Steel capacity utilization reaches highest point in United States since 2008

Steel coils sits outside ArcelorMittal in Riverdale in this file photo. Great Lakes steel production rose by 4.98 percent last week.

Great Lakes steel production rose to 717,000 tons last week, an increase of 4.98 percent as compared to the previous week, as capacity utilization reached the highest point in more than a decade.

Steel mills in the Great Lakes region made 682,000 tons of metal the previous week, rising by 34,000 tons week-over-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 1.927 million tons of steel last week, up from 1.907 million tons the previous week.

U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 81.1 percent through March 2, up from 75.7 percent at the same point in 2018, according to the AISI.

Domestic steelmakers used about 82.8 percent of their steel-making capacity in the week that ended March 2, up from 81.9 percent the previous week and up from 78 percent at the same time last year, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

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It's the highest level steel-making capacity utilization 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 16.4 million tons of steel, a 6.9 percent increase over the same period in 2018.

Production in the Southern district, a wide geographic swath that includes many mini mills, fell to 717,000 tons last week, down from 736,000 tons the previous week.

Steel output in the greater Midwest rose to 208,000 tons last week, up from 205,000 tons the previous week.


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.