U.S. Steel CEO: 'we cannot be satisfied with just two quarters'

The entrance to U.S. Steel Gary Works is shown.

U.S. Steel has earned more than $400 million over the last two quarters, after an unexpected first-quarter loss led the company to show former CEO Mario Longhi the door and bring in in new CEO Dave Burritt. 

But Burritt said the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, one of the largest employers in Northwest Indiana, could not rest on its laurels after returning to profitability.

"Two relatively stable quarters is a good start for us," Burritt said during a conference call with investors last week. "But we cannot be satisfied with just two quarters. We still have a lot of work to do to meet our objective of achieving operational excellence, and we remain focused on safety, quality, delivery and cost. We believe that executing well in these areas is the foundation for long-term success and value creation."

U.S. Steel made $147 million in the third quarter, up from $51 million in the third quarter of 2016.

"Our third quarter results were modestly better than we expected with stable operating performance at each of our segments, and our tubular segment producing positive EBITDA in the quarter," Burritt said. "Our results for the first nine months of 2017 improved over the first nine months of 2016 with all three of our segments improving compared with 2016."

U.S. Steel has reduced its debt to $1.2 billion, the lowest since 2007, and now sits on $3.5 billion in liquidity, the most since 2001. 

"We've worked very hard to create a stronger cash and liquidity position so we can make the investments to revitalize our assets over the next few years, enabling our critical assets to perform at superior quality and reliability levels for our customers and invest in new technology like Gen 3 steel," Burritt said. "We are committed to delivering consistent reliable earnings longer term with our focus on delivering operational improvements by 2020. Again, we remain focused on our operations and are well-positioned to continue to move forward on revitalizing our assets and investing for customer solutions."

U.S. Steel is working on delivering returns of 15 percent to 20 percent by 2020.

"That's where we want to be focused," Burritt said. "So, we may do some things here in the shorter term to make sure that that number is delivered. I mean, after all, who wouldn't want the 15 percent to 20 percent return, and that's where we have to be focused and not be concerned about short-term volatility."

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.