Steel production has plunged by 12.4% for the year, while steel capacity utilization is down more than 25 percentage points as compared to the same time last year. Auto plants are shutting down and consumer spending is slowing down to a near-standstill during the coronavirus pandemic.
Great Lakes steel production fell by 3,000 tons last week, dipping under 400,000 tons for the first time in years, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Steel mills in the Great Lakes region, clustered mainly in Northwest Indiana, made 398,000 tons of metal, down from 401,000 tons the previous week and down from 608,000 tons just six weeks ago, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported.
Overall, domestic steel mills in the United States made 1.204 million tons of steel last week, up 5.2% from 11.44 million tons the previous week.
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, though the auto plants are expected to start resuming operations soon with new safety precautions.
So far this year, domestic steel mills in the United States have made 30.85 million tons of steel, an 12.4% decrease compared to the 35.2 million tons made during the same period in 2019.
U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 72.2% through May 9, down from 81.4% at the same point in 2019, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Steel capacity utilization nationwide was 53.7% last week, which was up from 51.1% 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, produced 525,000 tons of steel in the week that ended Saturday, up from 476,000 tons the week before. Volume in the rest of the Midwest ticked up to 122,000 tons last week, up from 121,000 tons the week prior.