For decades, the story of American steel had been one of job losses, mill closures and the bruising effects of foreign competition. But now, the industry is experiencing a comeback that few would have predicted even months ago.
Steel prices are at record highs and demand is surging, as businesses step up production amid an easing of pandemic restrictions. Steel makers have consolidated in the past year, allowing them to exert more control over supply. Tariffs on foreign steel imposed by the Trump administration have kept cheaper imports out. And steel companies are hiring again.
Evidence of the boom can even be found on Wall Street: Nucor, the country’s biggest steel producer, is this year’s top performing stock in the S&P 500, and shares of steel makers are generating some of the best returns in the index.
“We are running 24/7 everywhere,” said Lourenco Goncalves, the chief executive of Cleveland-Cliffs, an Ohio-based steel producer that reported a significant surge in sales during its latest quarter. “Shifts that were not being used, we are using,” Mr. Goncalves said in an interview. “That’s why we’re hiring.”
has fallen more than 75 percent. More than 400,000 jobs disappeared as foreign competition grew and as the industry shifted toward production processes that required fewer workers. But the price surge is delivering some optimism to steel towns across the country, especially after job losses during the pandemic pushed American steel employment to the lowest level on record.
“Last year we were laying off,” said Pete Trinidad, president of the United Steelworkers Local 6787 union, which represents roughly 3,300 workers at a Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill in Burns Harbor, Ind. “Everybody was offered jobs back. And we’re hiring now. So, yes, it’s a 180-degree turn.”
broader tariffs on imported steel in 2018. Steel imports have collapsed by roughly a quarter, compared with 2017 levels, according to Goldman Sachs, opening up an opportunity for domestic producers, who are capturing prices as much as $600 per ton above those prevailing on the global markets.
Those tariffs have been eased somewhat by one-off agreements with trade partners like Mexico and Canada, and by exemptions granted to companies. But the tariffs are in place and continue to be applied to imports from key competitors in the European Union and China.