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Steel production still up 5.3% this year but continues to flag

Steel coil stacked outside Wheatland Tube in Chicago.

Great Lakes steel production dipped by 9,000 tons to 688,000 tons last week, a decrease of 1.29%, as capacity utilization remained below 80% nationwide after dipping under that key threshold for the first time in months the previous week.

Steel mills in the Great Lakes region made 697,000 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 1.847 million tons of steel last week, down from 1.851 million tons the previous week.

U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 81.2% through July 6, up from 76.7% at the same point in 2018, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Domestic steelmakers used about 79.4% of their steelmaking capacity in the week that ended July 6, up from 77.4% a year earlier, but down from 79.5% 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.

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The domestic steel industry had not been running at 80% capacity for years. The capacity utilization rate has been significantly higher this year, in the wake of the 25% tariffs on all steel imports, 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 in the United States have made 50.4 million tons of steel, a 5.3% increase over the same period in 2018.

Steel production has been up by as much as 10.9% year-over-year in 2019 but has been regressing since then.

Production in the Southern district, a wide geographic expanse that includes many mini-mills, rose to 679,000 tons last week, up from 672,000 tons the previous week.

Steel output in the greater Midwest ticked up to 203,000 tons last week, up from 201,000 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.