3 Aluminum Names to Watch Amid Tariff Talks

Century Aluminum's CEO is optimistic about global tariffs, while Alcoa wants more focus on China

by Andrea Kramer

Published on Mar 7, 2018 at 1:24 PM

President Donald Trump's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports have made major waves in both Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street. Not only did Trump's chief economic advisor just hit the bricks in opposition, but European leaders are now warning of retaliatory tariffs, exacerbating concerns about a global trade war and sending U.S. stocks lower today. However, notable exceptions to the downturn include Century Aluminum Co (NASDAQ:CENX) and Alcoa Corp (NYSE:AA) stocks -- as well as the SPDR S&P Metals and Mining ETF (XME) -- which are trending higher today.

Century Aluminum CEO Optimistic on Tariffs

Century Aluminum CEO Michael Bless last week praised the planned 10% aluminum tariff, telling CNBC that it will bring jobs to a "devastated community" and will "put another $100 million into the [Kentucky] plant." From a broader standpoint, Bless opined that the tariffs "should be good for U.S. equities," and said there's a clear demand for more aluminum in the country.

CENX stock today has popped 5.2% to trade at $21.52, and is set to close atop its 10-day and 20-day moving averages for the first time since Feb. 21. The shares have been climbing a wall of higher highs since early 2016, and notched a nearly three-year high of $24.77 on Feb. 16.

Should Century Aluminum shares extend their bounce, a round of upgrades and price-target boosts could be in store. Currently, all five of the brokerage firms following CENX maintain tepid "hold" ratings, and the average 12-month price target of $19.40 represents a discount to the stock's current price.

Alcoa Stock Eyes Fifth Straight Gain

Alcoa stock is pacing for its fifth straight gain -- which would mark its longest winning streak of 2018 -- last seen 0.7% higher at $47.30. Yesterday, AA shares topped their 10-day and 20-day trendlines for the first time since Jan. 17 -- before an earnings bear gap, when they were still flirting with record highs north of $57.

However, unlike Century Aluminum, Alcoa and several of its fellow American aluminum producers recently said they are "deeply concerned" about the proposed global tariffs, which "may do more harm than good" Instead, the Aluminum Association suggested the tariffs be aimed more at China, specifically, and Alcoa suggested "vital trading partners" like Canada be exempt.

In the options pits, speculators have been upping the bullish ante on AA. On the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchage (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the stock has racked up a 10-day call/put volume ratio of 4.85 -- in the 83rd percentile of its annual range. This indicates that Alcoa option buyers have initiated bullish bets over bearish at a faster-than-usual clip during the past two weeks.

XME Put Options Popular Amid Tariff Talks

The XME exchange-traded fund (ETF) -- of which both Century Aluminum and Alcoa stocks are holdings -- has rallied nearly 8% in the past month, and was last seen fractionally higher at $37.62. The fund touched a three-year high of $39.62 in late January, before pulling back in the broader stock market correction, but found support atop its ascending 50-day moving average.

What's more, XME is in the beginning stages of a historically bullish time of year. The shares have rallied 2.5%, on average, in the month of March, since inception, per data from Schaeffer's Quantitative Analyst Chris Prybal. Already this month, XME has advanced more than 4%. Meanwhile, the ETF has averaged an April gain of 5.1% -- its best month of the year, historically.

However, options traders have been picking up XME puts at a rapid-fire rate lately, either to bet on or hedge against a sector pullback. On the major options exchanges, the fund has seen nearly 8,800 puts change hands, compared to fewer than 750 calls, looking back two weeks. Meanwhile, its 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio sits at a healthy 12.0 --  in the 94th percentile of its annual range.


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