🌍 Nippon Steel set to buy a US giant

Plus: Erdogan and Orbán meet again

Hi Intriguer. I had the pleasure of visiting the Indiana Dunes National Park this summer. Fun fact, it was only designated a national park in 2019 after ~100 years of lobbying by local authorities. Another fun fact, it sits right next to Cleveland-Cliffs, a giant steel mill that creates one of the more interesting views from a national park you’ll ever see.

I mention this not to prosecute my belief that Indiana Dunes shouldn’t be a national park (change my mind) but because our top story today is about how Cleveland-Cliffs’s unsuccessful bid to buy US Steel earlier this year led Japanese firm Nippon Steel to offer $14.9B for the US steelmaker this week instead.

It’s an important geopolitical story, not only because it gives Japan a meaningful foothold in the US market but also because it could provide a counterbalance to China’s domination of the global steel industry.

- John Fowler, Co-Founder

TODAY’S NEWS

Colorado weighs in. Colorado's Supreme Court has ruled 4-3 that Donald Trump can’t run in the state’s Republican presidential primaries in March, citing the US Constitution's 14th Amendment on the eligibility of candidates who’ve “engaged in insurrection or rebellion”. The decision has been placed on hold pending appeal.

N-EU rules. After three years of negotiations, the EU has reached a historic deal to overhaul its migration and asylum system. The New Pact, which still has to be ratified, consists of five pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening coordination and solidarity between member states.

Mobilise. President Zelensky says Ukraine’s military wants to mobilise up to 500,000 more soldiers, but he wants more details first. Speaking at his annual end-of-year press conference, Zelensky also argued Russia has “failed to achieve any of its goals” this year, and expressed confidence the US will continue to provide aid. In the US, Senate negotiators now say talks on aid to Ukraine will continue into January.

Deal or no deal. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Hamas’s political leaders have been in secret talks with rival Palestinian factions on how to govern Gaza after the conflict ends. The group’s military leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, reportedly demanded the talks be stopped when he found out, believing it was too early for Hamas to compromise.

Meta’s moderation. Meta’s oversight board has criticised the social media platform for removing two graphic videos in connection to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and urged the company to respect individuals’ “freedom of expression […] and their ability to communicate in this crisis”.

TOP STORY

Japan’s largest steel company snaps up US Steel

Japan’s Nippon Steel has announced plans to purchase America’s third-largest steelmaker - US Steel - for $14.9B.

US Steel isn’t any old company. 

It’s an iconic American brand, founded in 1901 out of Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire, with help from two legendary financiers, JP Morgan and Charles Schwab. It went on to become the world’s largest company, the first-ever valued at over $1B, and it made Carnegie the world’s richest person. 

And steel isn’t any old product. It’s used for:

  • 🚀 Military platforms and weapons systems

  • 🏗️ Buildings and critical infrastructure

  • 🚄 Ships and trains, and 

  • ⚡ Things like EVs and turbines for the energy transition.

That makes it a vivid symbol of a country’s industrial base, and a source of national prestige. US Steel even got a reference in Godfather Part II!

But the company isn’t what it used to be. At its peak last century, it was the world’s largest steelmaker, employing more than 300,000 workers and producing more than 35 million tonnes a year. These days it’s ranked 27th, hiring 15,000 workers and producing 14 million tonnes.

What happened? It’s a mix of global, domestic, and internal factors.

Globally, the steel story is a China story; the country now produces more than half the world’s steel, with subsidies that keep prices lower than anywhere else. These low prices, plus higher global energy costs, make steel a tough industry.

Domestically in the US, successive governments have deployed tariffs and other policies to help the steel industry and drive local demand. But other competitors in the US have done better at seizing this opportunity, overtaking US Steel.

Internally, US Steel has tried to catch up, spending billions on reorganisation, diversification, acquisition, and modernisation. But it’s taken on high debt in the process, and its modernisation has still been far too slow.

So after fending off buyers and rumoured buyers for decades, Nippon has now made an offer US Steel can’t refuse, at a 40% premium above its share price.

Why?

Adding US Steel’s mills to its portfolio will make Nippon the world’s second-largest producer. But probably more importantly, it’ll grant Nippon better access to the massive US market, which is still mostly serviced by US-made steel.

Nippon says US Steel shareholders will vote on the deal in March and the purchase will close later next year, assuming it clears US regulatory hurdles.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

The other little thing happening later next year is the US presidential election, and voices on both sides of the aisle are already objecting to this sale on the grounds that it’s bad for workers and bad for national security.

Nippon’s CEO is clearly alert to both arguments, announcing the company will honour existing deals with the main US union, and describing the merged company as a “free competition-world” champion to rival China.

Plus, Nippon will bring deep pockets, advanced tech, and a lower global cost base to US Steel, presenting a real chance for a meaningful revival.

But in the short term, none of that will make the pill any easier to swallow for lawmakers or workers in America’s traditional industrial heartland.

Also worth noting: 

  • Two other US competitors, Cleveland Cliffs and Esmark, sought to buy US Steel earlier this year for $7.3B and $10B, respectively. 

  • The world’s largest steelmakers are currently China’s Baowu, Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, and China’s Ansteel, with Nippon in 4th.

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MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇯🇵 Japan: Authorities have raided offices connected to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over allegations of misappropriated funds. The raids are bad news for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose approval ratings have reached levels unseen since 1947 - and not in a good way.

  2. 🇭🇺 Hungary: Turkish President Erdoğan has met Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán during his second visit to Budapest in four months. The two have been slow-walking Sweden’s NATO accession, and exchanged gifts including a horse from Orbán and an EV from Erdoğan.

  3. 🇧🇩 Bangladesh: Four people have died after anti-government protesters set fire to a train in the capital Dhaka. With its top leaders either jailed or exiled, the opposition wants the government to step down and allow others to oversee the January 7 election, which it’s boycotting. 

  4. 🇨🇴 Colombia: National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas say they’ll stop using kidnapping to raise funds if the government extends a ceasefire due to expire next month. The ELN currently holds 38 hostages, and held the father of soccer star Luis Díaz captive for 12 days in October.

  5. 🇸🇩 Sudan: The Rapid Support Forces militia has claimed control of Sudan’s second-biggest city after three days of intense fighting against the Sudanese Army. As many as 300,000 displaced people who had sought refuge in the city have now fled.

MEME OF THE DAY

Credits: Twitter/Dicker_JJ,

Diplomacy can be as farcical as it is critical. And Intrigue’s very own Jeremy captures some of the farcical side through occasional memes like this one, which recently went viral. Or at least fungal? You can follow him for more.

DAILY POLL

Should US lawmakers try to prevent Nippon's acquisition of US Steel?

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Yesterday’s poll: How do you think the international community should respond to these Red Sea attacks?

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🚢 Re-route ships (8%)

🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 🛡️ Beef up defensive measures to protect ships (35%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🚀 Go after the attackers (44%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇮🇱 Accept Houthi demands regarding Israel and Gaza (10%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write-in!) (3%)

Your two cents:

  •  🚀 V.N: “A multinational bombing campaign of the source of the missiles and drones, via approved UNSC Resolution.”

  • 🗣️ J.W: “Re-routing might be necessary, but should be avoided as much as possible to keep prices low, prevention of attacks is the best way to solve the problem”

  • 📜 G.H: “Rerouting is, in the long run, easier, cheaper and safer. ”

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