co. dealership in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- American steelmakers and machinery producers surged on speculation that Democrats securing control of Congress paves the way for President-Elect Joe Biden to pass a wide-ranging infrastructure stimulus bill.

Investors in the metal used in everything from skyscrapers to highways to bridges and tunnels are wagering that control of the House and Senate will give Biden the support he needs to make good on infrastructure and clean energy campaign promises. Democrats won control of the U.S. Senate after two runoff victories in Georgia.

The S&P Supercomposite Steel Index, which includes U.S. Steel Corp., Nucor Corp. and Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and 11 other members, gained 8% and capped the biggest two-day gain in more than four years. Caterpillar Inc., which makes the equipment needed for the massive projects, rose 5.6%.

“We see the ‘Blue Wave’ reflation trade as driving outperformance in both steel and metal equities today owing to expectations that Democrats will be able to continue to more effectively funnel stimulus into the U.S. economy as well as the potential for a more sizable infrastructure bill,” Curt Woodworth, director of U.S. metals and mining research at Credit Suisse, said in an email.

The industry has been clamoring for an infrastructure package since the early days of lockdown, with five U.S. steel groups in April asking Congress to include investment in a second round of stimulus -- which didn’t come until a few weeks ago. At the time, President Donald Trump had called for $2 trillion in spending on roads, bridges and tunnels.

One of the biggest hurdles to infrastructure spending is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said it must have some form of revenue source and has complained that stimulus would be used for “blue state bailouts” to shore up things like state pensions.

In November, the Steel Manufacturers Association suggested Biden do a five-year $1 trillion-plus package, with funding coming from a “modest” increase in the gasoline tax.

“It’s not a blue state versus a red state issue,” the group’s president, Philip Bell, said at the time in an interview. “When you have infrastructure investment, it grows out from the center, so you might have a situation where there’s a project in Texas but you need engineering from California, contractors from Arizona and steel from a mill in Alabama to get that done.”

Nucor, the largest U.S. steelmaker, gained 5.5% in New York, while U.S. Steel soared 17% and Caterpillar touched an all-time high.

“Construction is a critical consumer of steel for both hot-rolled coil and rebar, and the market reset of inflation expectations higher is likely to drive fund flows into hard assets such as metals and steel equities, given historical hedge for inflation,” Woodworth said.

(Updates with Democratic victories in Georgia in second paragraph)

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.