The 2017 steel rebound: Will it continue?

By: | Issue #661 | at 03:00 PM | Channel(s): Maritime News  Breakbulk News  

Several major steel producers reported their third-quarter and nine-month results in recent days and most of them had good news to tell. The steel industry has been on the rebound this year, although a recent report questions how long that will last.

Nucor’s earnings through the first nine months of this year were the highest for the same time period of every year since 2008. Nucor’s January-to-September earnings of $948.4 million were 33% above the $636.6 million it earned for the first nine months of 2016. The company’s net earnings of $268.5 million in the third quarter were down from $323.0 million in the second quarter and from $305.4 million in the third quarter of last year.

“Nucor’s disciplined strategy for profitable growth is working,” said CFO Jim Frias during the company’s recent earnings call for analysts and journalists. “Although illegally traded imports remain at unacceptable levels, we are encouraged by the cumulative benefits of the U.S. steel industry’s successful trade cases.”

ArcelorMittal, a global steel concern based in the Netherlands, also reported favorable nine-month results. “Market conditions are favorable,” said Lakshmi Mittal, the company’s chairman and CEO. “The demand environment remains positive.”

ArcelorMittal’s steel sales for the first nine months of 2017 increased by 19.5% to $51.0 billion, compared with $42.7 billion for the same period last year. Higher average steel selling prices, which were up over 20%, was cited by Mittal as the number-one reason for the improved performance. The company’s North American footprint includes production facilities in Indiana and Mexico, the latter recently receiving a new $1-billion investment from the company.

For the first nine months of 2017, AK Steel reported net income of $117.9 million compared to $54.6 million in the corresponding nine months of 2016, an increase of 116%. Adjusted earnings for the first nine months of 2017 were also up. The company reported a net loss of $5.8 million for the third quarter, which included $13.1 million in costs related to an acquisition and refinancing long-term debt. AK’s sales increased three percent during the quarter.

United States Steel Corporation reported third quarter net earnings of $147 million, an increase of 188% over third quarter 2016 net earnings of $51 million. “Our third quarter results were modestly better than we expected,” said president and CEO Dave Burritt. “Our results for the first nine months of 2017 improved over the first nine months of 2016.”

A recent report from Attradius, the global trade credit insurer noted that “the steel industry has rebounded since 2016,” with steel prices and global steel use on the increase.

But Attradius threw some cold water on the current business climate when it warned that “the current steel rebound is mainly driven by cyclical factors, while fundamental structural issues remain.” The increased threat of protectionism in the United States, China’s economic downturn, Brexit, and capital outflows from emerging markets are among the political and economic risk factors that could negatively affect the industry.

“Should any of these risks materialize,” the report concluded, “it could immediately lead to another downturn in regional or global steel demand.”

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American Journal of Transportation

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.