1-2009: 2008 Year in Review
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Year with a Split Personality

Hard to believe a year could start so positively yet finish so poorly.

By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief

As the calendar turned to 2008, most experts were expecting another good year for steel, aluminum and copper. Metals prices remained at lofty levels and, though the economy clearly was slowing, demand remained strong among many manufacturers. Indeed, the U.S. trade deficit had declined by $46 billion in 2007 as the weak dollar fueled exports of U.S. manufactured goods. Mills and service centers continued to report strong sales and profits. The International Iron and Steel Institute projected that world steel use would increase by 6.7 percent to nearly 1.3 billion tons in 2008, with weakness in the U.S. and UK economies offset by healthy demand in emerging markets.

By midyear it was clear that the party was over, as various agencies reported a contraction in economic activity. U.S. sales of steel and aluminum were slowing at double-digit rates. Service centers exaggerated the trend as they cut back their purchases and reduced inventories. Mills scaled back production as metals prices began to decline. By October, when the credit crisis sent stocks plummeting on Wall Street, business had slowed to a crawl in many sectors. Producers and distributors alike announced slowdowns and layoffs to compensate for reduced customer demand. With the exception of a few promising markets such as energy, aerospace, infrastructure and defense, the outlook for 2009 appears daunting.

Reviewing the headlines of the past 12 months reveals a few key trends driving the metals market:

Consolidation and expansion
The service center industry continued its consolidation in 2008 with several notable mergers, including: Reliance Steel & Aluminum’s billion-dollar purchase of the PNA Group from Platinum Equity; Russel Metals’ acquisition of Fort Worth-based Norton Metal Products Inc., moving the Canadian company deep in the heart of Texas; and O’Neal Steel’s decision to merge Ferguson Metals and AIM International into United Performance Metals. Other acquirers during the year included Namasco Corp., A.M. Castle & Co., Steel Warehouse Co. and Lapham-Hickey Steel Corp.

Also competitively significant is a cooperation agreement between Canada’s Samuel, Son & Co. Inc. and Mexico’s Grupo Villacero, under which the companies will exchange processing, storage and logistics services in their respective countries and in the United States.

Despite the shaky economy, several service center companies also announced expansion plans in 2008: McNichols Co. launched a four-year, $30 million initiative that includes relocating its Boston service center to a new facility and the opening of a 24,000-square-foot facility in Kansas City; Norfolk Iron & Metal announced plans for a $20 million expansion to its primary facility in Norfolk, Neb.; Heidtman Steel Products planned to construct an additional 120,000-square-foot building at its manufacturing operation in northeastern Indiana; Chicago Tube and Iron Co. is building a new fabrication center in North Carolina; Leeco Steel planned to build a new plate distribution and processing center also in North Carolina; Olympic Steel began work on a new 100,000-square-foot service center in South Carolina; and Sunbelt-Turret Steel went coast-to-coast with new facilities in California and Connecti­ cut; among other service center initiatives.

In another milestone of sorts, perennial market leader Ryerson Inc. was surpassed in annual sales by Reliance and its many holdings. Also in 2008, Ryerson closed its processing and distribution operations in its hometown of Chicago and relocated them to other facilities in the Midwest.

Foreign investment
Proof that the steel industry continues to go global, several foreign producers announced cross-border acquisitions.

Russia’s Severstal beat out India’s Essar Steel in the drawn out battle for Esmark and its holdings, which included Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel. Severstal also completed the acquisition of WCI Steel and took control of the new SeverCorr mill in Mississippi from minority partner John Correnti and other senior managers.

Evraz, another Russian company, continued its expansion in North America with the acquisition of IPSCO Tubulars from Sweden’s SSAB. Evraz then spun off IPSCO’s U.S. tubular and seamless business to another Russian company, TMK, while holding onto IPSCO’s Canadian plate and pipe business. Also in 2008, Evraz bought Claymont Steel in Delaware, complementing its plate-making operation on the opposite coast at Evraz Oregon Steel Mills.

ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, remained active on several fronts, announcing plans to build a new long-products mill in Russia, a new beam mill in Canada and a new bar mill in Mexico. It also agreed to acquire Austrian steel distribution company Eisen Wagner GmbH, and Cinter S.A., a stainless steel tube producer in Uruguay.

Expanding its modest international presence, Nucor Corp. established a 50-50 joint venture with Switzerland’s Duferco Group for production of beams in Italy and the distribution of beams in Europe and North Africa. Nucor also announced plans to enter the steel processing business in Mexico with the construction of a 500,000-ton capacity sheet and coiled plate processing center.

United States Steel Corp. and Asian joint venture partners POSCO and SeAH Steel, broke ground on a new spiral welded pipe facility in Pittsburg, Calif., called United Spiral Pipe LLC.

Vertical integration
In another clear trend in 2008, mills aggressively acquired sources of raw material to reduce their future dependency on outside suppliers and their exposure to the volatility of mineral commodity and scrap prices.

To cite a few examples, Steel Dynamics Inc. purchased 6,000 acres for mining on the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota. SDI’s OmniSource subsidiary bought out Recycle South, a South Carolina scrap processor. Also investing heavily in scrap operations was Nucor with its purchases of the David J. Joseph Co. and Metal Recycling Services.

Likewise, Arcelor­ Mittal acquired Baker­ met, a Canadian scrap processor, and the Mid Vol Coal Group based in the Central Appalachian Coal Basin.

Given the current economic uncertainty, most metals executives would welcome another split-personality year in 2009, with a gloomy first half giving way to positive developments in the second.

Looking Back at 2008:
Highlights of Industry Events

FIRST QUARTER

JANUARY

W Management of SeverCorr in Columbus, Miss., changed under a plan by its majority owners in Russia to consolidate the new steel mill as a Severstal company and buy out the ownership interests of founder and CEO John Correnti and other senior managers. SeverCorr is now known as Severstal Columbus.

W ArcelorMittal announced plans to build a new long products steel mill in Russia’s Tver region, to start up in 2010. The company also planned to build a $380 million beam mill in Contrecoeur as part of a restructuring of its steel production activities in Canada.

W ArcelorMittal agreed to acquire Austrian steel distribution company Eisen Wagner GmbH, and Cinter S.A., a stainless steel tube producer in Uruguay.

W Steel Dynamics Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind., purchased 6,000 acres on the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota to conduct surface mining of iron deposits, and to construct and operate a facility for the concentrating of iron ore to supply its minimills, primarily in Indiana. The venture is part of SDI’s effort toward vertical integration to secure sources of raw materials.

W Russia’s Evraz acquired all of the shares of Claymont Steel, a Delaware-based steel minimill focused on custom discrete plate. Its annual capacity of 500,000 tons complements Evraz’s North American operations at Evraz Oregon Steel Mills.

W Ryerson planned to close its processing and distribution operations in its hometown of Chicago by the end of 2008. The company’s corporate headquarters remains in the city, but processing and distribution operations have been moved to other Ryerson locations in the Midwest, including facilities in Elgin, Ill.; Burns Harbor, Ind.; Cincinnati; Milwaukee; and St. Louis.

W PNA Group, Atlanta, acquired Precision Flamecutting & Steel L.P., based in Houston. Precision Flamecutting processes and distributes carbon, alloy and HLSA steel plate.

W A.M. Castle & Co., Franklin Park, Ill., acquired the Metals UK Group, a distributor and processor of specialty metals serving the oil and gas, aerospace, petrochemical and power generation markets in the UK and Spain.

W Heidtman Steel Products Inc., Toledo, Ohio, planned to construct an additional 120,000-square-foot building at its manufacturing operation in the Butler Industrial Corridor in northeastern Indiana. The $13.5 million facility will house a light-gauge multi-blanking line.

W Lapham-Hickey Steel Corp., Chicago, made its first foray into the southeastern U.S. with the purchase of the Hubbell Steel division of Gibraltar Industries in Fairfield, Ala. The 100,000-square-foot facility handles coated and prepainted materials.

W Leeco Steel LLC, Darien, Ill., planned to build a plate distribution and processing center in Hertford County, N.C. The facility will serve many plate-consuming industries throughout the Southeast and East Coast.

W Ferguson Metals, Hamilton, Ohio, consolidated operations with Miamiville, Ohio-based AIM International, merging the two O’Neal Steel facilities into United Performance Metals.

FEBRUARY

W Expanding its international presence, Nucor Corp. established a 50-50 joint venture with Switzerland’s Duferco Group for production of beams in Italy and the distribution of beams in Europe and North Africa.

W World crude steel output topped 1.34 billion metric tons for the year 2007, a 7.5 percent increase over 2006, according to the International Iron and Steel Institute, Brussels, Belgium. The total represents the highest level of crude steel output in history, while 2007 was the fifth consecutive year that world crude steel production grew by more than 7 percent.

W Service center shipments of copper and brass products declined nearly 5.5 percent in 2007. Copper shipments for the full year rose by 0.5 percent from 2006 totals, but alloy shipments decline by 9.2 percent, reported the Copper and Brass Servicenter Association.

MARCH

W The U.S. trade deficit declined by $46 billion in 2007, marking the greatest year-over-year improvement in 16 years. Manufactured goods made up 60 percent of the improvement. Due to the weak dollar, U.S. exports increased at nearly twice the pace of imports in 2007.

W As part of the trend of steelmakers locking up sources of raw materials, Nucor Corp. acquired a leading scrap supplier, the David J. Joseph Co., for approximately $1.44 billion.

W United Spiral Pipe LLC, a joint venture of United States Steel Corp., POSCO and SeAH Steel Corp., broke ground on a spiral welded pipe manufacturing facility in Pittsburg, Calif.

W Nucor Corp. announced plans to enter the steel processing business in Mexico. Nucor will construct a 500,000-ton capacity sheet and coiled plate processing center at a cost of $115 million to $125 million. The operation will include equipment for a variety of value-added processing operations including pickling, slitting, cut-to-length and blanking. Nucor officials, who have regularly stated the company has no desire to enter the service center business, said the Mexican operation will focus on processing rather than distribution.

W O’Neal Steel Inc., Birmingham, Ala. acquired the assets of TAD Metals Inc.’s Northeastern, Southwestern and Canadian regional operations, including six metals service centers and one sales office. TAD Metals specializes in the processing and distribution of stainless steel and aluminum for use in a wide range of applications.

W Chicago Tube and Iron Co., Romeoville, Ill., is constructing a fabrication center in Locust, N.C. The $10.8 million investment will produce a 130,000-square-foot facility as part of CTI’s power division.

W National Bronze & Metals Inc., Houston, opened its newest sales division near Paris, France. The new venture is named National Bronze & Metals (Europe), SAS.

SECOND QUARTER

APRIL

W Russian steel company Evraz continued its expansion in North America with the acquisition of IPSCO Tubulars from Sweden’s SSAB for $4.025 billion. Evraz then sold IPSCO’s U.S. tubular and seamless business to TMK for approximately $1.7 billion, while holding onto IPSCO’s Canadian plate and pipe business.

W ArcelorMittal finally found a steel company to take Sparrows Point off its hands. Russian steelmaker OAO Severstal acquired the Maryland-based tin mill for $810 million. The sale of Sparrows Point was mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice for antitrust reasons due to the merger of Arcelor and Mittal. ArcelorMittal initially agreed to sell the Maryland facility to a joint venture led by Esmark, though that deal fell through.

W The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the antimicrobial properties of copper alloys, acknowledging that copper, brass and bronze are naturally capable of killing harmful, potentially deadly bacteria. Copper was the first solid surface material to receive this type of EPA registration, which opened the door to a host of potential new applications for red metals.

W Nucor Corp. made another venture upstream with the agreement to purchase Metal Recycling Services, Monroe, N.C. MRS operates a full-service processing facility, processing 220,000 tons of scrap annually.

MAY

W The Brussels-based International Iron and Steel Institute predicted that 2008 would be another strong year for the steel industry with apparent steel use rising to 1.282 billion tons, an increase of 6.7 percent. IISI expected weakness in the U.S. and EU economies to be offset by healthy demand in emerging markets. Its early-year projections for 2009 suggested a global growth rate of 6.3 percent.

W MSCI’s Metals Activity Report began to show the effects of the slowing North American economy when U.S. sales of steel and aluminum in March fell at double-digit rates from those of March 2007, while Canadian steel sales also dropped sharply in a period normally expected to show positive seasonal gains.

W The London Metal Exchange commenced trading in steel futures, launching two regional steel billet contracts for Mediterranean and Far East delivery.

W Olympic Steel Inc., Cleveland, began construction of a new service center in Sumter, S.C. The $10 million, 100,000-square-foot facility will offer expanded processing capabilities to customers in the Southeast.

JUNE

W The U.S. Department of Commerce ruled that Chinese producers of circular welded steel pipe were dumping below-cost product in the United States, and that pipe exports benefited from large subsidies provided by the Chinese government.

W Total steel imports through the first four months of 2008 were down 7 percent, considered a positive trend by domestic steelmakers but a negative by foreign exporters. David Phelps, president of the American Institute of International Steel, which represents foreign mills, said “domestic consumers have been struggling with low inventories and rapid-fire price increases in 2008. Import arrivals in late 2007 and early 2008 were clearly too low for our customers, given the inability of the domestic industry to meet total demand.”

W Nucor Corp. was exploring construction of an iron-making facility in St. James Parish, La., a facility that could serve as a precursor for a new, integrated steel mill. The new company, if completed, would be called Nucor Steel Louisiana.

W Steel Dynamics Inc. continued its upstream expansion with the acquisition of another scrap processing business. OmniSource Corp., an SDI subsidiary, acquired the remaining equity interest of Recycle South, Spartanburg, S.C. OmniSource already owned 25 percent of Recycle South.

W The Gerdau Group acquired the MacSteel business from Quanex Corp., Houston. MacSteel was the second-largest producer of SBQ in the United States. With the acquisition, South Africa’s Gerdau Group became the world’s largest producer of long specialty steel for the automotive industry, the company claimed.

W Namasco Corp., the North American subsidiary of Germany’s Klockner & Co., acquired the assets of Taylor Equipment & Machine Tool Co., Louisville, Ky. With the TEMTCO deal following the 2007 acquisitions of Primary Steel, Scan Steel, Premier Steel and Action Steel, Namasco ranks among the largest distributors of heavy carbon steel products in the United States.

THIRD QUARTER

JULY

W Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., Los Angeles, completed the biggest acquisition in company history with the purchase of the PNA Group from Platinum Equity. The acquisition of North America’s 12th largest service center company was valued at $1.1 billion, eclipsing Reliance’s 2006 acquisition of Earle M. Jorgensen Co. Atlanta-based PNA Group is a collection of service center companies, including Delta Steel LP, Feralloy Corp., Infra-Metals Co., Metals Supply Co. Ltd., Precision Flamecutting and Steel LP and Sugar Steel Corp.

W McNichols Co. launched a four-year, $30 million plan that included relocation of its Boston service center to a new facility and the opening of a 24,000-square-foot facility in Kansas City, Kan. The company’s Tampa-based service center and corporate offices were also expanded to accommodate additional staff, equipment and inventory.

W Steel Warehouse Co., South Bend, Ind., acquired the assets of Cleveland-based service center company Chesterfield Steel. Chesterfield Steel was a family-owned company specializing in slit coil, offering hot-rolled, cold-rolled and coated material.

W Russian steelmaker Severstal emerged as the winner in the drawn-out battle for Esmark following an arbitrator’s decision that invalidated a previous agreement between Esmark and India’s Essar Steel Holdings LLC. Severstal’s offer for the company, which included the service center assets and the steelmaking operations of Wheeling-Pittsburgh and the remaining half of the Mountain State Carbon operation, was valued at approximately $775 million.

W Bayou Steel was acquired by ArcelorMittal. Bayou Steel, which operates facilities in Louisiana and Tennessee, is a producer of medium and light structural steel and bar-size products.

W ArcelorMittal also followed the lead of Nucor and Steel Dynamics with the acquisition of a North American recycling company, Bakermet. The facility, located near Ottawa, Canada, processed approximately 130,000 short tons of ferrous and 40 million pounds of non-ferrous material in 2007. Additionally, ArcelorMittal made another upstream move with the acquisition of Mid Vol Coal Group, based in the Central Appalachian Coal Basin.

W Northwest Pipe Co., Portland, Ore., announced plans to construct a new tubular products pipe manufacturing facility near Houston. The new facility will focus on manufacturing casing pipe for the OCTG market.

W Kaiser Aluminum, Foothill Ranch, Calif., launched a $19 million expansion at its Tennalum facility in Jackson, Tenn., to add an extrusion press, heat-treat furnace, drawbench and other equipment.

AUGUST

W Samuel, Son & Co. Inc., Mississauga, Ont., signed a strategic agreement with Mexico’s Grupo Villacero, under which the companies will exchange processing, storage and logistics services in their respective countries. Samuel also will provide services to Villacero from its offices, distribution and service center locations in the United States.

W Olympic Steel Inc., Cleveland, purchased a 62,000-square-foot processing facility in Dover, Ohio. The company is investing $5 million in the project.

W Samuel, Son & Co. completed the acquisition of Namasco Ltd. of Canada from Klockner & Co., expanding Samuel’s position as the leading supplier of carbon and specialty flat-rolled products in Ontario and Quebec.

W Specialty Metals Processing Inc., a toll processor of nonferrous metals, closed its Akron, Ohio, sheet and plate facility and moved operations into a new climate-controlled facility in Stow, Ohio. The 160,000-square-foot facility houses all of the company’s coil, sheet and plate processing under one roof.

W Mexico’s Prolamsa announced plans to expand its U.S. operations by establishing its first mechanical and structural steel tube manufacturing facility in the United States by the second half of 2009. The location of the new greenfield plant is yet to be determined, but will be in the southern U.S.

W Russia’s Severstal completed the $140 million acquisition of WCI Steel, Warren, Ohio, a producer of value-added steel products. The company was renamed Severstal Warren Inc.

W ArcelorMittal announced plans to construct a new bar mill in Mexico at an undetermined location. The facility, which will produce carbon steel and bar products, will have a capacity of one million metric tons of billets per year and a new bar rolling mill with a capacity of 500,000 metric tons.

W Nucor Corp. announced plans to install a $110 million plate heat-treating facility at its mill in Hertford, County, N.C. The heat-treat line will have an estimated annual capacity of 120,000 tons and the ability to produce heat-treated plate from 3/16th inch through 2 inches thick.

W The reported 1.9 percent rise in GDP in the second quarter—an improvement from the pace of growth in the prior two quarters—was largely driven by rising exports of manufactured goods, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Exports rose more than 9.2 percent during the quarter, enough to offset the decline in residential housing.

W The American Iron and Steel Institute, Washington, D.C., selected Thomas J. Gibson as the association’s president and CEO. Gibson succeeded AISI President and CEO Andrew G. Sharkey III, who announced his retirement.

SEPTEMBER

W Employees of Twinsburg, Ohio-based Atlas Steel Products formed an employee stock ownership plan and acquired the company from the family of Lawrence J. “Bo” Burr, who died in April. John Adams, formerly Atlas’ chief financial officer, was named president and CEO.

W Nucor Corp. announced plans to begin steel bar production at its previously idle rolling mill in Kingman, Ariz. Nucor officials expected rolling operations to begin in Kingman by the second quarter of 2009. Initial annual output of straight-length rebar, coiled rebar and wire rod would be about 250,000 tons, with the capability to increase annual production to more than 500,000 tons.

W The American Iron and Steel Institute, Washington, D.C., established the AISI Steel Market Development Institute with the mission “to advance the competitive use of steel through a market-driven strategy that promotes cost-effective, steel-based solutions.” The new institute operates as a business unit of AISI and is being funded through a direct investment from eight of North America’s leading steelmakers.

FOURTH QUARTER

OCTOBER

W Allegheny Technologies Inc., Pittsburgh, announced plans for a four-year, $1.16 billion strategic investment in its flat-rolled products segment. The investment encompasses new specialty metals hot-rolling and processing facilities and the consolidation of the Natrona, Pa., grain-oriented electrical steel melt shop into ATI’s Brackenridge melt shop.

W Gerdau MACSTEEL, Jackson, Mich., approved a $9.4 million expansion at its heat-treat operation in Huntington, Ind. The expansion includes a fifth quench and temper line with induction heating and adds 18,000 tons of bar and tubing capacity.

W U.S. Steel Corp. and Worthington Industries Inc. agreed to an expansion of their Worthington Specialty Processing joint venture in Jackson, Mich. U.S. Steel contributed ProCoil Co. LLC, its processing subsidiary in Canton, Mich., and Worthington Industries contributed Worthington Steel Taylor, its steel processing subsidiary in Taylor, Mich., to the expanded joint venture.

W Ternium S.A. announced plans to invest $4.2 billion over five years to build a flat steel plant in Mexico. The project’s initial phase involves the construction of a new flat-rolled minimill in the Monterrey area, followed by the construction of a cold-rolled and galvanized plant. The project has a capacity of one million tons of cold-rolled coils and a hot-dipped galvanizing line with annual capacity of 300,000 tons.

W Galveston, Texas-based Farmer’s Copper & Industrial Supply suffered significant damage from Hurricane Ike, losing several saws and other equipment in the storm and spending several weeks after the storm clearing away damage.

W Norfolk Iron & Metal announced plans for a $20 million expansion to its primary facility in Norfolk, Neb., that will include a new cut-to-length temper line. Norfolk is also adding 120,000 square feet to the facility.

W Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. acquired the assets of Singapore’s HLN Metal Centre Pte. Ltd., which now operates as Reliance Metalcenter Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd.

W Sunbelt-Turret Steel Inc. expanded to coast-to-coast operations with its first western operation, a 100,000-square-foot facility in Dos Palos, Calif., while also adding another in Connecticut.

W Earle M. Jorgensen Co., Lynwood, Calif., announced plans to open a distribution facility in Virginia. The Reliance Steel & Aluminum subsidiary will invest $6 million to open the facility in Dinwiddie County, south of Richmond.

NOVEMBER

W Alcoa announced plans to reduce production at its Point Comfort, Texas, alumina refinery by approximately 25 percent, or a reduction of 550,000 metric tons per year, by the end of November. The decision was made to match production with demand in the marketplace.

W Sweden’s SSAB, a producer of high-strength steels, selected Mobile, Ala., as the site for a new heat-treating facility. The investment will increase the existing facility’s quenched and tempered steel capacity from 100,000 to 400,000 metric tons.

W The Metals Service Center Institute, Rolling Meadows, Ill., completed a benchmark revision of the amount of steel and aluminum distributed by service centers in the United States and Canada. Based on the new estimates, the total amount of steel distributed by U.S. metal centers in 2007 was 52.35 million tons, essentially unchanged from previous estimates, while the total amount of aluminum distributed was raised to 1.86 million tons, up from 1.15 million tons in previous estimates.

DECEMBER

W A team of steel industry veterans with extensive experience in the design, construction and operation of minimills in North Aimerica announced plans to form a new company, Steel Development Co. LLC. SDCO was launched by SeverCorr founder John Correnti, retired steel analyst Aldo Mazzaferro and former Chaparral Steel executive Lou Colatriano. The company’s first project is SDC Amory, a new-technology rebar plant in Mississippi.

W Various steel and aluminum producers announced cutbacks and layoffs to compensate for reduced customer demand as the recession took a toll on manufacturing activity.

W Canada’s Russel Metals increased its U.S. holdings with the acquisition of Norton Metal Products Inc., Fort Worth, Texas.

W Economic activity in the manufacturing sector failed to grow in November for the fourth consecutive month, and the overall economy contracted for the second consecutive month, said the nation’s supply executives in the last Manufacturing ISM Report On Business of the year. Manufacturing contracted in November as the PMI dipped to 36.2 percent, the lowest reading since May 1982 when the PMI registered 35.5 percent.

W A group of American steel associations and a major labor union issued a joint statement urging the U.S. government to take action against China’s export of metal to the United States. The American Iron and Steel Institute, Steel Manufacturer’s Association, Specialty Steel Industry of North America, the Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports and the United Steelworkers joined forces to ask the new administration to take steps against China’s unfair trade practices.

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