Century Aluminum CEO 'extremely confident' exemptions won't deaden Trump tariffs impact

Key Points
  • Century Aluminum CEO Michael Bless thinks despite tariff exemptions, the ultimate objective will be reached — reviving the steel and aluminum industries.
  • He says he expects the exemptions to come with quotas that don't deaden the intended impact of the tariffs.
  • Bless also said he's moving ahead in boosting capacity at the company's Kentucky plant.
Century Aluminum CEO on the tariff impact

Despite the exemptions President Donald Trump put in place for his tariffs, Century Aluminum CEO Michael Bless is "extremely confident" the ultimate objective will be reached — reviving the steel and aluminum industries.

When Trump signed the tariffs, which slap levies of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, only Canada and Mexico were exempted. Since then, the president has also added the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea to the list.

However, the tariffs are only suspended until May 1 as discussions continue.

"Any exemptions are going to support the objective of restarting U.S. capacity," Bless said Tuesday on CNBC's "Power Lunch."

He expects them to come with "quotas" that don't "deaden" the intended impact of the tariffs.

When issuing proclamations that laid out the exemptions, Trump said, "if necessary and appropriate" he will "consider" directing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to "implement a quota" against exempt countries before May 1.

In fact, Bless is so confident he is moving ahead with boosting capacity at Century's Kentucky plant. When the tariffs were first announced, Bless said he expected to hire 300 workers and invest more than $100 million into the plant.

"We've got our heads down, full steam ahead at restarting that capacity that we had to shut down regrettably a couple years ago," he said Tuesday. "For us, no change. We think they are on the right path."

Shares of Century Aluminum, which jumped on the initial tariff news, plunged 18 percent when the additional exemptions were announced. The stock is down about 14 percent year to date.

Bless said while uncertainty is never a great thing as far as investors are concerned, he believes the end result will be better for the company's bottom line.

"Until we see over the next month or two that the administration … is going to follow through on their stated intent to make sure that whatever regime is put in place … come(s) with quotas that don't dent one iota the intended impact of the tariffs, then there's going to be some uncertainty out there. It's going to be volatile."

— Reuters contributed to this report.