The new administration in Washington has talked a lot about bringing back manufacturing jobs, which has spurred debate about whether this is achievable. But are there American manufacturers that are already racking up enviable profits, and are a good bet to keep doing so no matter what the future holds?
While old-fashioned firms like U.S. Steel and Reliance Steel have struggled to adapt to the 21st-century economy, Nucor has been a nimble performer. The company's recent financial performance has been strong, and the company seems likely to continue its momentum.
The stock seems well-positioned to generate profits over the long haul.
If Washington delivers some money for infrastructure improvements, it will be good news for steelmakers like Nucor. Meanwhile, corporate tax cuts will allow more room for investment and maintenance of existing facilities. A tougher trade posture toward China may hurt the economy overall but could be good in the short run for domestic steel.
Nucor has made a habit of topping Wall Street's expectations when it comes to earnings, and its most recent report (for the fourth quarter of 2016) was no exception. The company reported a profit of $159.6 million, or 50 cents a share, well above the consensus estimate of 34 cents a share.
Sales for the quarter came in at $3.96 billion, a 14% increase from the same period of 2015 and also substantially above what the "experts" predicted.
Another sign of its financial health is the size and reliability of its dividend. The stock currently yields 2.62% and the dividend has increased steadily for many years. That's impressive in an industry that is constantly buffeted by unpredictable events in the world economy.
And there is good reason to believe that 2017 will be an even better year than 2016 was because of larger trends and the company's efforts to streamline and expand its business.
Inventory levels of steel at many of Nucor's key customers have dropped in the last 12 months, so demand for the company's product should only increase. The firm has also shaken up its raw materials division, cutting some unprofitable segments while increasing investment in others.
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Tom Scarlett is an independent contributor who at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.