The headline for the steel story in yesterdays later editions of the Business & Finance section should have read: U.S. Steel Raises Prices 3.5% Under an Exemption.
U.S. Steel Corp. gave the administration's anti-inflation program another jolt today by announcing a 3.5 percent price increase that puts the company's total price increases during the past nine months far above those permitted by the price guidelines. But the company and the Council on Wage and Price Stability said that the nation's largest steel maker was not in violation of the voluntary guideline program.
Instead, the company had been permitted to shift to an alternative standard that permits companies whose costs are rising rapidly to raise prices more than they did in 1976 and 1977 so long as they keep their profit margins below those achieved in the third quarter of 1978.
U.S. Steel, one of the earliest supporters of the Carter administration's anti-inflation program, cited "accelerating" costs of energy and environmental projects as the reasons for the latest set of price increases that cover more than half the company's total steel product line.
Other companies granted profit margin exemptions such as U.S. Steel received were: Chevron USA Inc., Gulf Oil Corp. chemical division, Pfizer Inc. chemical division, Dow Chemical Co., Westvaco Corp., Akzona Inc., Essex Group (a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.), K. Mart Corp., Olin Corp., Ashland Oil Inc., Standard Oil Co. (Ohio), Mobil Chemical Co.
Also, Container Corp of America, Shell Oil Co., Kerr-McGee Corp., Phillips Petroleum Co., Denny's Inc., Murphy Oil Corp., Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail). The only company whose request was denied was United States Shoe Corp.
Many of the companies granted the exception are affected by the big jump in petroleum prices since the first of the year. Companies such as Dow and Olin are major users of petrochemicals, whose prices have risen in lockstep with those of gasoline, dieselfuel and jet fuel.
The profit margin standard was set up as a safety valve so that companies with rapidly rising raw materials or labor costs were not faced with losses if they tried to keep price increases within the general guidelines.
The general price guideline asks companies to keep their price increases this year at least a half percentage point below their average price increases in 1976 and 1977.
Nevertheless, every time a company switches to the profit-margin test, the result is another nudge to inflation. The profit-margin test merely assures that companies themselves do not make money as a result of raising their prices in excess of the general price standard.
In making its announcement today, U.S. Steel said in Pittsburgh that the price increase it announced, which takes effect July 1, "reflects restraint in that it does not fully cover the accelerating prices for energy and environmental projects which are especially costly for a major producer of steel."
The company also had to pay a large cost of living raise to members of the United Steel Workers Union on May 1.
The company said increases affect sheet and strip steel, bars, semifinished wheels and axles, mechanical and pressure tubing and continuous weld pipe.
Sheet and strip steel is the major steel product that goes into consumer goods such as appliances and automobiles.
The 3.5 percent price increase announced today brings U.S. Steel's total price increases since Oct. 1 to just over 9 percent, although a company spokesman says he could not confirm just how much the steelmaker has raised prices since Oct. 1, the start of the president's guideline program.
Under the general price standard, U.S. Steel, as well as most other major steel companies, would have been permitted to raise prices by about 8 percent between Oct. 1, 1978 and Oct. 1, 1979.
The Council on Wage and Price Stability said its preliminary analysis confirms that the new U.S. Steel price increase conforms with the profit-margin test, although government souces said it is a close call.
Most other steel companies are expected to follow U.S. Steel's lead. Late last month Lewis Foy, chairman of Bethlehem Steel Corp., the second biggest producer, warned that rising energy and labor costs made it virtually impossible for the company to continue to meet the price guidelines.
In another development, President Carter approved a special eight-month extension on import quotas of speciality steel such as stainless. The president's top trade negotiator, Robert Strauss, said that because of recent improvement in the domestic specially steel industry, the administration could not justify continuing the quotas beyond Feb. 13, 1980.
The quotas were imposed in 1976 by President Ford.