UPDATE 4-U.S. steel pipe makers defend energy business with trade case

Wed Jul 3, 2013 8:36pm EDT

* Petitioners include U.S. Steel and Vallourec

* Traders says complaint will have impact on market

* Importers say group filing is excessive

By Silvia Antonioli and Allison Martell

July 3 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. companies that produce specialty steel pipe used to drill for oil and gas has launched one of the biggest steel trade cases in years, asking the U.S. International Trade Commission to stem what they say is a flood of unfairly traded products from nine countries.

If they succeed, the price of some high-margin steel products sold to the energy industry could rise, benefiting domestic producers like United States Steel Corp.

The petition, filed on Tuesday on behalf of U.S. Steel and other companies, asked the commission to investigate imports of some "oil country tubular goods" from India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. ()

Shares of U.S. Steel jumped late on Tuesday but gave back some gains on Wednesday, dropping 5.6 percent to $18.18 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of pipe specialists Vallourec and Tenaris rose.

Nomura Securities analyst Curt Woodworth said the filing was a "modest positive" for U.S. producers, but noted that domestic capacity is set to rise in 2014 and 2015 in any case.

"These trade cases can be time consuming," he said. "With the anti-dumping cases, you need to prove financial injury. That will be difficult to prove, given that most of the companies are still very profitable."

In the short term, he said, some countries may dial back aggressive pricing.

S&P, as it cut its profit estimates for U.S. Steel on Wednesday, saw the ITC complaint as a potential positive, but one that would take months to resolve.

U.S. steel manufacturing has been hit by weaker demand in the past year, but steel pipe sales to the oil sector have been a bright spot for the industry, and that has increased imports. Many involved in the industry had been expecting an anti-dumping case for months.

The dramatic growth in U.S. oilfield activity was driven by drilling in shale rock, made possible in part by "horizontal" drilling techniques. In a sign of how quickly demand for pipe has grown, the number of horizontal drilling rigs tracked by Baker Hughes has risen 83 percent since the start of 2010.

Meanwhile, imports of oil country tubular goods from the nine countries cited in the petition have doubled in the past few years to almost 1.8 million tonnes and accounted for about 63 percent of the U.S. market last year, according to steel industry body American Iron and Steel Institute.

"This will benefit domestic producers of tubes and pipes and domestic producers of steel hot rolled coil, which is used to make them. We should see an increase in demand and prices in the next few weeks already," a U.S.-based steel trader said.

FILING "EXCESSIVE", SAY IMPORTERS

The American Institute for International Steel, a group representing steel importers and exporters, called the filing "excessive and unwarranted" and warned that it could disrupt oil and gas drilling.

The organization's president, David Phelps, said that while the low end of the market is over supplied, that is not the case for high-end seamless pipe sold by U.S. Steel and others: "We think this is an overreach," he said.

The petitioners also included Tenaris subsidiary Maverick Tube Corporation, Boomerang Tube, Energex Tube, a division of JMC Steel Group, Northwest Pipe Company, Tejas Tubular Products, TMK IPSCO, Vallourec Star, and L.P. Steel.

Most petitions are accepted by the Commerce Department, but for import duties to actually be imposed, the U.S. International Trade Commission must separately find that U.S. producers have been materially injured or are threatened with injury by the imports. As part of this quasi-judicial process, which takes several months, importers can testify that duties are not justified.

In 2010, the Commerce Department slapped on anti-dumping duties ranging from about 30 to 99 percent on oil country tubular goods from China.

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