July 17, 2014 11:15AM

U.S. Trade Policy Attacks U.S. Energy Policy, Both Hurting

First there were oil and gas export restrictions, then pipeline injunctions, now import restrictions on the steel needed for exploration and extraction.  Washington is coming from all angles to kneecap the energy boom sparked by the horizontal drilling and fracking revolutions – a once in a generation supply-side shock, which otherwise promises to attract a flood of foreign investment and serve as a wellspring of economic growth and job creation.


The most recent assault on our “All of the Above” energy policy comes via our fantastically self-destructive trade policy. Last Friday, in a final antidumping determination, the U.S. Department of Commerce found exporters from nine countries to be dumping “Oil Country Tubular Goods” (OCTG) – a class of steel products used primarily in oil and gas well projects – in the U.S. market. The most important foreign source of OCTG in the case was South Korea, whose exporters were found NOT to be dumping in the preliminary determination issued back in February.


But in the intervening months, the U.S. steel industry and the Congressional Steel Caucus impressed upon the bean counters at Commerce that the methodology they used for the Korean preliminary determination was inferior to an alterative they favored.  Without getting too into the weeds here, as tends to happen when exposing the dishonesty of the antidumping regime, suffice it to say that the revision from 0% dumping margins to 10%-16% for Korean exporters was primarily the result of Commerce changing its estimate of what the home market profit rate “should be.”


For the preliminary determination, that estimate was based on Korean OCTG producers’ experiences (with OCTG and other products).  For the final determination, Commerce changed its estimate to one based on a University of Iowa graduate student’s estimation of the profit experience of a single Argentine OCTG producer named Tenaris.  That's right!  The cost of steel for U.S. oil well projects will rise -- maybe 16% -- because some student was messing around with @functions on Microsoft Excel.


In its preliminary determination, Commerce expressed reservations about using that estimate:

While the Tenaris profit information reflects predominantly OCTG sales, it represents neither production nor sales in the market under consideration. In addition, it is based on a research paper containing a disclaimer statement regarding its accuracy.

Commerce then elaborated:

The Tenaris profit information is based on a research paper prepared by a student at the University of Iowa School of Management.

And the footnote associated with that comment was more illuminating still:

This report was created by a student enrolled in the Applied Securities Management (Henry Fund) program at the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Management and contains several disclaimers. The intent of the report is to provide potential employers and other interested parties an example of the analytical skills, investment knowledge, and communication abilities of Henry Fund students. Henry Fund analysts are not registered investment advisors, brokers, or officially licensed financial professionals. The investment opinion contained in the report does not represent an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any of the aforementioned securities. Unless otherwise noted, facts, and figures included in this report are from publicly available sources. The report is not a complete compilation of data, and its accuracy is not guaranteed. From time to time, the University of Iowa, its faculty, staff, students, or the Henry Fund may hold a financial interest in the companies mentioned in this report.

Antidumping calculation – like the law itself – is farcical and driven mostly by political considerations.  U.S. abuse of its antidumping law and the government’s growing reputation for flaunting the rules of trade hurt most Americans now and threaten worse in the future.


I elaborate on the OCTG case, steel industry capture of the antidumping levers, and U.S. trade offenses in this piece in Forbes today.