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Steel shipments up 1.6% so far this year but prices crimp profitability

Steel coil is stacked at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor.

U.S. steelmakers have been struggling because of low prices, but they have been shipping out more steel than last year.

Domestic steel mills, including the large integrated mills that line the south shore of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, shipped 7.7 million tons of steel in September, a 8.3% decrease from the 8.4 million tons shipped the previous month, according to Washington, D.C.-based The American Iron and Steel Institute.

September's shipments, reflecting the amount of steel sold to customers, were down 0.6% year over year from the 7.8 million tons shipped in September 2018.

In September, shipments of cold-rolled sheets fell by 5%, hot-dipped galvanized sheets and strip by 9%, and hot-rolled sheets by 10%, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

So far this year, U.S. steel mills have shipped 72.5 million tons of steel, a 1.6% increase over the 71.4 million tons shipped during the first nine months of 2018.

The increase represents a shift in market share rather than an increase in demand. Steel imports have fallen by 14.6% this year, largely as a result of the Section 232 tariffs of 25% on most foreign-made steel.

Steel companies in the United States may be shipping more steel than last year but are still struggling in a low-price environment with weak demand in key end markets. Automotive sales have been declining, and appliance imports are surging.

The price of hot-rolled band in the United States averaged $557 a ton last week, according to the steel pricing website Steelbenchmarker. The price of cold-rolled coil grew by 2% to $775 a ton, while the price of standard plate fell 14% to $650 a ton.

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Business Reporter

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.