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U.S. Steel shareholders on Friday approved its proposed US$14.9-billion acquisition by Japan’s Nippon Steel, taking the merger one step closer to completion even as political opposition to the deal mounts.

U.S. Steel said that over 98 per cent of the votes were in favour of the deal under which Nippon will pay US$55 a share, an amount that represented a hefty premium when the takeover was announced in December.

Since then, however, several U.S. lawmakers have come out in opposition to the deal, citing national security concerns. President Joe Biden has said U.S. Steel must remain a domestically owned American firm.

U.S. Steel’s shares closed down 2.1 per cent on Friday.

The deal has also drawn strong criticism from the United Steelworkers (USW) labour union, which is worried about potential job losses.

“We are not surprised by stockholders electing to cash in and sell out the iconic American company’s employees and retirees,” the USW said in response to the vote.

Regulators are also scrutinizing the deal. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful panel that reviews foreign investments in U.S. companies, has met with the parties to discuss the deal, Reuters has reported.

The U.S. Justice Department has opened an in-depth antitrust investigation into the takeover, Politico reported on Wednesday.

Nippon has pledged no job cuts as a result of the deal, to honour all agreements between the union and U.S. Steel as well as to move its own U.S. headquarters to Pittsburgh where U.S. Steel is based.

The Japanese steel maker won the race for U.S. Steel over rivals Cleveland-Cliffs, ArcelorMittal and Nucor.

However, U.S. Steel shares have not hit the offer price of US$55, signalling that investors expect the controversy around the deal to delay its closing.

The deal is expected to close in the second or third quarter of this year, the companies have said previously.

Bloomberg News reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter, that both steelmakers are expected to announced they now anticipate the deal to close in the second half of 2024.

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