Industrial CEOs: Rising Inflation Not All Bad
A little bit of inflation in the U.S. economy is a good thing, according to CEOs at KeyBanc Capital Markets’ 17th Annual Industrials & Basic Materials Conference.
David Burritt, CEO of U.S. Steel, sees inflation on raw material prices but not as much on labor. In general, inflation is good for the company because it can pass those costs on to its customers through higher steel prices. Inflation creates an environment that is beneficial for the steel business and economic growth.
KBR’s government business, which is mostly with the U.S. Department of Defense, is currently experiencing low inflation.
“Inflationary pressure gets passed on straight to the government,” says Stuart Bradie, CEO of KBR. “In our oil and gas business, inflation is in construction labor, and it’s focused on the Gulf Coast. Raw material pricing, in terms of procured goods, is starting to creep up a bit from its low base.”
Still, Burritt believes inflation is under control, citing that two-thirds of gross domestic product is influenced by the labor markets, and he doesn’t see an increase there. However, that doesn’t mean he’s not worried.
“I worry about the Fed taking rates up too soon and worrying about the next downturn instead of enjoying what we have right now,” he says. “Inflation is extraordinarily well behaved. Let’s not screw things up and take rates up too fast.”
When steel prices dropped about 40% in 2016, Burritt didn’t remember any of U.S. Steel’s customers saying they were going to lower their prices to create a better economic environment.
“It’s interesting how all of a sudden, when we return to a more reasonable price environment, and if we have a level playing field, we could have a strong commodities industry to support manufacturing,” he believes. “A little bit of inflation right now isn’t a bad thing.”