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Steel capacity utilization rate hits new recent high

An ArcelorMittal steelworker uses a crane to move an order of steel in the slab yard at Plant 2 at the company's East Chicago mill. Steel capacity utilization hit a recent high of 83.4 percent.

Great Lakes steel production rose to 723,000 tons last week, an increase of 7,000 tons as compared to the previous week, as capacity utilization again reached the highest point in more than a decade.

Steel mills in the Great Lakes region made 716,000 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 made 1.941 million tons of steel last week, up from 1.927 million tons the previous week.

U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 81.3 percent through March 9, up from 76.6 percent at the same point in 2018, according to the AISI.

Domestic steelmakers used about 83.4 percent of their steel-making capacity in the week that ended March 9, up from 82.8 percent the previous week and up from 78.3 percent at the same time last year, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

The previous week's 82.8 percent was the highest level the steel-making capacity utilization rate has reached in the United States since September 2008, according to the trade publication Platts.

Some analysts say steel-making capacity utilization of about 90 percent is considered financially healthy for the industry, at least for the larger integrated mills like those around Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, because of their high fixed operating costs. But the capacity utilization rate has been significantly higher this year than during the most recent downturn, when blast furnaces were taken offline at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor in East Chicago and elsewhere.

So far this year, domestic steel mills have made 18.3 million tons of steel, a 6.8 percent increase over the same period in 2018.

Production in the Southern district, a wide geographic swath that includes many mini mills, fell to 697,000 tons last week, down from 717,000 tons the previous week.

Steel output in the greater Midwest rose to 214,000 tons last week, up from 208,000 tons the previous week.

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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.