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ArcelorMittal May Be a Tempting Target

Stocks in this article: X GGB AKS MT SLX TKA

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --Many publicly traded companies have rebounded strongly from the Great Recession. But many steel companies have not.

As detailed in a previous article on TheStreet, stocks such as U.S. Steel (X) Gerdau SA (GGB), AK Steel (AKS), and ArcelorMittal (MT) are now trading well below their book value. So undervalued is ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel company, that it may be a tempting target for an activist investor to take action to try to drive the share price higher.

At its peak before the recession, ArcelorMittal's stock was about $103 in May 2008.

It's now trading for about $16.15, while the exchange-traded fund for the industry, Market Vectors Steel (SLX), now trades at $47.70, down from about $114 in May 2008. So ArcelorMittal has fallen much more steeply.

The stock is selling at a price-to-sales ratio of 0.37 and a price-to-book value of 0.61. So any suitor would be getting in very cheap.

Steel assets are easy to sell, too. As an example, ArcelorMittal recently entered a 50-50 joint venture with Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Corp. to buy ThyssenKrupp AG's (TKA) steel plant in Alabama for $1.55 billion. That could just as easily be sold.

ArcelorMittal recently announced it will reorganize according to region, while maintaining the product specialization within those divisions. About 44% of ArcelorMittal's crude steel production capacity is in Europe and 39% in the Americas. The reorganization provides a logical outline for how to sell off the divisions.

In addition to its new structure, recent earnings make ArcelorMittal more appealing to outside money. Third-quarter core profit (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortizaiton) came in at $1.71 billion, topping estimates. For 2014, core profits are expected to register $6.5 billion. Even more bullish was the company raising its prediction of global steel consumption growth to 3.5% from 3%.

Also, ArcelorMittal was upgraded by Cowan this month and by UBS in October.

It is still losing money on a GAAP basis, but based on its third-quarter performance and the overall outlook for the steel sector, this may be a good time for a corporate raider to make a move as better days appear to be ahead for the company and the industry.

At the time of publication, the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Yates is a financial writer who has had thousands of articles appear in periodicals and Web sites such as TheStreet, Newsweek, The Washington Post and many others. Much of his career was spent working on Capitol Hill for Members of Congress in both the House and Senate, on both committee and personal staff.  He was also General Counsel for a publicly traded corporation.  He has degrees from Harvard University, Georgetown University Law Center and The Johns Hopkins University.

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