steel coils
Weekly steel output in the United States rebounded throughout July.
Photo provided by iStock.

Steel output creeps upward in US

Rebounding automotive production and vehicle sales provide encouragement to industry.

August 4, 2020

The steel mill capacity rate in the United States reached 59.3 percent during the week ending Aug. 1, 2020, rebounding from a COVID-19-related weekly low of 51.1 percent in the week ending May 2.

The week ending Aug. 1 output figure of nearly 1.33 million tons of steel also represents a 16.5 percent increase from the 1.14 million tons of output during the week ending May 2.

The steel output figures from the Washington-based American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) also show the industry still has significant room to rebound to reach pre-COVID-19 production levels. In the week ending Aug.1, 2019, production was closer to 1.85 million tons of steel, and the mill capacity rate stood at 79.3 percent.

According to AISI, the most recent week of production represents a 28.1 percent decrease from the same period in 2019. Year-to-date production through Aug. 1, of more than 46.1 million tons of steel is down 19.9 percent from the 57.5 million 53,000 tons produced in the same span of time in 2019.

A resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is disrupting the construction industry, according to data on construction employment aggregated by Washington-based Associated General Contractors (AGC).

Construction employment decreased in 225, or 62 percent, out of 358 metro areas between June 2019 and June 2020, despite widespread increases from May to June, according to AGC. “It’s troubling to see construction employment lagging year-ago levels in most locations, in spite of a strong rebound in May and June,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Those gains were not enough to erase the huge losses in March and April. Many indicators since the employment data were collected in mid-June suggest construction employment will soon decline, or stagnate at best, in much of the country.”

More encouraging signs are emerging from the automotive sector, according to observers of that industry. Statistics on light vehicle sales collected by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis show that after plummeting to an annualized rate of slightly more than 9 million vehicles sold in 2020 for April, the May figure jumped to nearly 12.5 million and in June it rose again to nearly 13.4 million.

An early August article from Reuters said automakers including Toyota and Hyundai are reporting sales increases that mirror the Federal Reserve Bank data. A late July article on the Detroit News website quotes Chevrolet dealers in states such as Florida and Texas expressing concerns about a lack of inventoried vehicles to sell.