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CEOs in the U.S. industrial sector expressed some concern about how geopolitics will affect their businesses during KeyBanc Capital Market’s 17th Annual Industrials & Basic Materials Conference.

David Burritt, CEO of U.S. Steel, cited the U.S. Department of Commerce’s investigation of the effect of steel and aluminum imports on U.S. national security.

“All of a sudden, the Chinese, who supposedly only import two percent of steel into the U.S., had a strong reaction, which is interesting because we know how the ‘whack-a-mole’ works,” Burritt comments. “They ship it to Vietnam, and Vietnam ships it here. Vietnam would ship more to the United States than they actually produce. Ultimately, we have to win that game, and you do that with fair trade.”

The geopolitical situation is the most volatile Stuart Bradie, CEO of KBR, has ever seen. He cites troubled countries such as Venezuela, which voted the same person who put the country in trouble in the first place into office twice.

“And so it continues,” Bradie observes. “You’re almost getting back to people in dictatorships. Volatility is everywhere in the world, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Worry about the things you can change, but there’s no doubt that geopolitical issues could turn our businesses upside down overnight.”

Because of this situation, industrial companies have to be nimble and plan ahead.

“You better have plans in place now,” Burritt says. “You need to know what those trigger points are because when it happens, we have to figure out how to make money in the trough. Everybody needs to figure out how to do that.”