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After protracted slump, Great Lakes steel production rises for second straight week

ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steel mill. Steel production is up by 3.8% so far this year.

Great Lakes steel production rose by 6,000 tons to 692,000 tons last week, an increase of 0.87% as compared to the previous week.

It was the second straight increase after a five-week slump in local steel production in the summer as steelmakers cut back on production capacity in response to tough market conditions. Last week was just the third time in 14 weeks that Great Lakes steel output rose.

Steel mills in the Great Lakes region made 686,000 tons of metal the previous week, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Most of the steel made in the Great Lakes region is produced around the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Lake and Porter counties, which are home to half the nation's blast furnace capacity.

Overall, domestic steel mills in the United States made 1.811 million tons of steel last week, down 1.3% from 1.835 million tons the previous week.

So far this year, domestic steel mills in the United States have made 68.9 million tons of steel, a 3.8% increase over the same period in 2018. Steel production was up 11.6% nationally in the first week of 2019, but the difference between 2019's and last year's input has been declining ever since.

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U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 80.7% through Sept. 14, up from 77.5% at the same point in 2018, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Domestic steelmakers used about 77.8% of their steelmaking capacity in the week that ended Sept. 14, down from 79.6% a year earlier and down from 78.8% the previous week, according to the AISI.

A steel capacity utilization rate of 83.4% earlier this year was the highest level reached in the United States since September 2008, according to the trade publication Platts.

The domestic steel industry had not been running at 80% capacity for years, but capacity use generally has been higher since the Section 232 tariffs of 25% were enacted. U.S. Steel, however, recently announced plans to idle East Chicago Tin and blast furnaces, including one at Gary Works, as a result of weakening prices and market conditions.

Steel mill capacity use across the United States has fallen under the 80% threshold targeted by the administration's Section 232 tariffs for the last few weeks.

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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.