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Steel waits to be processed at a facility in Leipsic, Ohio, U.S.

Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

U.S. metal producers retreated a day after surging on the Trump administration's tariff plan as questions mounted over whether import limits will deliver the intended benefits.

U.S. Steel Corp. and Nucor Corp., the largest U.S. steelmaker, paced losses on the Bloomberg Americas Iron/Steel Index. Among aluminum companies, Chicago-based Century Aluminum Co. and Kaiser Aluminum Corp. also recoiled.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he plans to place a 25-per-cent tariff on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminum, sparking the ire of domestic manufacturers and trade partners in China and Europe. A broader selloff in stocks underscored concerns over the economic impact of the move, suggesting gains for U.S. metal producers may not be clear cut, and that Trump faces pushback as he attempts to fill in details of the action.

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"There's disbelief that this actually goes through in its current form, given backlash from members of Congress, economists, and the decline in the stock market yesterday," Lee McMillan, a steel analyst at Clarksons Platou Securities Inc., said by telephone. "The other concern is about demand destruction."

The tariff levels "are the intent," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said after Trump's announcement, with details of the action still to be written.

U.S. Steel fell as much as 6.1 per cent, a day after climbing 5.8 per cent. The stock was down 3.9 per cent at 11:39 a.m. in New York. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Nucor fell 1.6 per cent, and Century slid as much as 4.5 per cent before recovering. On Thursday, Nucor and Century jumped 3.3 per cent and 7.5 per cent, respectively. Gerdau SA, the Brazil-based company that produces more than 40 per cent of its steel in North American mills, lost as much as 5.8 per cent.

The drops extend gyrations from Thursday that came as markets awaited an expected announcement on the tariffs. U.S. aluminum and steel stocks jumped, stumbled then surged again as Trump confirmed plans to slap on the tariffs in one of his toughest actions yet to implement a hawkish trade agenda.

McMillan said there also may be scope for metal-consuming industries in the U.S. to work around the tariffs. One way could be by buying finished metal goods, which aren't affected by the tariffs, instead of raw materials, defeating the purpose of helping the domestic metals industries, he said.

"The simple idea is that steel becomes more expensive," he said "Imports of products made of steel become relatively more attractive than they were before, because their price doesn't change. Think in terms of a steel widget: if most people believe price of steel is going up, then the price of the widget would go up, but the foreign widget wouldn't go up in price."

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