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U.S. heavy equipment makers feeling pain from tariffs, disputes: report

By Timothy Aeppel

(Reuters) - U.S. makers of bulldozers and other heavy equipment are raising prices, losing sales and in some cases beginning to trim workers in response to the Trump administration's protracted trade disputes with various countries, according to a new report.

Advocates of tariffs point to continued job growth and low overall inflation as proof that tariffs are not harming these manufacturers, which include global producers such as Caterpillar Inc, Alamo Group Inc and Terex Corp.

But an economic analysis conducted on behalf the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and set to be released on Monday by IHS Markit, notes that increased costs and the disruption of supply chains will slowly filter through the overall economy, gradually raising prices for finished goods and curbing employment over the next decade.

Scott Hazelton, a co-author of the report, said tariffs will increase the cost of producing off-road equipment in the U.S. between 6 percent to 7 percent over the period.

Caterpillar, a key component of the Dow, has said tariffs cost the company $100 million last year.

The study notes heavy equipment makers are particularly exposed to higher steel prices. Accounting for all steel used - both directly by these manufacturers and the parts they buy from others - the material represents 18.5 percent of the cost of a farm machine and 25.8 percent for mining machines.

"If you’re a domestic producer, you’re caught between eating a cost increase or raising prices and potentially losing business,” Hazelton said.

Gradall Industries Inc is among those getting hit at both ends of their business. The company, a subsidiary of Alamo Group Inc, has seen the price of massive metal castings it imports from China go up by 25 percent due to tariffs, for instance, on top of higher domestic steel prices.

Mike Haberman, president of Gradall, said they raised prices twice last year in response to higher-cost imports and steel.

Meanwhile, "our exports to China are down 30 to 40 percent," said Haberman, due to retaliatory tariffs China slapped on imports of Gradall’s machines and the economic slowdown in that country.

The Section 232 tariffs imposed by Washington hit most foreign suppliers of metals, which have prompted retaliatory duties from many of those countries.

Haberman said he has not shed workers yet, but stopped hiring last year.

Other companies, however, are beginning to eye job cuts.

John Garrison, chief executive of Terex, said he plans to start reducing headcount in one of his business lines this year, but declined to specify which sector or the number of jobs that might be cut.

The company has three segments - aerial work platforms, cranes and material processing machines.

"I can't say that it's all due to tariffs, but the economic uncertainty caused by the trade situation isn’t helping,” Garrison said.

(Reporting by Timothy Aeppel; editing by Joe White and G Crosse)