U.S. Steel, Freeport: Metals & Mining Losers - TheStreet

U.S. Steel, Freeport: Metals & Mining Losers

U.S. Steel and Freeport McMoRan lead metals and mining stocks lower on a bloody day for the category.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The pain was general all over the land of mining and metals on Thursday.

Shares in the category -- especially those of the diversified miners and steelmakers -- paced a broad, steep selloff in U.S. equities for the second day in a row. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell nearly 2%, or more than 200 points, while the Dow Jones-UBS Industrial Metals Subindex was down 1.3%.

Especially worrisome to investors have been indications that Chinese authorities would perhaps take the foot off the accelerator of the nation's breakneck economy by tightening monetary policy.

Should that happen, the heady intake of raw materials by China throughout most of 2009 and early 2010 would assuredly slow, weakening prices for base metals and raw materials.

The selling pressure was strong enough to make

better-than-expected results from copper giant

Freeport McMoRan

(FCX) - Get Report

seem irrelevant. The company's stock price lost as much as 7% Thursday.

Because Freeport has benefited greatly from Chinese copper buying, investors appeared to be worrying about what a slower-growing economy in China might mean for Freeport's business. Still, the company's CEO, Richard Adkerson, pooh-poohed that idea in a conference call with analysts and in an interview on

CNBC

Thursday. He said "people" have worried "for years" that overheated growth in China would eventually spur central bankers there to raise lending rates. And yet nothing has come of it, Adkerson laughed.

Among other big U.S.-based mining concerns,

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

shares dropped 6% to $14.27,

Southern Copper

(PCU)

lost 4.6% to $30.87, and gold producer

Newmont Mining

(NEM) - Get Report

shed 4% to $44.57.

Also Thursday, Australia reportedly moved a step closer to instituting a mining tax to replace the royalty charges that miners currently pay the government. According to the Sydney

Morning Herald

, the tax would come to 40%. Shares of the two huge Down Under-based miners --

BHP Billiton

(BHP) - Get Report

and

Rio Tinto

(RTP)

-- dropped sharply in trading on the

New York Stock Exchange

. American depositary receipts of BHP, the world's largest mining group, were down 4.3%, while ADRs of Rio, which has more exposure in Australia, plunged 7%.

Elsewhere, shares of

U.S. Steel

(X) - Get Report

, which had enjoyed a

huge run-up over recent weeks

, led shares of steelmaking concerns to the downside Thursday. Producers in the U.S. and Europe would indirectly feel the impact of a slowdown in China (lower prices in China ought to cause lower steel prices across the globe).

Shares of U.S. Steel dropped 7.7% to $58.38;

AK Steel

(AKS) - Get Report

lost 7.5% to $21.33; and

ArcelorMittal

(MT) - Get Report

declined 5.3% to $42.50. Scrap-metal recycler

Nucor

(NUE) - Get Report

, which reports quarterly results on Monday along with AK Steel, saw its stock hold up fairly well, falling 2.5% to $45.94.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.