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Steel production has plunged by 13.6% in wake of coronavirus pandemic
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Steel production has plunged by 13.6% in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Steel production has plunged by 13.6% in wake of coronavirus pandemic

The ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steel mill is shown. 

Steel production has plummeted by 13.6% for the year, while steel capacity utilization is down more than 28 percentage points as compared to the same time last year.

Great Lakes steel production ticked up by 1,000 tons on the week that ended May 16, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Steel mills in the Great Lakes region, clustered mainly in Northwest Indiana, made 399,000 tons of metal, up from 398,000 tons the previous week.

Overall, domestic steel mills in the United States made 1.18 million tons of steel that week, down 1.2% from 1.2 million tons the previous week.

Steel demand started plummeting in mid-March when automakers like Ford, General Motors and Honda, some of the largest consumers of North American steel, temporarily ceased production to limit the spread of COVID-19, forcing Northwest Indiana steel mills to indefinitely idle blast furnaces. Last week, auto plants across the country started resuming operations with new safety precautions but not without hiccups: The Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch had to close twice in two days after workers turned up sick.

So far this year, domestic steel mills in the United States have made 32.04 million tons of steel, an 13.6% decrease compared to the 37 million tons made during the same period in 2019. 

U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 71.2% through May 16, down from 81.4% at the same point in 2019, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Steel capacity utilization nationwide was 52.7% that week, which was down from 53.7% the previous week and down from 80.8% at the same time a year ago. It's the lowest steel capacity utilization has been in years.

A steel capacity utilization rate of 83.4% last year was the highest level reached in the U.S. since September 2008, according to the trade publication Platts.

Steel production in the southern region, a wide geographic swath that encompasses many mini-mills and rivals the Great Lakes region in output, was 507,000 tons in the week that ended last Saturday, down from 525,000 tons the week before. Volume in the rest of the Midwest ticked up to 124,000 tons last week, up from 122,000 tons the week prior.

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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.

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