Last year’s gut-wrenching drop in global steel demand appears to be easing as rust-belt steel manufacturers gingerly begin restarting idled mills and recalling workers. No one is asserting that happy days are here again -- but demand appears to be inching upward from the abyss.
Increased orders at AK Steel Corp.’s Middletown Works in Ohio mean that the last set of laid-off workers have returned to work, according to the Dayton Daily News. During the past nine months, layoffs peaked at about 1,000 workers across AK’s plants in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Now, all but 140 have returned, AK spokesperson Alan McCoy told the newspaper.
However, AK’s Mansfield plant, which primarily makes car exhaust systems, remains offline. The company is proceeding cautiously. “It may be a long, slow, flat recovery,’ McCoy said. Some new demand may stem from an increase in auto manufacturing while some is due to depleted inventories at distribution and steel service centers, a thought echoed by many in the steel industry.
The largest of U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works blast furnaces was operating again late last month after a shutdown in December, according to the Illinois-based Telegraph. However, plans to re-start the “B” blast furnace at U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Works at Ecorse, Mich., this week were put on hold after a problem was found in the furnace, according to American Metal Market.
Earlier this month, ArcelorMittal Cleveland began restarting operations at its East Side manufacturing and annealing plant. The world’s largest steel manufacturer had idled two blast furnaces and stopped steel production at the plant last fall. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the mills make treated sheet metal used in auto manufacturing.
Spokesperson Mary Beth Holdford announced that the company’s C-5 blast furnace, a steel shop, hot mill, pickle line, tandem mill and galvanizing line at the East Side manufacturing and annealing plant were restarting due to improving demand. “Hundreds” of steel workers are expected to go back to work, she said.
The manufacturer does not expect to see 2008-level demand recur any time soon but remains “cautiously optimistic” regarding economic recovery, Holdford said.
According to Cleveland Business, steel industry analyst Michelle Applebaum said in a recent report that U.S. steelmakers are seeing a general improvement in the domestic market. Price increases have been accepted during the past two months, she wrote in early August. While steelmakers are expected to continue these increases, domestic prices remain lower than foreign prices, an unusual situation, she said.
While breakbulk steel imports are likely to suffer from this scenario, U.S. exports of breakbulk steel may benefit.
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