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Great Lakes steel production rises by more than 3%

Steel coils await shipping at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor in Portage in 2011.

Great Lakes steel production rose by 21,000 tons to 706,000 tons last week, an increase of 3.06% as compared to the previous week.

It was the second straight week of increase, but just the sixth time in 19 weeks that Great Lakes steel output trended upward after market conditions worsened this summer to the point where U.S. Steel decided to idle facilities in Northwest Indiana.

Steel mills in the Great Lakes region made 685,000 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 and the largest steel mills in North America.

Overall, domestic steel mills in the United States made 1.841 million tons of steel last week, up 1.1% from 1.821 million tons the previous week.

So far this year, domestic steel mills in the United States have made 77.9 million tons of steel, a 2.8% increase over the 75.8 million tons made during 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 output has been declining ever since.

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U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 80.3% through Oct. 19, up from 77.5% at the same point in 2018, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Domestic steelmakers used about 79.6% of their steelmaking capacity in the week that ended Saturday, down from 80.1% a year earlier but up from 78.7% 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, cautioning that its third-quarter revenues are expected to plunge as a result of weakening prices and market conditions.

After rebounding last year to the point where U.S. Steel restarted idled blast furnaces at Granite City Works in Illinois, steel mill capacity use across the United States has fallen for the last few months under the 80% threshold targeted by the administration's Section 232 tariffs.

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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.