Pete Coors to President Trump: aluminum tariff leads to higher beer prices

The Wall Street Journal has published an opinion piece from Molson Coors Chairman Pete Coors warning that beer and other drinks packaged in aluminum cans may cost more for consumers this summer because of an aluminum tariff implemented by the Trump administration.

In the letter, published online Monday and in print this morning, Coors calls on the beverage industry to join Molson Coors in asking the president and his administration to kill the Midwest Premium, which he labels "a mysterious, antiquated fee and arbitrary price index ... controlled by one private company."

The fee, he notes, has more than doubled since President Trump announced the tariffs in January. The U.S. began collecting the 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports on March 23.

The price for aluminum deliveries in three months’ time hit a more-than-six-year high recently, according to the Wall Street Journal. It's also been extremely volatile, the newspaper wrote, noting that the price in April swung over its widest monthly range since at least 1997, the oldest data available, according to an analysis by WSJ Market Data Group.

And the tariffs "are likely to keep driving up domestic metal prices," the Journal reported. Curt Woodworth, an analyst with Credit Suisse, told the publication: “We think prices could get dramatically higher in the short run."

Which means Americans could wind up paying more for a cold beer, Coors said.

Here's Pete Coors, in his own words:

A cold can of beer on a hot summer day is as American as it gets. But now that experience will cost you more, one of many unfortunate effects of the 10 percent tariff President Trump imposed on aluminum imports in March.

I say this as a fourth-generation brewer. My great-grandfather founded the Coors family business almost 150 years ago in Golden, Colo. In 1958 my uncle Bill Coors, now 101, led a team that created the first aluminum beer can. He couldn’t have imagined that his innovation would be caught in the crossfire of a trade war decades later.

Since January, as the president’s tariff talk intensified, aluminum prices have risen in the U.S., even for domestic aluminum forged from scrap. The price index for transport and storage of aluminum has doubled. While some U.S. allies received temporary exemptions, the policy is already hurting businesses across the country. As a leader in the $100 billion-a-year U.S. beer business, I’m deeply concerned about a possible pullback in expansion, acquisition and innovation in the industry.

This can’t be what President Trump — a shrewd businessman — had in mind. At Molson Coors Brewing and its U.S. business, MillerCoors, we respect the president and assume the best. We wonder: Why fuss with tariffs? Is he working an angle?

In “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump offers an oft-quoted line that may explain his role in the tariff turmoil: “The worst of times often create the best opportunities to make good deals.” Perhaps he is creating a crisis to talk America’s rivals into fairer trade deals. The tariff, which is ultimately a tax on American businesses and consumers, has exposed inefficiencies and antiquated practices in the aluminum industry. We have an opportunity to modernize the market and offset the new costs.

The U.S. aluminum market works in strange ways. Other metals are traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. This lends itself to transparent pricing. Meantime, aluminum pricing is opaque. Commodities firms hoard aluminum, wait for prices to rise and sell it at higher rates. Two million tons of aluminum is currently being stockpiled across the U.S., three times what is produced in a year, according to a recent CNBC report.

Further, aluminum makers must pay a mysterious fee atop all U.S. orders: the Midwest Premium, which is said to cover the cost of transporting, storing and delivering the metal. This premium has more than doubled since January, up 140% to 23 cents per pound—even though the tariffs did nothing to increase the costs the fee purportedly tracks.

That 23 cents per pound is 28% of the cost of aluminum at MillerCoors — and we buy half a billion pounds of it every year. This artificially inflated premium could cost us tens of millions of dollars each year, far more than the cost of the new Trump tariff. Apply that across all uses in the U.S. — cans, cars, aircraft and more — and it comes to $4 billion a year in extra costs for the U.S. economy.

Oddly enough, the Midwest Premium is a decades-old relic dictated by a single unregulated publisher, Platts, owned by Standard & Poor’s. It is based on surveys of traders that Platts declines to describe in detail. When Platts says the premium has spiked, producers wrap that extra cost into every contract. Nice spread, unless you’re the one paying for it. Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito has urged Congress to intervene in a way that “sheds light on the Midwest Premium.”

It is time to fix this mess and end the premium once and for all. A private solution would be best—one crafted by producers, buyers, market makers and customers like Molson Coors. Let us forge a new deal on aluminum, to the benefit of a hundred million fans of the most American of beverages. President Trump, are you with us?