Metals Backslide

By the Staff of Metal Center News

In their recent conference calls with analysts and investors, steel and aluminum suppliers reported a soft third quarter as the economic recovery plods on at an uneven pace.

AK Steel
Rising Raw Material Costs Hurt Profitability
Officials at AK Steel Corp., West Chester, Ohio, reported a net loss in the third quarter and expect further red ink in the fourth quarter, the result of raw material costs increasing while steel demand softened. Accelerated blast furnace maintenance at the company’s Ashland, Ky., facility also contributed to the third-quarter loss.

The carbon and specialty steel producer reported a net loss of $59.2 million for the third quarter compared with net income of $6.2 million a year earlier. The company’s loss of $30.6 million for the first nine months of 2010 was an improvement from the $114.4 million lost in the like period in 2009, however.

Net sales improved, rising 51.4 percent for the quarter to $1.58 billion vs. $1.04 billion in the same quarter of 2009. Net sales rose 66 percent in the first nine months of 2010 vs. the first three quarters of last year.

AK Steel reached an agreement with two of its three major iron ore suppliers on a 98.65 percent 2010 benchmark price increase, retroactive to Jan. 1, which is higher than the 65 percent increase it had anticipated. The steelmaker is still continuing to negotiate with the third supplier, who is pushing for an even higher price. “But we do not agree that the supplier has a right to charge something other than the annual benchmark price,” said James Wainscott, AK Steel’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “In reaching a benchmark price increase with our other iron ore pellet suppliers, we’ve removed most of the uncertainties surrounding our iron ore pricing, which we believe has been an overhang on our company for most of this year.”

In 2011, AK Steel will likely see a substantial increase in metallurgical coal costs. Last year the company negotiated a number of favorable coal deals, which expire at the end of this year. “Our deals are being negotiated as we speak, but I think it’s fair to say that we expect to incur higher costs for those commodities going forward,” Wainscott said. Eventually AK hopes to improve its cost structure by becoming more vertically integrated, he added, but offered no specifics on how that might be accomplished.

The company had to take its Ashland Works blast furnace out of service for maintenance this year, instead of in the first half of next year as originally planned, which resulted in higher operating costs in the third quarter. “The blast furnace is again stable and productive, and we are well positioned to produce slabs at Ashland for the next 18 to 24 months without any major planned outages,” Wainscott said.

AK Steel’s third-quarter shipments totaled 1.47 million tons, up about 40 percent from a year earlier and its highest quarterly shipment level since the third quarter of 2008. This gain was largely driven by the increase in North American light vehicle production, Wainscott said. The automotive market accounts for about a third of AK Steel’s total shipments.

The steelmaker expects its shipments to decline to about 1.3 million tons in the fourth quarter and its selling prices to decrease by approximately 4 percent due to lower spot market pricing and changes in product mix. Meanwhile steel buyers and service centers appear to be holding off on placing orders until they sense that steel prices have bottomed, company officials said.

Alcoa Overcomes Lower Prices, Currency Issues, Fire
New York-based Alcoa reported third-quarter income from continuing operations of $61 million, a decline from both the previous quarter and the same three months of 2009. Alcoa had reported income of $137 million in the second quarter and $73 million in the third quarter of the previous year.

Alcoa officials cited lower LME prices and negative currency impacts for the declining profits, which were not quite offset by higher volumes and continued cash sustainability efforts.

The third-quarter 2010 results also reflect recovery costs associated with the São Luís alumina refinery; a negative impact from the second-quarter flood at the Avilés smelter in Spain; and a fire at the company’s Tennessee hot-mill facility.

Revenues for the quarter totaled $5.3 billion, a 2 percent increase from $5.2 billion in the second quarter of 2010 and a 15 percent increase from $4.6 billion in the third quarter of 2009. The sequential increase was the result of a 3 percent increase in aluminum shipment volumes and a 7 percent increase in alumina shipments, offset by lower realized third-party prices for alumina and aluminum.

Strong end-market revenue performance in the quarter was achieved in packaging, up 11 percent; commercial transportation, up 10 percent; building and construction, up 10 percent; and aerospace, up 3 percent.

“We enhanced our liquidity, improved our balance sheet, and saw strong performance in our mid and downstream businesses,” said Klaus Kleinfeld, Alcoa chairman and CEO. “And despite unfavorable currency shifts and slightly lower metal prices, our upstream businesses continue to make progress.”

Among product segments, after-tax operating income in flat-rolled was $66 million during the quarter, a decline of $5 million. Revenue growth across many end-markets and increased volumes in China, North America and Russia helped to partially offset lower production levels in North America, the summer shutdown of the European plants and the higher costs related to the Tennessee hot-mill fire.

In mid-September, a fire at the company’s hot-mill operations in Alcoa, Tenn., resulted in a temporary shutdown of the mill. The company suffered a $3 million financial hit, though a return to full operations was completed by October. Customer requirements were met through inventory and the company’s Warrick facility in Indiana.

In the company’s engineered products segments, after-tax income increased $7 million to $114 million in the third quarter, driven by cash sustainability gains and higher volumes in aerospace, and increased market share in building and construction. 

Capital expenditures for the third quarter were $216 million, flat with the second quarter of 2010 and on target with the company’s cash sustainability program. Alcoa is forecasting a sustaining level of capital expenditures at $850 million per year. “I think it would be safe to say, any additional growth projects will be scrutinized heavily,” said Chuck McLane, executive vice president and chief financial officer. Still, he noted, “as we look forward, we definitely will keep an eye toward the opportunity to potentially grow our Engineered Products and Solution business.”

Looking out at the remainder of the year, Belda said worldwide demand for aluminum has been on a steady climb. The company’s global consumption forecast for 2010 has been upgraded from 12 to 13 percent. “In countries such as China, Brazil, India and Russia, more and more people are moving into the middle class, driving demand in building and construction, transportation and packaging. This trend favors aluminum as it is light, strong and infinitely recyclable,” he said.

Allegheny Technologies
'Sales Have Recovered Nicely’
“Sales in the first nine months of 2010 have recovered nicely and are now just $45 million below total sales for full-year 2009. We continue to see 2010 as a transition year to the resumption of strong secular growth in our key global markets,” said L. Patrick Hassey, chairman and CEO of Allegheny Technologies Inc. in Pittsburgh.

The company reported net income of $1.0 million in the third quarter on sales of $1.06 billion. This compares to net income of $1.4 million on sales of $698 million in last year’s third quarter. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, ATI’s net income totaled $55.6 million on sales of $3.01 billion, up from a loss of $6.1 million on sales of $2.24 billion last year.

“Our key markets are performing well. We are seeing increasing opportunities in 2011 to supply large projects in the oil and gas market and chemical processing industries in Asia and the Middle East,” Hassey said. “Also, we are cautiously optimistic that demand for our standard sheet and plate products will continue to recover. However, this demand is being driven by modest U.S. and European GDP growth expectations, and operating results are subject to volatile raw material costs.”

The company recently announced price increases ranging from 4 to 7 percent on certain nickel-based and specialty alloys in long and flat-rolled forms.

‘Business Performs Toward the Lower End of Expectations’
Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, reported third-quarter net income of $1.35 billion on sales of $21.0 billion, down slightly from income of $1.7 billion on sales of $21.7 billion in the previous quarter. For the nine-month period, the company earned $3.73 billion on sales of $61.3 billion.

“In Q3, the business performed towards the lower end of our expectations against a background of seasonally lower volumes, weakening spot prices and higher costs. Our outlook for Q4 remains cautious as the expected higher input prices continue to work through the business and demand remains muted,” said Lakshmi N. Mittal, ArcelorMittal chairman and CEO.

The company’s capacity utilization decreased to 71 percent in the quarter, from 78 percent in the previous quarter, due to seasonal slowdowns.

Carpenter Technology
Carpenter’s Income Up in Fiscal First Quarter
Carpenter Technology Corp., Wyomissing, Pa., reported net income of $7.6 million for the company’s first fiscal quarter, an improvement on the $9.3 million loss posted in the same period last year. Profits were also up modestly from the $5.9 million reported in the company’s fourth quarter. 

Net sales for the first quarter totaled $351.7 million, up 50 percent from the prior year. Excluding surcharge revenue, net sales were $263.7 million, up 40 percent from a year ago. Total pounds sold in the first quarter were 39 percent higher than the fiscal year 2010 first quarter. Sequentially, net sales excluding surcharge decreased 2 percent on 7 percent lower volume as a result of typical seasonal effects in the summer quarter.

“Strong revenue and volume growth contributed to a significant increase in operating margin and profitability over the prior year,” said William A. Wulfsohn, president and CEO. “We also maintained a consistent operating margin compared to our recent fourth quarter on slightly lower, seasonally adjusted volumes, which was in line with our expectations.”

Gross profit was $49.8 million compared with $19.2 million in the fiscal year 2010 first quarter. The higher gross profit in the most recent quarter was driven by significantly higher volumes and better overall cost performance, partially offset by a slightly weaker product mix. The overall mix results are comprised of strong margins in the company’s Premium Alloy Operations segment, more than offset by low margins in the Advanced Metals Operations segment as a result of taking on increased volumes over the last year in lower value applications within automotive and other markets.

“Demand in our key end markets continues to strengthen. In addition to ongoing strong demand for materials used in aerospace engines, we have seen a significant pickup in our energy business,” Wulfsohn said.

Energy market sales of $29.9 million increased 145 percent from the first quarter a year earlier. Excluding surcharge revenue, energy market sales increased 156 percent on 149 percent higher volume. The year-over-year increase reflects sharply higher demand and expansion into new applications in the oil and gas sector, as well as recovering demand for high-value materials used in industrial gas turbines.

“The increase in order activity is creating tight capacity and longer customer lead times,” said Wulfsohn. “Our inventory levels are also running higher due to strong customer demand for our premium products. We are also taking pricing actions and making mix management decisions to improve our profitability and create additional flex capacity for attractive incremental volume.”

Earnings Decline, Following the Trend
Following the industry-wide trend of reduced earnings in the third-quarter, Nucor Corp., Charlotte, N.C., reported a $23.5 million profit, just 25 percent of its net earnings of $91 million during the previous quarter. Year-to-date, however, Nucor remained well ahead of 2009. The company achieved net earnings of $145.5 million for the first nine months of the year, compared to a net loss of $352.5 million for the first three quarters of last year.

Nucor’s consolidated net sales for the third quarter decreased 1 percent to $4.14 billion compared to $4.20 billion in the second quarter. Compared to third-quarter 2009, its sales improved by 33 percent. The average sales price per ton was down 3 percent vs. the previous quarter, but up 20 percent vs. the same quarter last year.

Dan DiMicco, chairman, president and CEO of Nucor, said the third-quarter slowdown covered all the company’s product lines. “There’s a new period of uncertainty and reduced economic activity. Historically, we need growth rates over 3 percent for steel consumption to rise. But more than two years after the economic crisis, the economy continues to sputter.”

Nucor shipped a total of 5,633,000 tons to outside customers in the third quarter, an increase of 1 percent over the second quarter and an increase of 10 percent over the third quarter of 2009. Total third-quarter steel mill shipments were up 9 percent over the third quarter last year and 2 percent over this year’s second quarter.

Nucor’s capacity utilization was 68 percent in the third quarter, down from 71 percent in the second quarter. DiMicco said such utilization rates are common throughout the industry. “There is massive overcapacity based on demand. Add to that the import numbers. Any additional capacity being brought on line in the coming months and years will only add to that issue of overcapacity,” he said.

In the first nine months of 2010, Nucor’s consolidated net sales increased 45 percent to $11.99 billion, compared with $8.25 billion in last year’s first nine months. Average sales price per ton increased 13 percent, while total tons shipped to outside customers increased 29 percent, compared to the first nine months of 2009.

Nucor experienced two major developments during the quarter. Construction neared completion on the company’s new heat-treating operation at its Hertford, N.C., plate mill. Trial rollings begin this month, with the first product available to customers around the first of the year. The Hertford plant will offer heat-treated plate from 3/16 inch to 2 inches thick.

Additionally, the company announced the selection of St. James Parish, La., for the construction of a planned $750 million iron making facility. The 2.5-million-ton plant will use direct reduction technology to convert natural gas and iron ore pellets into high-quality direct reduced iron used by Nucor’s steel mills, along with recycled scrap, to produce sheet, plate and SBQ steel. Upon completion of the first phase, Nucor will be two-thirds of the way toward its goal of six million to seven million tons per year of scrap substitutes.

Nucor officials say several factors directed them to choose a DRI facility over a coke oven/blast-furnace option for Phase 1 of the facility. An improved natural gas arrangement, success of the DRI operation in Trinidad, dramatically lower start-up costs and carbon footprint concerns all contributed to the decision. “All of them pointed toward DRI,” DiMicco said.

Still, Nucor officials added, the company remains open to adding a blast furnace in subsequent phases of the Louisiana operation.

Steel Dynamics
Sales Up, But Earnings Down Due to Reduced Margins
Steel Dynamics Inc. reported net income of $19 million for the third quarter of 2010, a big drop from both the second quarter and the same period in 2009. The Fort Wayne, Ind., steelmaker reported net income of $49 million in the second quarter and $69 million during the third quarter last year.

Third-quarter net sales of $1.6 billion were 35 percent higher than net sales of $1.2 billion for the third quarter of 2009, but were 3 percent lower than the second quarter of 2010.

Year-to-date net sales through September were $4.8 billion, up 72 percent from the same period of 2009, and greater than full-year 2009 net sales of $4.0 billion. Year-to-date net income of $133 million compares to a loss of $35 million in the first nine months of 2009. 

The declining performance in the quarter was not unexpected. “In mid-September, we noted our expectation that our third-quarter’s earnings could be weaker due to reduced margins in the steel segment,” said Keith Busse, chairman and CEO. “While third-quarter steel volume remained relatively flat, the decline in steel selling prices, mainly steel sheet, outpaced the decline in scrap prices.” 

Third-quarter steel shipments of 1.3 million tons were 5 percent higher than the third quarter of 2009, and 4 percent higher than the second quarter of 2010. But the company’s average selling price per ton for steel products was $782, down $47 from $829 in the second quarter, while the average scrap cost per ton charged decreased just $23. As a result of the reduced margins, operating income for the steel segment fell to $88 million in the third quarter, down from $134 million in the second quarter.

During the third quarter, increased steel shipments of long products combined with weaker flat-rolled volume resulted in a change in product mix, causing flat-roll shipments to decline from 64 percent of total steel shipments in the second quarter to 60 percent in the third. The company’s Engineered Bar Products Division achieved record production levels due to stronger OEM customer demand and shipped 153,000 tons in the third quarter, up 19 percent from the second quarter. 

The company’s SBQ backlog continues to grow, now extending into 2011. In contrast, structural steel demand remains lackluster. Shipments by the Structural and Rail Division decreased slightly, despite increasing shipments of rail products. With the approvals of SDI’s rail products by all the nation’s leading railroads, the company expects rail and welded-rail shipments to grow significantly.

During the third quarter, Steel Dynamics acquired assets and facilities of Commercial Metals Co.’s former steel joist manufacturing operations. The facilities became part of the company’s New Millennium Building Systems. The company will operate three of the facilities—Hope, Ark.; Fallon, Nev.; and Juarez, Mexico—while shuttering the rest. Equipment from the other facilities has been relocated to other New Millennium operations. The acquisition followed the idling of two existing SDI fabrication facilities.

“We’re geographically well disbursed. Six lines are no longer in service in the country and that will bode well for everybody in the fabrication business,” Busse said. “It’s a rather bleak market at this time, but this is when you prepare. There’s some excellent equipment coming out of these facilities and going into the existing ones. I can’t imagine them being inferior to any fabricating facility in the world.”

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter, Busse said volumes will continue to be erratic from an order-entry perspective. Pricing has come down and is likely close to the bottom again.

“I think the economy will continue to be in a malaise. It will continue to have positive momentum with fits and starts. I think order entry will be OK for the remainder for the quarter, with pricing being off from third-quarter levels,” Busse said.

Also in the fourth quarter, the company could present to its board a plan for a new flat-rolled operation. A possible 1.7 million-ton facility is still being discussed internally. “A lot of people worry about added capacity, but if you can understand the capability of the mill as proposed, it will be capable of reaching markets today that we don’t even have an opportunity to quote. It could provide some product to The Techs and get us into markets we’re not servicing today,” Busse said.

U.S. Steel
Difficult Market Conditions Lead to Another Loss
United States Steel Corp., Pittsburgh, reported a net loss of $51 million for third-quarter 2010 and predicted another difficult period in the fourth quarter.

“Our current order entry rates reflect the uncertain economic situation in North America and Europe, with spot customers reducing inventory levels in light of short lead times, while our contractual customers’ order rates are consistent with traditional downtime taken in the fourth quarter,” said John Surma, U.S. Steel chairman and CEO, in his remarks to analysts and investors.

U.S. Steel reported net sales of $4.5 billion for the third quarter, a decrease of 4 percent from the second quarter. Its shipments of 5.6 million tons were down 5 percent. The $51 million loss in the third quarter follows a $25 million loss in the previous quarter, but is an improvement from the net loss of $303 million in the third quarter of 2009.

All three of U.S. Steel’s operating segments—flat-rolled, tubular and Europe—saw lower shipments and production as activity in most markets slowed. The company’s results were also affected by an $80 million cost to inspect and repair various facilities following a structural failure at the Gary Works facility in July. The company expects its tubular segment to remain profitable in the fourth quarter, though results may suffer as customers control their inventory levels at year end.

The company’s flat-roll capacity utilization trended down to 70 percent in the third quarter, from 82 percent in the second quarter, as shipments decreased. Its capacity utilization rate will decline further in the fourth quarter due to last month’s idling of the Hamilton Works blast furnace for maintenance.

“Although we are currently faced with difficult market conditions due to the continuing uncertainty of the pace of economic recovery, we continue to move forward with projects that will better position us for the long term as the economy recovers and the market returns to traditional levels of steel consumption,” Surma said.

Such projects include a new coke battery at Clairton Works and two carbonics modules at Gary Works to provide up to 500,000 tons per year of a carbon alloy coke substitute to reduce the company’s exposure to the volatile merchant coke market. The company is also working on a new heat-treat facility at its tubular plant in Lorain, Ohio, to produce OCTG products for shale exploration.

Service Centers

Metals USA
Income Continues to Climb
Metals USA Holdings Corp., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., reported income of $18.9 million during the third quarter, an improvement on both the previous quarter and the same period of 2009. The company had reported net income of $17.4 million during the second quarter and $12.7 million during the third quarter of last year.

Sales for the third quarter totaled $345.3 million, a modest bump from the $335.0 million in the second quarter, but 35 percent better than the $255.4 million during third-quarter 2009. The results included a full quarter of contribution from Metals USA’s latest acquisition, J. Rubin & Co.

“We are pleased with our quarter and net income,” said Chairman, President and CEO Lourenço Gonçalves in his recent remarks to analysts and investors. “We are also happy with improved performance sequentially from the second quarter, which itself was better than the first. The usual seasonal behavior has been reestablished.”

Metal shipments for the third quarter of 2010 were 273,000 tons, sequentially improved from second quarter 2010 shipments of 270,000 tons and also better than 218,000 tons in third-quarter 2009.

“Demand trends from our broad customer base indicate the economy remains in slow recovery mode. We continue to identify and take advantage of bright spots in automotive, aerospace, appliances, industrial equipment and land-based oil and gas. In contrast, nonresidential construction continues to be weak,” Gonçalves said.

Customers remain cautious in their order patterns, he added. “We have not seen any trend of inventory build across our customer base. We anticipate the fourth quarter will experience a continuation of current depressed steel prices and seasonally lower demand compared to
the third quarter.”

Gonçalves said two factors would drive steel prices in the coming months, both outside the traditional supply-
demand dynamic: input costs, particularly iron ore, and world investors jumping in and out of commodities.

3Q Sales Up 33 Percent, Net Income Up 17 percent
Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., Los Angeles, reported net income of $48.7 million for third-quarter 2010, up 17 percent compared to the 2009 third quarter. Third-quarter sales totaled $1.65 billion, up 33 percent from the same period last year, and a 2 percent improvement from the previous quarter.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, Reliance saw a major jump in net income to $154.9 million, up 176 percent compared to the first nine months last year. Sales for the 2010 nine months totaled $4.73 billion, up 17 percent from 2009 nine-month sales of $4.04 billion.

Tons sold by Reliance in the third quarter were up 11 percent vs. third-quarter 2009, and up 1 percent vs. second-quarter 2010. Average prices per ton sold in the 2010 third quarter were up 20 percent compared to the 2009 third quarter and up 1 percent compared to the 2010 second quarter. For the 2010 third quarter, carbon steel sales were 52 percent of net sales; aluminum sales were 18 percent; stainless steel sales were 16 percent; alloy sales were 8 percent; other sales were 4 percent; and toll processing sales were 2 percent.

“The operating environment during the 2010 third quarter was pretty steady with the 2010 second quarter,” David H. Hannah, Reliance chairman and CEO, told analysts and investors. “Mill pricing declined a bit more than we had anticipated during the quarter, pressuring our selling prices and causing our gross profit margins to narrow somewhat. Demand was a little better than we had expected as we typically see a seasonal decline in the third quarter compared to the second quarter. Overall we are pleased with our performance during the quarter in light of the existing market conditions.”

Commenting on specific markets, Hannah said that the nonresidential construction market is still the weakest, below even last year’s poor levels. “It appears, though, that we have reached bottom. Business activity in most all of our other markets is better than a year ago,” he said, “especially in the semiconductor and electronics, energy, agriculture, and aerospace industries.”

Gregg Mollins, Reliance president and chief operating officer, noted that carbon steel pricing on most products began to decline in July. A significant amount of imports came in during the July through September time frame, ordered when the dollar was gaining strength. Imports, along with lackluster demand, helped drive prices downward. “However, to keep things in perspective, flat-roll prices today are very close to where they were in January 2010. If domestic mills continue to align production capacity with demand and scrap goes up along with raw materials, we could be close to the bottom of the pricing cycle and stay above the $500 a ton mark. That is a good thing” Mollins added.

Aluminum has traded in a relatively healthy range all year, from 94 cents to $1.11 a pound. “This has had a positive impact on our common alloy aluminum sheet and extruded bar business. On the aerospace side, there is still an inventory overhang on heat-treat plate, but with any luck this will correct itself sometime in the second half of 2011,” Mollins said.

Reliance continues its quest to improve inventory turns. “Our turn in dollars for the first nine months of the year was 4.8 turns. In tons, we turned our inventory 5.1 times for the same period. Many of our companies have made significant improvements in this area, and we will continue to push the envelope,” Mollins said.

Reliance continues to work on internal growth initiatives funded through a $140 million capital budget. In August, the company opened a new Earle M. Jorgensen facility in Malaysia to support its oil tool customers. It is in the process of building two more facilities for EMJ in Memphis and Orlando. It opened a new facility near Philadelphia for Yarde Metals, which is also adding on to its existing facility in Southington, Conn. Liebovich Steel & Aluminum Co. is adding a new 80,000-square-foot plant to its Rockford, Ill., location, as well.

Hannah noted that acquisition opportunities also have improved. On Oct. 1, Reliance acquired Diamond Consolidated Industries Inc. and its affiliated companies, which specialize in the manufacture and sale of perforated metal products. He acknowledged that the Diamond acquisition is a bit different than the service centers it has historically acquired. “Diamond pokes holes in metal, I guess you might say, which is very similar to what we’re doing in other parts of our business on the flat-roll side, where we buy coil and we cut it. It is a higher-margin business and we like it. We think it gives us another area for expansion. We will continue to look for other opportunities to do more value-added, but we’ll be very careful not to put ourselves in a position to compete with our customers,” he added.

Reliance officials expect demand to decline somewhat in the fourth quarter due to normal holiday closures among customers.

“We still have a long way to go to restore confidence in our country’s economy. Until then, we are not worried about our performance. We will continue to grow and expect to perform at the top of our industry,” Hannah said.

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